When it ends, you think about the way it began.
We were looking for something new, and this was it. We knew we needed change, and we went for it in every possible way. And it was exciting. It was fresh. And it was dangerous.
We made new friends and old enemies. And the early returns were more than we could've possibly imagined, because this relationship brought Bryce Brown, Nu'Keese Richardson, and Janzen Jackson into our lives. Nothing tangible yet, but wow, the potential.
I think about those guys now. About Bryce and Janzen and all of those other recruits who bought into the plan, and are now even more upset than we are.
I think about Nick Stephens. About Gerald Jones, Ben Martin, Nick Reveiz. About all of the guys who were around for the last breakup, who have now allowed themselves to get hurt all over again by someone else they were beginning to trust. If you play defense for Tennessee and you loved John Chavis, but it was okay to move on because now you were playing for Monte Kiffin, where do you go from here?
Did we trust Lane Kiffin? Most of us did, even if just for the fact that he was our coach. And even when all the talk faded away and the Vols turned into a 7-6 football team, we were still on board. We still trusted him. Even if the blind passion was over, we liked our chances with this one; our serious relationship was off to an acceptable start.
But now it turns out our rebound girl wants to give it a go with her old flame. She'll say she thinks he's The One, how this is her dream and she wouldn't leave us for anyone else, and that she never really meant to hurt us. And we will not listen. To any of it.
When it ends, you think about where things go from here.
Tonight isn't about Phillip Fulmer, and I'm really not so sure it's about Mike Hamilton. It's getting ready to be all about Mike Hamilton in terms of the next decision he makes, but really, how many athletic directors in the country are going to bed tonight thinking "Man, I'm glad I'm not that guy."
But the success we enjoyed under Fulmer was rare. You're allowed to feel however you want about that guy, even a year later, but our success at the top of his game is what it's all about. We wanted that back. And in the earliest stages, we were beginning to think that Kiffin could be the one to take us back to the promised land.
Now it's over, and the promised land seems farther away than it did when it started.
Lane Kiffin can say whatever he wants about us being in better shape than we were when he found us 14 months ago. That was a true statement five hours ago. But in one day, he may have done more to hurt us in the long run than Phillip Fulmer ever did. When you bail on us three weeks before signing day and do everything in your power to take all of our recruits with you, you weaken us immeasurably. Whatever good shape we were in on Monday, by his own hand Kiffin changed the entire situation for the worse on Tuesday. For the much worse. Our recruiting class could go from Top 10 to Top 100 overnight, and those effects could last for years.
I think about September, when despite our glaring deficiencies in the trenches and inexperience at quarterback, I was already talking myself into a dark horse SEC East run. I think about our rivals and the way we defended our coach in the face of their accusations, and how we'll do it again for the next guy. I think about places like Georgia that will try and comfort themselves with some form of "we told you so!" because they have the unique honor of being 0-1 forever against Lane Kiffin and Jonathan Crompton, 45-19.
I think about the ways in which I try and remember the good times, only to realize that with this one, those memories won't last.
We wanted to believe in Lane Kiffin, and it seemed like Lane Kiffin was doing enough to give us reason to do so. But in the quick and bitter end, it turns out that Lane Kiffin wasn't worth believing in at all.
Time will tell if he and USC have what it takes to go the distance. But he will always be our rebound girl and nothing more - the one that, in the end, made us realize how good we used to have it, and the one who will never truly be remembered as part of the Tennessee Family.
I hurt plenty over Fulmer's departure, even when change was necessary. I will not hurt for an infant who sold out his team at the absolute worst possible moment. Because while we think about Tennessee, Lane Kiffin thinks only about Lane Kiffin.
The Tennessee Family remains the constant. And so now, as Mike Hamilton knows, it immediately becomes about the next guy and the next step. The challenge will be greater than ever before. But we will be more than ready to love again.