John Clay: Coaches like Kiffin hold all the cards

The characteristics Tennessee loved about Lane Kiffin — his willingness to say and do anything — ended up biting the Vols in the end.

Coaches don't criticize other coaches. Kiffin did. Coaches don't publicly dis competing schools. Kiffin did. Coaches don't challenge the NCAA with a slew of secondary violations. Kiffin did.

Coaches don't willfully leave a Southeastern Conference school with a rich tradition and a massive fan base after just one season. Kiffin did.

Tennessee kicked old reliable Phil Fulmer to the curb and fell hard for the hot young thing. Kiffin was 33. He was bold. He was brash. You loved it when he poked a needle in Urban Meyer's ribs. Sure, he might have been a punk. But Tennessee considered him their punk.

And then Tuesday night, as my friend John Adams nailed it in the Knoxville News Sentinel, Tennessee "got punked."

Lane Kiffin to Southern California was all anyone could talk about Tuesday night at the O'Connell Center in Gainesville. (The Gators seem to have a keen interest in what happens in K-ville.) Kentucky and Florida might have been playing basketball on the floor, but the main thing on everyone's minds was the shocking football news out of UT.

Just minutes before tip-off, Kentucky Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart was at the media table asking whether the Kiffin rumors were true.

Internet searches commenced. First, speculation. Then sources. Then confirmation. By night's end, gossip had Tennessee students storming the school's football offices. There were rumors of smoke bombs and police helicopters. Suddenly, a joyride by a quartet of gun-toting basketball players was old news.

Ah, anarchy in the UT.

And you thought NBC was a mess. Jay Leno whined that NBC stood for "Never Believe your Contract." In college athletics, it could stand for, "Never Believe a Coach."

You had to know that somewhere Tuesday night, ol' Fulmer was smiling.

The man with real egg on his face here is Mike Hamilton, the Tennessee athletics director, who signed a bad pre-nup. Kiffin's monetary punishment for breaking his contract after just 13 months? A mere $800,000.

In a profession where Texas' Mack Brown, the coach who helped lose the national title by calling that ridiculous shovel pass, had his salary bumped up to $5 million per year, Kiffin's buyout is mere pocket change.

In the end, nothing changes, of course. Coaches have all the power. They come, they go. They're paid either way.

Even Billy Gillispie, whose two-year reign of terror and error has only been accentuated by John Calipari's sudden success, wobbled away with more than $3 million, just to stay away — and, of course, have nothing bad to say about his former employers.

The government is reportedly considering taxing Wall Street entities, thanks to their excessive salaries and bonuses. When might it start taxing college athletic departments?

There are some faint indicators out there of a slight push-back. It is no longer OK for a coach to ( allegedly) place a player with a concussion in a dark tool shed. At least not at Texas Tech. It is no longer OK for a coach to (allegedly) grab and slap a player as part of his halftime motivational strategy. At least not at South Florida. I guess that's called progress.

But apparently it is still OK for a coach to sign a huge contract, preach loyalty, honesty, integrity and teamwork and then break those vows, easily as you please.

But then, come on, Tennessee fans, what did you expect?