The scoreboard hit zeroes. The horn sounded. It was over.
Spring practice, I mean. Within minutes, a stadium workman had stripped the big orange pad off the goal post and lugged it to a storage room where it will stay until August.
The Orange and White Game on Saturday brought the curtain down on a pivotal spring practice for Tennessee. As the crowd drifted out of Neyland Stadium, the coaches were already suffering coaching remorse.
"I wish this was one and we had 14 more to go,'' said new offensive coordinator Dave Clawson.
Only 14? Don't let your boss hear that.
"I'd like to have about 30 more days of spring practice,'' said UT coach Phillip Fulmer with tangible enthusiasm. "It's the best time.''
And now, for a coach, comes the worst time.
For fans, the countdown is on until the season-opener at UCLA on Sept. 1. For the coaches, however, the clock is ticking until early August, the first day of fall camp.
Until then, by NCAA decree, they have minimal contact with their players.
It will be nearly four months before Fulmer can again assemble his team on the practice field. And, make no mistake, for most coaches, the practice field is their favorite place. They absolutely revel in spring practice.
"Some of the guys are just starting to understand how to play the game,'' Fulmer said. "Now, it's over.''
A lot can happen between now and August, when the coaches regain control of their players' lives. Some of the possibilities make a coach pucker up.
What a football team does between spring and fall practice will say a lot about how it fares in the coming season. Fulmer and his staff met with the team on Friday to drive that point home.
"The leadership has got to be there,'' Fulmer said. "I told them I don't want any darn phone calls at two o'clock in the morning. About anything.''
Most of the players will stay on campus for summer school. They'll lift weights, go to class, work out informally on their own. Study videotape on their own.
On their own being the operative phrase.
"We're to the point now we know what must be done,'' said safety Demetrice Morley. "We don't need the coaches to tell us what to do all the time.''
They will at least have imposing figures like senior offensive lineman Anthony Parker telling them what to do. Parker, by now, knows the drill. And if he told me to lift weights at 6 a.m. I'd be there.
"You can either work extremely hard or you can get really lazy,'' Parker said. "It's a point where the older guys have to be leaders and encourage everybody to work hard.''
So off they go into this next phase. Parker signified the transition Saturday by getting his long hair cut off in the end zone after the game.
Teammate Arian Foster did the honors. It was Parker's first haircut, by his estimation, since before the eighth grade.
"I'd been thinking about it a couple of months,'' he said, tufts of his former locks scattered on the turf.
Thinking, perhaps, he'll be a little cooler through the hot months of lifting and running to come.
For now, there are recruiting trips for the coaches and fund-raising chores for Fulmer. Because of new NCAA legislation, head coaches can't go out recruiting during the month of May.
As much as he'd like to be on the road, Fulmer plans to turn the banishment into a positive.
"I made appointments with about 40 players,'' he said. "I'm going to look 'em in the eye.
"We'll have some heart-to-heart discussions.''
The importance of this particular spring and summer to Tennessee can't be overstated.
A familiar offensive system has been drastically overhauled by a new staff. Fifteen days of spring practice only go so far.
"There has to be carryover through the summer,'' Clawson said. "If we feel like we're starting from square one when we get to camp, we're in trouble.''
In the bigger picture, the 2008 season will be a reminder that it's been 10 years since the Vols last won an SEC title.
Fulmer described the spring as "fragmented.'' Besides the usual surgical rehab absences there were a couple of guys getting in trouble early, a few more missing practice later to attend to academic issues.
"When we get everybody healthy and pulling in the same direction, we can have a darn good team,'' Fulmer said. "We really can.''
For the next few months, this team will be pulling on its own, with no coach to pound out the cadence.
As to whether it pulls in the same direction, we'll find that out in August.
Mike Strange may be reached at 865-342-6276 or email@example.com.