It was the best of times Saturday. It the worst of times Saturday.
It was the best of times at Auburn.
It was the worst of times at Tennessee.
And it was a pretty swell time at Mississippi State, too.
Let’s jump in the Wayback Machine for a moment and set the dial for December 2008.
Within a span of two weeks, three SEC schools were hiring new head football coaches to turn around declining fortunes.
Tennessee went first, with Lane Kiffin. Auburn introduced Gene Chizik and Mississippi State trotted out Dan Mullen.
The splashy hire of the three was Kiffin, with his golden Southern Cal aura and controversial NFL interlude with Al Davis and the Raiders.
Chizik seemed an underwhel-ming choice at Auburn, after going 5-19 in two seasons at Iowa State.
Mullen had the Urban Meyer-Tim Tebow link, but was hardly a household name in living rooms in Dallas or San Diego.
Kiffin scored big again on the staff front, luring his legendary dad Monte from the NFL, along with recruiting madman Ed Orgeron.
Funny how things have turned out nearly two years later. Or, not so funny if you’re in Tennessee.
For anyone who bleeds orange, the scene at Neyland Stadium grew more depressing the longer Saturday night wore on.
Alabama kept padding its margin, all the way to 41-10.
The audience at the end was clad primarily in Crimson.
One patron had to be shushed by a police officer from yelling an obscenity at athletic director Mike Hamilton on the sideline.
The Vols are 2-5, 0-4 SEC, and slogging through a winless October.
A few hours earlier, the scene at Jordan-Hare Stadium was different, 180 degrees different.
Auburn had just wrapped up a thrilling win over LSU that propels the Tigers into position to play for a national championship if they can stay unbeaten.
And — bonus points — Auburn is in that position because in Cameron Newton it has the new Heisman Trophy favorite.
Short of Auburn’s ecstasy but far above Tennessee’s agony is Mississippi State.
The Bulldogs, fresh off a win at Florida last week, beat UAB to improve to 6-2.
State is ranked in the Top 25 for the first time since 2001 and riding a five-game winning streak. Good times in Starkville.
There have been other successes in the hiring class of 2008. Chip Kelly, promoted at Oregon, has taken the Ducks to the next level.
Doug Marrone has Syracuse pointed in the right direction. At Iowa State, Paul Rhoads has a bowl win and victories at Nebraska and Texas.
The point is not to rub salt in any Tennessee wounds. It’s just interesting how things play out in college athletics, as in life. You never know.
With the benefit of hindsight, Tennessee made the bad hire in 2008. Not because Kiffin was a dunce, but because he left after one season.
I believe Hamilton and UT were unlucky, more than anything. There was no way to predict the Southern Cal job would open up last January, or that enough candidates would turn it down to put Kiffin in play.
But it happened.
Thus, through no fault of his own, Derek Dooley faces an unenviable job at Tennessee as the third head coach in three seasons.
Back in 2008, three SEC programs had fallen on hard enough times to make a coaching change.
As of Saturday, one of them was still there.
Mike Strange may be reached at email@example.com or 865-342-6276.