Lane Kiffin hadn't coached his first football game at Tennessee when he provided one of the all-time great sports metaphors. He abandoned a car he drove into a Knoxville ditch late one night, then left the scene of the accident.
About six months later, he abandoned UT for the head coaching job at Southern California. The program he left behind wasn't in a ditch, but it wasn't cruising down the interstate, either.
Since the Vols haven't received a final verdict from the NCAA, it's too early for the definitive review of Kiffin's one-year stand at UT. But nothing in that verdict is apt to change your opinion.
One opinion: He was good for the media and a gold mine for a columnist.
Another opinion: He was a lot smarter on the field than off it.
For example, he practically bragged about committing secondary NCAA violations, supposedly with the intent of drawing attention to a program that needed exposure. There's merit to that approach if you're squeaky clean when it comes to the more serious stuff.
The more serious stuff has just been spelled out in the NCAA's list of allegations against UT football. Nowhere in the report will you find the sentence: "That Kiffin dude is squeaky clean."
The story was different on the field. Kiffin and his staff took over a team that went 5-7 in 2009 and improved it significantly in a 7-5 regular season. The Vols were competitive against Florida, almost beat eventual national champion Alabama and pounded Georgia and South Carolina.
Three of their best players - Dan Williams, Montario Hardesty and Jonathan Crompton - had career years under Kiffin. The Crompton reclamation was stunning. The same player who struggled terribly under the previous staff became one of the most productive quarterbacks in the SEC over the last two-thirds of his senior season. He even got drafted.
But my lasting impression of Kiffin is based more on what he did to UT athletic director Mike Hamilton than what he did for Crompton.
Kiffin's career was hardly flourishing when Hamilton hired him after he had been fired as head coach of the Oakland Raiders. Yet Hamilton took a chance on him. It was a huge chance for a couple of reasons: Kiffin had never been a head coach at the college level, and Hamilton wasn't universally popular after firing longtime UT coach Phillip Fulmer.
This was a business deal, not an act of charity. And Kiffin was living off the Raiders, not on the street. So it's not as though he was interminably indebted to the risk taker who hired him.
I don't even fault him for leaving after one year. USC is one of the marquee jobs in college football, and there was a huge pay increase as well.
It's not that he left. It's the mess he left behind for Hamilton.
Never mind that Kiffin is more apt to be penalized than the Vols for his NCAA transgressions. Hamilton can't escape the fallout. He hired Kiffin and basketball coach Bruce Pearl, both of whom have committed major NCAA violations. His job is in jeopardy - in part, because of Kiffin.
That's how Kiffin repaid the man who gave him a plum job when he had no job.
I don't expect much from coaches, many of whom are single-minded, self-serving and often oblivious to whatever cumulative damage piles up in their wake. But Kiffin has fallen short of even those expectations.
Such behavior is easily rationalized. It's just business; Hamilton is accountable for his own decisions; "They would have never made it to the Chick-fil-A Bowl without me."
But somewhere between the Xs and Os rattling around in Kiffin's head and the formulation of his next sales pitch to a recruit, I'd like to think there's at least a faint voice telling him he owes Hamilton an apology.
John Adams is a senior columnist. He may be reached at 865-342-6284 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at http//:twitter.com/johnadamskns.