FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Erik Ainge wasn't crazy about his alma mater hiring Lane Kiffin.
He was even more bummed when Kiffin officially came aboard.
But now that Kiffin's gone, now that Tennessee's free of his trash-talking, violation-drawing mouth, Ainge still isn't doing any happy dance.
"To just up and leave after talking the big game that he talked," Ainge said, "I don't agree with that."
Sitting in his locker at the Jets training facility Wednesday, the second-year quarterback and former Tennessee Vol looked around at his current teammates talking about this weekend's divisional playoff game at San Diego. Then he put his head back down, shook his head and said, "It's disappointing. It's just disappointing."
Ainge's reaction largely matches that of the rest of the college football nation -- or at least that outside Heritage Hall. Kiffin took USC's head coaching job Tuesday, a scant 14 months after he landed in Knoxville. He came in after an ingloriously ugly year at the helm of the Raiders, he immediately accused Urban Meyer and Florida of cheating and he promised wins. He racked up repeated secondary recruiting violations, he compelled an NCAA inquiry into his program and then he high-tailed it out, after seven wins and a pasting in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl.
Emotions at Tennessee are obviously raw, but they were in Florham Park too. Ainge said when Pete Carroll left USC for the Seahawks this weekend, he didn't even consider the possibility that Kiffin -- a USC assistant from 2001-06 -- would angle for the job.
"Obviously not -- he just signed on at Tennessee," he said. "The job at Tennessee is a big time job, it's not one of those jobs you just leave. It's not like it's a small school, it's not like it's a job you don't want to have. It's a big time job."
It's been less than two years since Ainge left campus, having broken Peyton Manning's freshman touchdown record and thrown for nearly 8,700 yards and 72 touchdowns. The Jets took him with their fifth round pick in 2008 and even as he admitted that college sometimes feels "far away" -- he never played for Kiffin, only Phil Fulmer -- he also said an insult to his school doesn't sting any less.
The hot name Wednesday to replace Kiffin was Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, but Ainge put in a quick lobby for David Cutcliffe. The offensive coordinator in his final two seasons at Tennessee, Cutcliffe is now the head coach at Duke. But his leaving Duke, after just two years, would be different than Kiffin's abandonment, Ainge insisted.
"You can say you get in the same kind of boat, but you also get into a Duke vs. Tennessee kind of thing," he said. "Duke isn't the same kind of program that Tennessee is. And the way that Coach Cutcliffe did it going to Duke, he didn't talk so much trash to all Duke's rivals. I don't think it would be the same situation at all."
Whatever happens, it will at least mark the end of the Lane Kiffin era. And that, Ainge said, even he'll eventually celebrate.