I very seldom do book reviews. In fact, I can't really remember ever doing one at all to be totally honest. I'm bucking that trend today because I just finished Mark Nagi's book," Decade of Dysfunction." The book chronicles the ten year period of struggles of the University of Tennessee's athletic department. While the book mainly focuses on football, there is also a mention or two about men's and women's basketball as well. The bottom line here is it started with the athletic director's office and trickled down through the entire department like a toxic gas, eventually encompassing all sports at the University in some form or fashion.
Mark Nagi is a reporter, sports anchor and photographer who has covered the Volunteers for twenty years and his book is right on point.
I may have met Mark while covering the Vols myself but I'm sure of one thing; he is an accomplished writer and reporter.
The book begins with the tail end of Phillip Fulmer's tenure as Tennessee's head football coach in 2008. I was still covering Tennessee full-time at WRCB-TV and on more than one occasion I stated on the air that firing Coach Fulmer would be a disaster. My exact words were, " If Fulmer is fired as head coach, the football program will suffer in mediocrity for years." Boy was I correct. This fall marks ten years since Fulmer was let go, thus the " Decade of Dysfunction."
The most accurate part of Mark's book was his writing about the failed, almost laughable coaching search led by former athletic director John Currie in late 2017. Long-time Tennessee fans, state legislators and many others rose up against the hiring of Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano as the new head football coach. That uprising did the trick because Tennessee backed out of a Memorandum of Understanding agreement with Schiano. However, that uprising brought down the ire of several members of the national media. Nagi writes, "Across the country Tennessee fans were seen as a bunch of country bumpkins who were mad the Vols' weren't hiring Jon Gruden, so they pitched a hissy-fit."
That was the same approach others were feeling on the national stage, but they had no idea of the tremendous passion the Big Orange Nation has for their teams. After almost ten years in mediocrity or worse, Tennessee fans had enough. They burned their orange and white Tennessee gear, hundreds protested on campus the day that Currie was supposed to announce the hiring of Greg Schiano and of course thousands and thousands sent emails to university officials saying if Schiano was hired, they were finished with the Volunteers. It worked. It also led to the firing of John Currie in the middle of his coaching search and eventually the demise of Chancellor Dr. Beverly Davenport. It led to the hiring of Volunteer legend Phillip Fulmer as athletic director, who hired former Alabama assistant coach Jeremy Pruitt to be the Vols' 26th head football coach. Fulmer, aka "The Battle Captain" has calmed the storm. He brought Tennessee fans together like no other person on earth could have done.
I recently caught up with Coach Fulmer and told him, when Tennessee brought him back it was one of the happiest days of my life. That was the fan in me speaking. The media person in me was also happy that the Decade of Dysfunction was almost over and we could now concentrate on actually covering the Vols again, rather than the circus that has surrounded the program for ten years or more. Tennessee may have a few more years of mediocrity in football while Pruitt builds his program, but "The Battle Captain" is in charge and that ultimately means stability in the program.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Mark Nagi's "Decade of Dysfunction." It was well done and accurate and I suggest all Tennessee fans get a copy. It made for a great "beach read" for me.
Randy Smith can be reached at email@example.com