In many ways, reading Mark Nagi’s Decade of Dysfunction: The Road to Tennessee’s Crazy Coaching Search was a bit like reading Old Yeller or Where the Red Fern Grows. There are moments of early happiness, but you just know a bad end for some of the parties involved is just around the corner.
As a lifelong Tennessee football fan, reading about the mistakes, blunders, gaffs, and errors that led #VolTwitter to revolt a couple of years ago is both painful and enlightening. Memories of blown leads against teams we should have beat haunted me throughout this book. Nagi does a nice job of countering these by the successes that Tennesee had at points during the ten year period following the dismissal of Coach Philip Fulmer and the rollercoaster ride we’ve been on since that time.
And yet, having finished this book, I can’t help but come away wondering if Nagi might have benefited by allowing a bit more time to pass before diving into the events that led to Tennessee’s hiring Jermey Pruitt as head coach and Fulmer returning as athletic director. It’s similar to how I feel about DVD commentaries that come out six months or less after a movie has opened or an episode of television has aired. The participants may not have the time to get some perspective on things and really gives us some insight into what went on. I feel like a bit of time would have given the book a bit more perspective and might have coaxed out some participation by participants who declined to participate in this book.
At one point, Nagi references Clay Travis’ On Rocky Top, which delves into detail on Fulmer’s final season as coach (that season gets a chapter here). And I can’t help but think that Nagi doing this only brought my memories of that book to mind and made me compare the two. IN the long run, I am more likely to recommend Travis’ book to the Tennessee fan wanting to understand why letting Fulmer go was a tragedy and why his return as AD was part of the healing process that Tennessee football needed.
I can’t say myself necessarily doing the same about Nagi’s book. I did enjoy having the entire history recorded in one place and some of the insights into fan reaction during the Derek Dooley, Butch Jones, and Lane Kiffin tenures. But as Nagi circles in on the day #VolTwitter rebelled, I coudln’t help but find myself wanting something more — a bit more insight from the players involved in that situation, maybe even some insights into what the heck John Currie though we was doing and insights from the University higher ups that led them to pull the rug out from under Currie.
There are some interesting insights into the national perception of the Tennessee and how fans inside the state reacted to those events. I just wish there had been a bit more than the feeling that Nagi was only scratching the surface of a much deeper story.
That’s not to say I hate this book. I did enjoy reading it and taking this journey over a decade that has seen Tennessee football try to get back on the path to national prominence.