Mark Nagi book recounts Vols' "Decade of Dysfunction"

Tennessee head coach Butch Jones makes his way to the locker room after warmups before an NCAA football game against Southern Mississippi at Neyland Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017 in Knoxville, Tenn.

KNOXVILLE - When Tennessee fans and other university stakeholders met an attempt to hire Greg Schiano as the Volunteers' football coach with fury last November, Mark Nagi noticed a widespread framing of the saga that lacked proper context.

"The perception nationally was that Tennessee fans flipped out because they weren't hiring Jon Gruden, and that's why they had the revolt," Nagi said this past week. "When in actuality, this had been building for 10 years."

Nagi, who has covered Vols sports for 20 years, decided to set the record straight.

His newly released book, "Decade of Dysfunction," uses interviews with more than 100 fans, former Tennessee coaches, former players and athletic department staff members to paint a full picture of a bleak period in Vols athletics that simply culminated with the Schiano fiasco.

"I just knew that it all added up, and that's why you had what happened on Sunday, November 26th," Nagi said, referencing the date when news leaked that Schiano was in line to replace Butch Jones as Tennessee's football coach. "It wasn't just because it was Greg Schiano. It almost had nothing at all to do with Greg Schiano. It's just he was the spark that put Tennessee fans finally over the edge.

"That's the whole thing with the title, is this thing was 10 years in the making."

The paperback book is available for $19.98 on Amazon - the price being a homage to the year of Tennessee's last football national championship - and a Kindle version is available also.

For the book, Nagi interviewed Lane Kiffin, who famously left Tennessee after one season as football coach for the University of Southern California. Nagi also talked to former University of Tennessee at Chattanooga athletic director David Blackburn, who worked at Tennessee during the Kiffin and Derek Dooley coaching regimes.

photo Tennessee coach Derek Dooley watches the bench.

"But again," Nagi said, "I feel like this is a book for the fans, and their insight into what they've experienced over the last 10 years was absolutely invaluable."

The 354-page book was nearly complete, Nagi said, when the university fulfilled records requests in March that made public the email and text-message communications of university administrators and officials from the coaching search. That required Nagi to rewrite the last few chapters of "Decade of Dysfunction" to add even more detail.

One of the book's overarching themes remained the same, however, even as the fallout from the Schiano ordeal continued throughout Nagi's writing.

"The hiring of Phillip Fulmer" as athletic director, Nagi said, "brought much-needed stability to that athletic department and to an extent, that university."

Nagi noted that from 1993 to 1999 - a period of widespread success for Tennessee athletics - the university had "complete stability" of leadership, both academically and in athletics.

The 1990s often are referred to as a decade of dominance at Tennessee. But then came a decade of dysfunction that Nagi's book recounts in unrivaled detail, culminating with the arrival of Fulmer, who brings fresh hope for fans that the athletic department will return to its successful ways.

photo University of Tennessee athletic director Phillip Fulmer, left, introduces Jeremy Pruitt during his introduction ceremony as Tennessee's next head NCAA college football coach in Knoxville, Tenn., Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017. (Calvin Mattheis/Knoxville News Sentinel via AP)

"At the end of the day, Tennessee has someone in charge of the athletic department who people feel is 100 percent invested in getting Tennessee back to where it needs to go," Nagi said. "Honestly, I feel that for a lot of Tennessee fans, that's all that they've ever wanted, to have someone there who they felt was as invested in the program as they were."

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