Column: Dennis Dodd Misses Mark in Criticism of Vol Fans

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    Photo Credit: Mason Burgin/RTI

    Vol fans have a contentious relationship with the national media as a whole after the way the 2017 football season went. But aside from maybe Dan Wolken of USA Today Sports, the one national writer Vol fans dislike the most after the aftermath of the 2017 season is Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports.

    Not only did Dodd proclaim that embattled head coach Butch Jones was actually underrated before the start of the 2017 season (an opinion that was met with both laughter and outrage by most fans), but he also didn’t believe Jones should’ve been on the hot seat before the season began either.

    That only laid the foundation for what was to come, however.

    During Tennessee’s coaching search, Dodd was one of the leading voices in the national media who lambasted Vol fans for their actions towards John Currie and Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano. He, along with several other media members, discounted the opinions and beliefs of Vol fans everywhere as they revolted against Schiano, painting it simply as fans pitching a fit because they didn’t get the coach that they wanted.

    In reality, it was so much more than that. But I’ll get to that in a moment.

    All of Tennessee’s hatred for Dodd culminated on November 27th, 2017 with his now infamous “Bubba from Pidgeon Forge” tweet. Dodd has since deleted that tweet, but not only was it a complete generalization of Vol fans, casting them all as rednecks and simpletons, but he also happened to tweet out that particular insult on the one year anniversary of the start of the wild fires that engulfed so much of that area for days back in 2016.

    Plus, he misspelled Pigeon Forge.

    Ever since then, Vol fans have harbored an understandable distaste towards Dodd. But on Tuesday of this week, Dodd decided to dredge up old memories and talk about the Vols’ coaching search once again.

    And just like he did back in November of 2017, Dodd completely missed the mark with his assessment of Vol fans.

    Dodd wrote a column about new Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt and discussed both Pruitt’s merit as head coach and Phillip Fulmer’s job as Athletics Director. But in that piece, he couldn’t resist taking shots at Vol fans for their actions around the hiring of Greg Schiano once again.

    “Social media and protesting Vols fans became unhinged,” Dodd writes. “The rest of us cringed. In the deep recesses of the Volunteer soul, there emerged miscast outrage over Schiano’s never-proven involvement in the Jerry Sandusky scandal.

    “A large portion of those protestors were faux moral ethicists. They simply didn’t care to see Tennessee hire a former Rutgers coach with a 68-67 record who hadn’t led a team in five years.

    “All of them should be embarrassed.”

    Dodd goes on to state that Vol fans “traditionally overvalue their program” and claims that “this is a fan base that was convinced Jon Gruden was a possibility.”

    Vol fans, and myself, will be quick to point out that Dodd is wrong on several fronts here.

    Yes, Schiano’s record as a head coach was uninspiring. The stories about him being an “autocrat” as head coach of Tampa Bay in the NFL also raised concerns among Vol fans. And all of that should have. Tennessee fans just went through five years of a coach who acted more like a robot than a coach, a man who seemed to look down on media and sometimes fans as well.

    Butch Jones isn’t a terrible man, but Vol fans were right to dislike him as his stay wore on at Tennessee. His teams consistently underperformed, and he consistently made excuses for that. Not only that, but the more that’s been revealed about his time at Tennessee, the more it looks like he and Schiano are one in the same when it comes to their coaching style.

    Vol fans would’ve been justified enough with being mad about the potential Schiano hire based on that alone. But it goes much deeper than that.

    Even if Schiano had never actually been involved with the Jerry Sandusky situation at Penn State, the fact that his name was tied to it at all should’ve been enough for Tennessee’s administration to count him out as a candidate. What happened at Penn State and the subsequent years of cover up is something no university should want to be associated with, no matter how loosely.

    Why would any fan want that kind of dark cloud to hang over their favorite university and team?

    But, once again, it goes even deeper than that. The revolt against Schiano wasn’t even fully about Schiano; Vol fans were sick and tired of seeing an administration make decisions like that one without even seeming like they cared how it affected fans, former players, and others. And that disconnect with the administration hadn’t been going on for just two or three years. It hadn’t even been going on for five or six years; for a decade or more, Vol fans had been fighting a losing battle against UT administration when it came to the athletic department.

    The decision to hire Mike Hamilton as AD technically started it all, but the decision to fire Phillip Fulmer as head coach and how that situation was handled is where the real anger began. You can still debate whether or not firing Fulmer was the right choice at the time or not, but what almost every Vol fan will agree on is that his firing was botched, and a Tennessee legend was left embarrassed and cast aside in the process.

    That was back in 2008. Since then, Tennessee’s administration has made poor decision after poor decision, and Vol fans had to put up with it. Whether it was hiring Lane Kiffin, hiring Derek Dooley, firing Bruce Pearl, hiring Donnie Tyndall, getting rid of the Lady Vols moniker, or hiring Butch Jones, Vol fans had dealt with a decade of lackluster decision-making.

    And they finally had had enough of it when then-AD John Currie wanted to hire Schiano.

    It was never as simple as Vol fans being outraged because Tennessee was hiring a coach they didn’t want. The protests and near-boycotts of the university were much more multi-faceted than that. But most of those in the national media, like Dodd, don’t see that because they’ve not lived through the last decade-plus of Tennessee athletics right in the heart of it. They’re far removed and cover a multitude of other teams; Tennessee isn’t their main concern.

    And as for Vol fans “overvaluing” their program: Tennessee is in the top 10 of all-time wins in college football history. They have one of the greatest coaches in college football history in General Robert Neyland, have won multiple national titles, and have been a premier program in the SEC. Yes, Tennessee has fallen on hard times the last decade and has slipped into somewhat irrelevance. But that doesn’t discount the decades of success before that.

    Tennessee has gone 62-63 since their last 10-win season in 2007. But that doesn’t ignore the 157-40-2 record they achieved from 1989-2004, and that stretch includes four conference titles and a national championship.

    Most Vol fans don’t overvalue Tennessee’s football program. In fact, you could argue Tennessee’s administration has undervalued it with the hires they’ve made in the past, looking to mid-major programs like Louisiana Tech and Cincinnati for their next head coach to lead an SEC powerhouse.

    Additionally, Dodd claiming that Tennessee’s fan base as a whole believing in Jon Gruden as a legitimate candidate for head coach is another missed assessment. Those who actually believed Gruden to be a real, tangible option for Tennessee were largely in the minority. Some believed, and others wanted to. But I will always hold that the majority of Vol fans never truly thought Gruden was going to be on Tennessee’s sidelines in 2018, nor did they think he was a realistic candidate.

    Those who would make out Vol fans as a rabid fan base who wanted Gruden and nobody else are simply swept up in the social media fervor that surrounded Gruden at the time. Social media can conflate opinions and warp reality, and I think that was largely the case with Gruden.

    Many national media members will never forgive or forget what Tennessee fans did in November of 2017, and most Vol fans are fine with that. They don’t particularly care what some journalist hundreds of miles away thinks about them or their university. But those same media members continue to try and make Vol fans out to be something they’re not, and that will enrage them regardless of who it is that’s saying it.

    Dodd got it wrong (again) with Vol fans. But he wasn’t the first to miscast Tennessee fans over this, and he certainly won’t be the last.



    Nathanael Rutherford is the managing editor and social media manager for Rocky Top Insider. Nathanael graduated from the University of Tennessee and cultivated a passion for the Vols while growing up in Knoxville a mere 10 minutes from Neyland Stadium. He's been a part of the RTI team since November of 2015 and has been the editor of RTI since June of 2017. If he's not talking or writing about Tennessee athletics, he's probably talking about Star Wars.