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Vols media on the brink of all-out war?

“What an upside-down world we’re living in. We’ve reached a point where even the media are fighting each other.”

That was a statement made by my pastor at this morning’s church service.

Now, my pastor was most assuredly not talking about football. He was probably referencing the ongoing feud between CNN and Fox News, but he didn’t elaborate.

It was an interesting coincidence, though, considering that I settled in at my desk this evening to find Vol media types Mike Griffith and Jayson Swain engaged in a full-scale war.

Actually, that’s not entirely fair. The “war” was virtually one-sided. Swain was fully on the offensive, while Griffith wasn’t offering much of a defense.

Nevertheless, it has been intriguing to watch this play out. It’s been building for a while, but really heated up when the two went head-to-head on Paul Finebaum’s radio show Friday afternoon.

Swain and Griffith are quite different. Griffith is a legacy media guy — a true journalist who once worked for the Knoxville News Sentinel and these days writes for SEC Country, which is owned by Atlanta-based Cox Media Group. Swain is a former player from the Fulmer era who now has his own radio show, The Swain Event, on Knoxville’s Sports Radio 1180.

They’re also different in their approach to Tennessee head coach Butch Jones. Swain is no fan of Jones and is one of the most vocal former players to criticize him. Griffith is decidedly pro-Jones and defends the head coach to a fault.

Last month, Griffith used his daily SEC Country podcast to rip certain members of the Tennessee media.

“I call them media but they’re really not,” Griffith said. “They really don’t show up for anything. I guess just because you have a radio platform or a blog, I guess that’s a loose term for some people to be called media. But a lot of the people who don’t really show up for things and don’t really understand what’s happening kinda take their shots from afar and get other people on the internet fired up. It’s really not healthy at all for Tennessee sports. It’s a bad look, it hurts recruiting. It hurts the coaches, it hurts the players. They don’t like it.

“I don’t even understand it. There’s people sponsoring some of these mouthpieces for negativity. Do you realize you’re putting your business’s credibility behind people who are saying things that aren’t credible?”

Griffith did not mention Swain by name, may not have even been referring to Swain. But he was referring to Swain on Friday when he referenced Tennessee’s 5-6 season in 2005, a team that Swain was a part of.

That comment came on Paul Finebaum’s show, as Swain and Griffith debated Jones’ future and Tennessee’s chances against Georgia.

As the back-and-forth continued between the two men, Griffith drew Swain’s ire when he said that Tennessee’s most recent former players don’t have the same expectations for the Vols’ program because they did not come to Tennessee to win national championships.

“They came to a last-place program on probation,” Griffith said. “The program that they came to in 2013 and 2014 wasn’t competing for national championships. So they are proud of 9-4. Josh Dobbs is proud of what he did at Tennessee.”

Swain fired back that Dobbs could not have been proud of his senior season because the Vols failed to meet expectations.

“Their goal was to win the East,” Swain said. “They didn’t achieve their goal so why would they be proud of that? That doesn’t make sense.”

On Sunday, Jones appeared to reference Swain again in a Facebook comment, saying, “Some VFLs from 5-6 season only won one bowl and acting all high and mighty.”

Swain took exception, and an all-out war ensued. Here’s the blow-by-blow:

Then Swain took the assault to another level by digging back through Griffith’s Twitter timeline far enough to find a Tweet from 2015 — when Griffith was a Michigan State beat writer — that struck a critical tone of the Tennessee administration:

Griffith’s defense was a subtle one:

It’s going to be a tense couple of weeks for the Tennessee fan base, and apparently that is going to carry over to media circles as well. Something tells me that Oct. 14 game against South Carolina can’t get here fast enough!

Edit: This story has been corrected. An earlier version stated that Swain is one of the former players to endorse Jones’ termination; in fact, Swain has been highly critical of Jones but has stopped short of calling for him to be fired, to date. The previous version also wrongly stated that Griffith’s comment referencing Swain was from a since-deleted Tweet. It was actually from a Facebook comment.

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