KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Former Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning says he’s “pulling hard” for Volunteers coach Butch Jones, who has received perhaps the toughest criticism of his five-year tenure over the last couple of weeks.
“I know this,” Manning said Friday, the day before a halftime ceremony celebrating his selection to the College Football Hall of Fame . “Coach Jones wakes up every day, and all he thinks about is Tennessee football. He literally eats, sleeps and breathes it. I get texts from him at all hours about some concept or philosophy, and he’s all in. I like the fact that our coach is that engaged and all in. I appreciate that about him and am pulling hard for him.”
The voice of support from one of Tennessee’s most prominent alums comes amid a tough stretch for Jones.
Jones had spent the last portion of his Monday press conference criticizing media coverage of his program and saying that “sometimes the negativity is overwhelming.” Tennessee fell out of the Top 25 after a 26-20 loss at Florida and followed that up with a 17-13 victory over winless 27 ½-point underdog Massachusetts.
Manning says he considers himself a Tennessee fan rather than an analyst. The five-time NFL Most Valuable Player and two-time Super Bowl champion noted that “asking me to give an update on how he’s doing would give the impression that what I say actually matters or is important. I’m not that important.”
“I’m just all in and behind Butch Jones,” Manning said. “I don’t think I have to say that because that’s just how I believe we all should be – and behind this team. We want to win every single game and you’d love to win by 40, that’d be easy, but that’s not the SEC and that’s not how it works.”
Manning, who finished second in the 1997 Heisman Trophy balloting , was part of a search committee that assisted the school in its selection of an athletic director earlier this year. Tennessee eventually hired John Currie , who took over in April .
Manning is on campus this weekend to recognize his College Football Hall of Fame selection before his Dec. 5 induction. Manning invited Tennessee’s other living Hall of Famers – Doug Dickey, Frank Emanuel, Phillip Fulmer, Bob Johnson, Chip Kell, Steve Kiner, Johnny Majors and John Michels – to join him at the halftime ceremony Saturday when Tennessee (3-1, 0-1 SEC) hosts No. 7 Georgia (4-0, 1-0).
All of them are expected to be there in person except for Michels, who will be represented by his daughter. Manning said he invited them all because of his “appreciation for the history of Tennessee football.”
“It will be kind of unique to have that group together,” Manning said.
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