UT holds a history and a legend that can be found only in Tennessee football. Over the years, the program has hosted remarkable individuals, from General Robert Neyland to Phillip Fulmer. But in recent history, there is one name that has not only touched fans and athletes at UT, but people across the nation.
First-year UT head coach Butch Jones said he is a gentleman who needs no introduction. He's a Tennessee legend and lives the life of a true Volunteer. He is Peyton Manning.
"I just want to publicly thank Peyton. We love him, and we are very proud of him," Jones said.
Manning visited Knoxville this weekend, meeting with Jones and high school coaches around the area, and taking time to talk with the football team and answer their questions.
Seizing an opportunity to invest in the future of Tennessee football, Manning communicated his support for Jones' future at UT. After speaking with Jones a little more about his vision for the future of the program, Manning said he has great confidence in Jones' qualifications for the job.
"I was impressed. I think he has a plan; he has a mission. There is no question," Manning said. "He has a short-term plan and a long-term plan. It made a lot of sense to me. Then getting with his staff, I can tell he selected these coaches very carefully and for a specific reason. They all bring something to the table."
Manning encouraged UT fans to get excited about the program, support Jones' efforts to revamp it and get ready to see some success in the future. That said, he also thinks the process will take time and patience from coaches, players and fans.
"I think it is an exciting time for Tennessee football. I think people need to stay committed to it and stay patient with it," Manning said. "It doesn't happen overnight. I sure liked what I heard these past two days."
During his time with the team on Friday, Manning, who is currently a quarterback for the Denver Broncos, said he was encouraged by the players' enthusiasm to succeed in the future. He said he has faith that Jones has what it takes to take the program back to its glory days.
"The players this year just have a great opportunity to kind of create their own legacy and to be part of a turnaround here at Tennessee," Manning said. "We all know the past few years haven't been the most fun for the Tennessee football family and Coach Jones is determined to turn that around.
"It was a really impressive group of men that I got the chance to address, like Coach Jones said, they had some great questions about what they can do to be better and how they can create their own legacy and be part of a turnaround here in Knoxville. So I really enjoyed the time."
As a Tennessee legend, Vol for Life and role model to young people around the world, Manning's effect on UT didn't end with his last game at Neyland Stadium or his graduation from the university. He said the university had a huge impact on his life and he enjoys coming back again and again.
"I had a wonderful four years here at (UT)," he said. "A big reason why I stayed here my senior year is I really wanted one more year of college experience ... Obviously there's been a lot of changes from the time since I've been gone. But it's still (UT) and it's still Volunteer pride and I'm a huge fan of those."