KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Peyton Manning is back at his alma mater this week endorsing new Tennessee coach Butch Jones and preaching patience from the Volunteers' fan base.
"He's got it all mapped out," the Denver Broncos quarterback said. "I like his slogans, his philosophies, the things that he believes in. He's really preaching accountability to his players. It seems like the players have really bought in. ... The most inspiring thing is how excited he is to be here. This is the job that he wanted, and this is where he wants to stay and wants to retire. Those are the kind of people we want here at Tennessee, the people who are all-in Tennessee Vol. I can tell he is that."
Manning, the 1997 Heisman Trophy runner-up, returned to campus to speak at Tennessee's spring coaches clinic. He met Tennessee's coaching staff on Thursday night, spoke to the team on Friday morning and talked to about 1,000 clinic participants later that day.
The four-time NFL MVP said he believes Jones will turn around a Tennessee program that has posted three straight losing seasons for the first time since 1909-11. Jones is replacing Derek Dooley, who was fired after going 15-21 in three seasons.
"I think it's an exciting time for Tennessee football, I really do," Manning said. "People need to stay committed to it and stay patient with it. It doesn't happen overnight. But I sure like what I've heard the last two days."
Manning also discussed his health status and his recent $500,000 donation to the Pat Summitt Foundation during a session with reporters. And his return to campus gave him an opportunity to clear up something Jones had mentioned during his introductory press conference.
Jones, who spent the last three years at Cincinnati, turned down an offer to take over Colorado's program before Tennessee approached him. Jones said back in December that when he was considering whether to stay at Cincinnati or head to Colorado, he received a text message from Manning selling him on the Colorado opportunity.
Manning said he was acting on a request from Broncos executive vice president of football operations John Elway, who had a friend leading the Colorado search. Manning noted that Tennessee hadn't contacted Jones regarding its vacancy at the time.
"When the boss asks you to make a phone call, you have to make a phone call," Manning said. "I said, 'I don't really know anything about Colorado.' He said, 'Well, you tell him this is a good place to play football and it's a nice place to live.' I said, 'I can do that. I don't know anything else about the University of Colorado.' So that's what I did.
"I think it causes some confusion, that I was recruiting a guy to come to Colorado. I recruit for one school and one school only — the University of Tennessee."
Manning threw for 4,659 yards and 37 touchdowns while leading the Broncos to a 13-3 record in his debut year with Denver, but he indicated he's still working his way back from neck surgery that caused him to miss the entire 2011 season.
"I kind of wish certain things would come back a little bit more, but I have learned to adjust and compensate in the state that I am," Manning said. "I'd still like to make some more improvement. I still work at it. Obviously I think I can perform kind of status quo, but I still have hopes and am determined to try to seek more improvement. I'm certainly better than I was last year, but I'm still not quite where I was before I was injured."
Manning's trip back to Tennessee also allowed him to sign a ceremonial check Thursday for the $500,000 donation he and his wife are making to the Pat Summitt Foundation. Manning is an honorary co-chair of the advisory board for the foundation, dedicated to fighting Alzheimer's disease. The Mannings' donation was first announced Saturday.
Manning called the former Tennessee women's basketball coach a confidante and said she was one of the first people he sought for advice while deciding whether to enter the NFL Draft or return to school for his senior year.
"Pat's fighting a tough fight and has got a whole new challenge, and I'm just proud of her for stepping out in front of this challenge and this disease," Manning said. "I just wanted to make a contribution to help her because I believe in her. I do believe with Pat Summitt out in front leading any type of game plan — a basketball game, a fight against a terrible disease — I know she will win."