KNOXVILLE - Peyton Manning had spoken with new Tennessee football coach Butch Jones multiple times on the phone, but the Volunteers' quarterback legend didn't have a chance to see the program up close under its new management until this week.
In Knoxville for Tennessee's annual spring clinic for high school football coaches, Manning likes what he's seen in a short period of time.
"I think he's got a plan," the Denver Broncos quarterback said of Jones. "He's got a mission. He's got a short-term and a long-term plan, but it made a lot of sense to me. Getting with his staff, I can tell he selected these coaches very carefully and for a specific reason. I think they all bring something to the table.
"I think it's an exciting time for Tennessee football. People need to stay committed to it and stay patient with it. It doesn't happen overnight, but I sure liked what I've heard the past two days."
The longtime Indianapolis Colt spent some time earlier in the week at Duke University reuniting with Blue Devils coach David Cutcliffe, his offensive coordinator and position coach at Tennessee, and throwing with younger brother Eli, the New York Giants quarterback, and new Denver receiver Wes Welker, whom the Broncos signed via free agency from New England this offseason.
Peyton and his wife, Ashley, also donated $500,000 to the Pat Summitt Foundation as the former Tennessee women's basketball coach continues her fight against Alzheimer's disease and dementia.
Manning arrived Thursday night in Knoxville and met with Jones and his staff for nearly four hours before speaking with the current team Friday morning. He later served as the clinic's keynote speaker.
"I think he's got it all mapped out," Manning said. "I like his slogans and his philosophies, the things he believes in. I think he's really preaching accountability to his players, and it seems like the players have really bought in. I know he's been here a short period of time, and this is just spring practice -- we've got training camp and haven't even played a game yet -- but I really like what he's saying. I like how he sounded on the phone; I could tell he's excited.
"I think 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 that we want here, people that are all in Tennessee Vol, and I can tell he is that."
Because of Manning, Jones nearly didn't end up at Tennessee.
At the urging of John Elway, Denver's two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback who's now the Broncos' executive vice president for football operations, Manning spoke to Jones in early December about the Colorado opening before Tennessee's search moved to the Cincinnati coach.
"When your boss asks you to make a phone call, you have to make a phone call," Manning recalled. "I said, 'I don't know anything about Colorado.' He said, 'Well, will you tell him that this is a good place to play football and a nice play to live?' and I said, 'I can do that.'"
Though Manning said he didn't know much about Jones when the two spoke, he's now grateful the Vols hired him even after some other targets didn't pan out.
"I really feel we got lucky," Manning said. "I know we had some other people that didn't quite work out that we were interviewing first. I really feel we were fortunate to land Butch Jones. I really do, and I think it's going to be a huge difference for this program."
Contact Patrick Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org or 901-581-7288. Follow him at twitter.com/patrickbrowntfp.