KNOXVILLE - Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning says he's "a big Butch Jones fan" and believes the second-year Tennessee coach has his alma mater's football program heading in the right direction.
Manning was in Knoxville on Monday for his charity golf tournament to benefit East Tennessee Children's Hospital and his own PeyBack Foundation. Manning also plans to work out with Tennessee's football team and speak to the players during his visit.
"I think it's going in the right direction," said Manning, the 1997 Heisman Trophy runner-up. "I think Butch had a lot of work to do when he got here. He's put in that work. He's signing some of his players. Every coach wants to have their players. He's been patient. At the same time, he's been hard-working, as he was advertised to be. He's done that. I just see it continuing to get better. I really do."
Tennessee is trying to end a string of four consecutive losing seasons, something that hadn't happened to this program since 1903-06. The Volunteers went 5-7 last year in Jones' debut season as coach, but they have since added a recruiting class ranked among the top five in the nation by multiple services.
"I really like Butch," Manning said. "I'm a big Butch Jones fan."
Manning said he communicates with Jones "pretty often" and praised the coach's organizational skills. Manning noted the itinerary Jones had arranged for his visit to Tennessee's campus. The trip will include meeting the candidates in the Vols' quarterback competition.
Senior Justin Worley and sophomores Joshua Dobbs and Nathan Peterman are competing for the starting position. Jones hasn't named a leader.
"Talk about really feeling old here, some of these guys weren't even born when I played football here at Tennessee," Manning said. "But it's fun to communicate with the guys, try to help them out, answer a question if they have them. I look forward to visiting Coach Jones as well."
Manning also addressed his NFL future.
The 38-year-old quarterback had said last week that he planned to continue playing as long as he's still productive and loves the game.
"Especially after my injury, when you change teams, it's kind of been the second chapter of my football career, and I think a one-year-at-a-time basis is a good philosophy," Manning said Monday. "You want to really evaluate are you still helping a team. Is there any way that I'm hurting the team or slowing them down? Can I still help the team?"
Manning said everyone needs to do "a little self-check" about whether he enjoys playing -- and not just the games.
"As long as I'm still looking forward and enjoying the preparation part of it, I'd like to still do it if I can still help a team and make an impact," Manning said. "I feel lucky to still be playing."