Centennial Alumni

Peyton Manning

Former Professional Football Player

UT Knoxville, ’97

Photo By Hayley Pennesi/Tennessee Athletics


What could possibly be said about Peyton Manning that hasn’t been said before? Many times?

Maybe a thing or two, from my perspective as one of his former football coaches. Like how his sense of loyalty—and not just his athletic accomplishments—is what really sets him apart. That his passion to win is equaled by his passion to do the right thing. That he wants and enjoys being a great teammate, not just a great player.

I feel fortunate to have the special bond of friendship with Peyton that I do. It began more than 20 years ago when (former Vols offensive coordinator) David Cutcliffe and I worked to recruit Peyton to Tennessee.

People sometimes ask how the son of Ole Miss royalty—a legend like Archie Manning and homecoming queen Olivia Manning—ended up at Tennessee. I believe several things played into his decision. He saw what Heath Shuler had done with the passing game in our offense and felt our offense was a good fit for him. Coach Cutcliffe had done great things and had a great relationship with Heath, and Peyton really liked Coach Cutcliffe, too. Finally, he had a great visit to campus, and then Peyton and Archie had to stay with us another day due to bad weather. I believe it helped confirm to them that “these are good coaches as well as good people to be with.”

He went on to become the fourth quarterback in NCAA history to pass for 11,000 yards, and he holds 33 Tennessee career records. He was the No. 1 pick in the 1998 NFL draft, and he established a string of records in that league, including being the only quarterback to start in the Super Bowl for two different teams more than once and to win the Super Bowl with two different teams.

Peyton went out on top, after his last Super Bowl win, by announcing his retirement from pro football in March 2016. Ever since, people have wondered about his next move. My guess is he’ll do what he wants, and like he does better than anybody else I’ve ever known, he’s thinking carefully about what he wants to do for the next 30 years.

Whatever that is, Peyton is­—and I’m confident will remain—one of those guys who doesn’t forget where he came from. He’s returned often to Rocky Top, and he’s been a generous friend to his university. There probably have been others like him in the past and there may be more in the future, but he’s one of a kind for his generation. An incredible person and a figure who represents the best of what our state and college football are about.

Phillip Fulmer (Knoxville ’72) was head coach of the Tennessee Volunteers from 1992 to 2008.