Should Peyton Manning really matter in Tennessee's coaching search? Yes and no
On the surface, it probably made some Tennessee fans excited to see that their most prominent former player, Peyton Manning, reportedly will have “a big role” in the coaching search for Jeremy Pruitt’s replacement. The casual fan would look at Manning’s involvement in such an important decision and declare that in order to return Tennessee to national prominence, it would probably make sense to involve someone with as much pull as Manning.
Well, yes and no.
You see, Manning’s involvement in finding the next Tennessee coach shouldn’t exactly sound off the “feels like ’98” vibes on Rocky Top.
(I know, I know. They won a national title the year after he graduated. Nonetheless, Manning is still associated with that golden era more than 2 decades later.)
If Manning is indeed heavily involved in the search, that can be deemed as a positive and a negative.
How could I say that? Isn’t this a home run and a sign that the Vols are entering this with a clear head?
Not at all. Manning, if you recall, was all in on hiring Greg Schiano. We know how that debacle turned out. Vol Twitter fired a man before he ever coached a game. You know who else Manning was “all in” on? Butch Jones. We know how that turned how at as well. Tennessee became champions of life and nothing else.
Consider that your warning that Manning isn’t exactly batting 1.000 when it comes to weighing in on the future of Tennessee. And while paying a search firm is often throwing money down the toilet, Manning’s track record shows he often goes with the court of public opinion (he backed off his Schiano support after seeing the reaction from Tennessee fans). Football Scoop reported that Tennessee hired Parker Executive Search for its athletic director search, who will then be responsible for hiring the head coach.
In other words, no, Manning isn’t getting the final say. But will he have some pull? It’d be foolish to think he won’t.
It’d also be foolish to not think about Manning’s bloodlines. Arch Manning, who is Peyton’s nephew and Cooper Manning’s son, is a top-5 recruit in the 2023 class. That’s right. It’ll be another 2 years before the next Manning prodigy can enroll in college. Who knows how many coaches Tennessee will have hired and fired by then.
Sorry, Vols fans. That was sitting right there.
As crazy as it sounds, there is at least a little part of this search that has to consider that element. That is, mess this up and you ensure that you’re going to miss out on another decorated Manning quarterback just like Eli Manning 2 decades ago. That’s not to say that Peyton and Arch share a brain, but it is at least a reason why No. 16’s opinion will be taken into consideration.
There’s a balance there. If Tennessee gets Manning’s vote to hire the newly fired Adam Gase because he helped guide Manning to a Super Bowl with the Broncos, yikes. It was Manning who recommended Gase to the New York Jets, where he went 9-23 in 2 seasons. We have half a decade’s worth of anemic offenses and bad NFL teams that suggests Gase might’ve been lifted by having one of the best minds to ever play the sport as his starting quarterback in Denver.
That’s another part of this that has to be considered with Manning.
If he thinks the Vols are a correct decision from reverting to the 1990s, that might not be the approach. Besides the fact that Tennessee hasn’t won an SEC title since 1998 and the Vols are 5-37 against their 3 biggest rivals since Nick Saban arrived at Alabama in 2007, this is now a program facing an investigation for multiple Level I violations. Tennessee couldn’t win when it was allegedly cheating, how bad will it be when it has an inevitable punishment and the NCAA watching it like a hawk?
Hopefully for Tennessee’s sake, Manning can think practically. This job might not necessarily be exclusively for someone who roots in the Volunteer State, though it seems the list of obvious candidates like Billy Napier, Jamey Chadwell and Hugh Freeze all have some sort of Tennessee tie. It doesn’t have to be an offensive mind just because Pruitt collapsed as a defensive mind. It doesn’t have to be a Saban disciple, either.
It’ll be interesting to hear who Manning supports. It’ll be equally interesting to hear if that candidate lines up with Tennessee’s next athletic director.
Tennessee has bigger things to worry about than whether its most prominent former athlete feels included in the search for a head coach. There’s a fine line to walk. Obviously, burning that bridge doesn’t make sense, and neither does granting Manning final say on the Vols’ future.
In a perfect world, Manning and Tennessee’s decision-makers will all get on the same page and Pruitt’s successor will be the first to make it to Year 6 in the post-Phillip Fulmer era. Then again, Tennessee hasn’t lived in a perfect world in the 21st century. It’s been a messy, often embarrassing world filled with as much longing for a return to the glory days as any program in college football.
Manning doesn’t have a full-proof plan to change that. If he did, it would’ve been put in place long ago.
Hall of Fame career and multi-million dollar endorsement deals aside, Manning is just like the rest of us right now — wondering and waiting on the right person to last in Knoxville.