Saying goodbye to a Tennessee legend

By Mark Nagi

Last week, the University of Tennessee lost the last remaining administrative connection to General Robert Neyland, when Gus Manning passed away at the age of 99.

Manning, who worked in the Tennessee athletics department for nearly half a century, served eight athletics directors and 11 different head football coaches.

“This is a tremendous loss,” said former Tennessee football coach and athletics director Phillip Fulmer. “We’ve lost a major piece of Tennessee history. Gus Manning is an icon. His personality and humor made him a pleasure to be around. And his historical knowledge about all that makes Tennessee Athletics special was second to none. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family.”

Manning was a Knoxville native who served in the Marine Corps for three years during World War II. When he returned from the Pacific, he walked on to Neyland’s football team and played for the Vols baseball team.

For years he was Neyland’s top assistant, serving him and the University in a variety of roles.

“No doubt Gus Manning was a true legend—not only at Tennessee but also throughout the Southeastern Conference and national athletic circles,” said Bud Ford, who now serves as Tennessee Athletics historian. “He was a principal figure in the growth of Tennessee Athletics as we know it today… I had the great privilege to witness his ability as an administrator firsthand and spent many hours traveling with him to Tennessee sporting events all across the South. His recall of General Neyland and stories of UT football and basketball games was amazing. I will always be grateful to have had a career opportunity at UT and to be mentored by two great men in Gus Manning and Haywood Harris.”

Harris and Manning were big reasons why the Big Orange went from a regional to a national brand. From 1960 to 2016, they teamed up to host “The Locker Room” radio show, which aired on The Vol Network on Tennessee football gamedays and was the longest, continuous-running sports radio show in the country.

Long-time Tennessee Sports Information Director Bud Ford took over co-hosting duties after Harris passed away in 2010.

Manning attended a remarkable 608 straight Tennessee football games. That streak ended in 2003 after a car crash prevented his attending the game at Kentucky. He also went to 455 home games in a row, a streak that stopped when he became ill in 2017.

In June of 2015, Gate 16 at Neyland Stadium was named in Gus Manning’s honor, following a gift from Peyton Manning and his wife, Ashley.

“My thoughts and prayers are with Gus’s son, Sammy, and the entire family,” said Peyton Manning. “I was honored to call Gus Manning my friend. No one has served the University of Tennessee better than Gus. He was the ultimate Volunteer, and he will be missed dearly. What a life! May he rest in peace.”

“Gus Manning leaves behind a legacy that not only touched the University of Tennessee, but also the entire Southeastern Conference,” said SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey. “Gus was involved in every area of Tennessee Athletics over the decades with his array of responsibilities and developed relationships throughout the SEC that made him an icon, not only on Rocky Top but throughout the Conference. He was a fixture for many years at the SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament and a regular presence at other events. Condolences to his family, the University of Tennessee and his many, many friends across the SEC and the country.”

Manning retired from working full-time at UT in 2000 but was a regular presence at Vols and Lady Vols athletics events for the next 17 years.

Tennessee is a worse place today because Gus Manning is no longer here.