Gus Manning gone at 99

Marvin WestOur Town Stories, westwords

Gus Manning, 99, a treasured segment of Tennessee sports history, died Sunday night. He was one of a very few remaining direct links to Robert R. Neyland.

Gus was truly a legend in his time. He worked for the UT athletics department almost forever. He attended 608 consecutive football games. He thought he retired in 2000 but discovered he was still a consultant. He had always been one of the best story-tellers around.

Manning was preceded in death by his wife, Margaret, in 1996. He is survived by son Sammy Joe (and Meg), three grandchildren, brother J.T. Manning and sister Eleanor Martin. He was a member of John 23rd Catholic Center at the university. Funeral details are here.

Gus was born July 8, 1923. He went from Rule High School to World War II with the U.S. Marines in the Pacific. After that, he became a different kind of Volunteer. He earned a letter in UT baseball and walked on to play football for Neyland.

The coach finally told him that what he did wasn’t what the team needed but Gus was more than good enough to do a hundred other things.

He was the original sports operation manager. He did it all – ticket office, business office, facility management, event management, team travel, lodging and feeding. For years, he handled the whole deal basically by himself. The General was the athletics director. Gus was his right-hand man.

Gus Manning gets directives from AD Robert R. Neyland.

In the very beginning, he was practice field guard, charged with warding off Alabama spies and the curious. He got a better job in 1951, sports information director. Neyland kept finding more things that needed to be done and Gus accepted greater responsibilities.

He went big time on Dec. 29, 1960. Gus became Neyland’s official administrative assistant. That was a real promotion – and even included a raise. The move started with the boss allowing himself to be talked into hiring Haywood Harris as new director of sports information.

Neyland, organization personified, took the Manning reassignment very seriously. He gave Gus a little two-page memorandum, single-spaced on a long yellow pad, outlining the job description.

“Direct responsibilities include, but are not limited to, faculty advisor, ticketing, security, game-day traffic and parking, band and cheerleaders, visiting locker room, printed programs, concessions, public address and scoreboard operations, halftime festivities, broadcasts originating from the stadium and Sunday TV program during football season.”

The list continued: “Stadium and fieldhouse seating, ushers and janitorial staff, stadium cleanup, maintenance of and groundskeepers for practice fields, track, baseball diamond and tennis courts; Stadium store (East and South Stadium dining facility), public relations program, speakers for high school banquets, civic clubs, etc., purchasing, receiving and accounting for athletics and team travel, dining and lodging.”

Gus was to send flowers to the sick and be certain the athletics department was represented at funerals.

And finally: “Accept and carry out any extra duties assigned by the Athletics Director as he sees fit.”

Athletics and Director were capitalized.

Haywood Harris and Gus Manning

Somehow, Gus found time to do other things. He officiated high school football and basketball for extra money. He and Haywood co-wrote two books. He and Haywood taped a radio show, The Locker Room, that played pre-game on WIVK every football Saturday for 49 years.

Gus declared it was the longest running, continuous program in the country.

After Haywood died, sports information director Bud Ford filled the gap and the show went on. Gus and Bud had a long-standing relationship. Ford was once Manning’s paper delivery boy.

Thousands of ordinary fans knew Gus. The most passionate fans knew Gus better. He was the original match-up man, best tickets for big gifts in support of the program.

Celebrities knew Gus. He was the doorway to everything. All the players knew Gus. Some nights he had to do bed checks. He remembered dozens of excuses.

Gus promoted the great Volunteers to all-America honors and treated third-teamers with the exact same respect. He also dispatched complimentary tickets and meal money when the team dining room was closed. The most famous photo featured the briefcase and cigar.

Gus had a long reach. A friend managed a New York hotel. That friend had a friend named Joe DiMaggio. Gus needed a big name to boost a charity golf tournament. He picked up DiMaggio at the airport. Is that amazing?

Gus had friends at the Grand Ole Opry. Tom T. Hall and his band showed up one evening at Gibbs Hall and did a private performance for the football team. Hall closed with “Watermelon Wine.”

Gus received a cluster of plaques and honorary certificates. He was in several halls of fame. Unique recognition came from Peyton Manning (no kin).

Young Manning as a Vol developed a close relationship with the elder Manning. When Peyton played for the Colts, he invited Gus to Indianapolis and told team officials he was his grandfather. Gus said he was treated like royalty.

June 22, 2015 – Gus Manning Gate 16 presentation presented by Peyton Manning Knoxville, TN. (Photo By: Joy Kimbrough/ Tennessee Athletics)

Peyton and Ashley donated a large piece of change to the university in 2015. Somebody asked what the university could do in return. Peyton elected to rename Gate 16 at Neyland Stadium in honor of Gus. It just happens to be near the bronze statue of Neyland.

Gus never entered the stadium through Gus Manning Gate.

“You have to have a ticket to get in there. I’ve never bought a ticket.’’

I don’t know who will attend the Manning funeral. He outlived a lot of good friends. Neyland died in 1962. Haywood Harris died in 2010. Pat Summitt died in 2016.

Bill Petty, Roger Beauchene and Rob Hardin will be at the service. So will Danny Burnley, Ford, Joe Arnone and Bruce Myers.

They were the players (survivors) in Manning’s retirement card games, every Monday night, 7 to 8:15, main event at Little Creek assisted living on Northshore, very low stakes but priceless, captivating yarns.

I know several.

Marvin West welcomes comments or questions from readers. His address is

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