Q&A: Archie Manning on Eli, Peyton, and Andrew Luck

AP Photo/Darron Cummings

Seven years after reportedly having a hand in keeping his son Eli from playing for the Chargers, Archie Manning is again playing the role of Concerned NFL Dad. This week, Manning told Fox Sports Radio that he didn’t think it would “necessarily be great” for his son Peyton or Andrew Luck if the Colts selected the Stanford quarterback with the first overall pick in next year’s draft.

The result has been speculation about Peyton’s status with the franchise and questions about whether Luck and his own father (a former NFL quarterback himself) would consider a similar play to the one the Mannings orchestrated in 2004. I spoke with Archie Manning about the future of the Colts quarterback situation, the marriage potential of his youngest son, and his role in selecting the newest coach at his alma mater.

The Grantland staff was watching football a few weeks ago, and Bill Simmons, our editor-in-chief, asked one of our editors, Sarah Larimer, if she could marry one NFL quarterback, who would it be? And she said Eli.
Is that right?

It is. And in terms of what you know about your son, does that surprise you at all?
That’s not the first time I’ve heard that. That came up somewhere else not long ago. Eli kind of favors his mother, so he’s a nice-looking guy. He doesn’t have a big ego, and he knows how to behave himself. He’s a gentleman. Although, he is spoken for.

This year feels different in terms of how people are talking about the way he’s playing. Does it seem to you that people are starting to appreciate how good he’s really been over the past few years?
I’m his father, so I have a hard time sitting here bragging about my kids. Playing in New York is different than playing anywhere else, and I think Eli and Mark Sanchez can vouch for that, or you can go talk to Phil Simms or Joe Namath or whoever. So when you stumble, you probably get a little bit more criticism, and it gets magnified out there. We’ve just been really proud of the way Eli’s played this year. It’s a little bit of a different Giants team. They haven’t run the ball that well. His offensive line that he had for about six years got broken up, and they’ve had some injuries on defense earlier on and probably didn’t stop people quite as well. But they’ve competed, and I’ve been really proud of the way Eli’s helped with his coaches develop [the younger players] — Hakeem Nicks keeps getting better, a free-agent receiver like Victor Cruz, free-agent tight end like Ballard — and make plays for him.

They’ve been fighting and scratching, and they’ve played a lot of close games. They’ve won some, lost some. It’s coming down to the fourth quarter here, and we haven’t done real well at the end of the last few years. In 2007, we were in this position late in the year, and they made real run. So it’d be great if they could do that again.

You said Tuesday that you didn’t envision Peyton and Andrew Luck wanting to play together, and that part of the reason for that is that you see Andrew as a very mature player who would be ready to step in and play right away.
I said that based on what you’ve seen from some other rookie quarterbacks this year. My hat’s off to Cam Newton, the job he’s done, Andy Dalton going into Cincinnati, Blaine Gabbert getting the chance to play in Jacksonville. I just think Andrew is the type of player that’s like them, and is as good or better. When he goes into the league, he’s going to play. That’s all I’m saying. I’m not trying to stir anything up with the Colts. That situation is going to take care of itself there. The main thing is that when Peyton gets healthy, then the organization has to make a decision. And they have to make a decision on what’s best for the organization, what’s best for the Colts moving forward. It’ll work out.

How do you think Peyton would take that, if the Colts were to take Andrew Luck? Do you think he would take that as an affront to him and what he’s done there?
I think he’ll take it head-on. The good news is that he has such a great relationship with his owner; he has such a great relationship with the general manager and the coaches there. In 14 years in Indianapolis, they’ve done some pretty special things, so there’s a respect there from both sides. That’s why I know whatever they decide to do, they’ll sit down, they’ll talk about it, they’ll agree on it, and they’ll move forward. I’m not really concerned about it.

The last situation I can remember where a quarterback was taken no. 1 overall, and felt it might be a bit of a precarious position, was when Eli was selected by the Chargers. Your family wasn’t necessarily thrilled with that situation. Have you spoken with Oliver Luck about what would happen if that situation were to arise, and what they might be able to do if it did?
No. I saw Oliver last night, and Oliver is a good friend, but it’s not my business to stick my nose into that. Oliver is a good friend, but he didn’t ask me. They know what they’re doing.

If they were to ask for your advice, is that something you would you feel comfortable helping them with, considering what you and Eli went through?
If he asked me about it, I would give my opinion to him, but not to anyone else. That doesn’t come up much anymore. I’ll say the same thing I’ve said all these years. For some reason, that got reported as a family decision, or me as some power broker in this deal, which I wasn’t. That was Eli and his agent’s decision based on conversations with a lot of people, and that’s what they decided to do, and they did it. That’s just the way it was. I don’t expect the Lucks to get involved in anything like that. If they ask me, I’ll give them my opinion, and I’ll keep it to myself.

What is your opinion? Do you feel like it’s appropriate in the right situation?
It’s hard to say. I think it’s a bold thing to do. They system isn’t really set up like that. It’s been done before. It just kind of depends on what you know, what you feel, what people tell you, and not just one person or two people, and what’s best for the people involved.

From what you know of the Lucks, and what you know of Oliver, is that something that would be in character?
I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s in your personality. I don’t really know if it was in Eli’s personality, but he did it. It just kind of depends on the situation.

How do you feel this situation is different than what Eli was facing when he came up?
Well, every situation is different. I’ve read a little bit, with people speculating, “Would they do that?” That was the situation a long, long time that involved the Colts and involved the Elways. When Eli came along, there were a lot of circumstances there. I’m not very comfortable talking about. I wasn’t then. I got beat up about it. It’s gone.

I think the great thing is that San Diego has a great quarterback there. They’ve had outstanding teams, and Eli is very happy where he wound up. He loves being the quarterback of the New York Giants.

You’re involved with the College Football Coach of the Year Award. Who have you been most impressed with, from a college coaching standpoint?
I think so many people do a great job. I’ve been involved with Liberty Mutual and the Coach of the Year, and we’re down to 25 finalists. Liberty Mutual rewards coaches in four different divisions for Coach of the Year. We’re down to 10 finalists in the Football Bowl Subdivision, and this is like a who’s who: Mike Gundy, Brady Hoke, what a job he did at Michigan, Mark Hudspeth, Mike London, who did one of the best coaching jobs of the country at the University of Virginia. We know about Les Miles and Nick Saban, who are both playing for a national championship. Bobby Petrino at Arkansas. I’m not sure Arkansas isn’t the third-best team in the country. Mark Richt lost two games, won 10 in a row at Georgia. Bill Snyder, I saw him last night. What a great story that is — what he did at Kansas State, getting them on the map and then coming back to coach them again to a great year. Dabo Swinney’s got his Clemson team going to the Orange Bowl. Pretty impressive group with five finalists in three other divisions.

Speaking of college coaches, Ole Miss came to a decision about its head coach. How do you feel that process went, and how happy are you with the way it turned out?
Well, I co-chaired the committee, so that’s kind of consumed me for the last four weeks. It’s not what I do; I’m not an athletic director. But we’re now going to have a search for a new athletic director, so I was asked by our chancellor to co-chair that committee, and I’m very excited about our new coach at Ole Miss in Hugh Freeze. We think he’s a rising star; he’s only been a head coach for a short time, but he’s been successful everywhere he’s been. We think he’s a good fit for us at Ole Miss, where we’ve kind of gotten ourselves in a rut and found ourselves at the bottom of the conference, and we want to build our way back up. I think that Hugh Freeze is a good man for us.

And why do you think that is? What made him different than the other candidates that you looked at?
I think it’s a fit. He’s a man of integrity. He is going to bring a good staff to Ole Miss. He spent three years there as a recruiter coordinator. He has a good feel for recruiting in the state of Mississippi and the surrounding areas. He was a very successful high school coach up in the Memphis area for 11 years. He’s coach in Arkansas; he’s coached in Tennessee, so he’s recruited in that area. I think he has a good feel for all aspects of discipline at the coaching job, and it’s his dream job. I think Hugh will be at Ole Miss for a long, long time. There are a lot of factors there. Like I said, I’m not an athletic director, and I’ve never done this before, but I think you’re always looking for the right fit. We feel like Hugh Freeze is the right fit at Ole Miss.

Are you surprised with the struggles that Ole Miss has had? It’s a place with a lot of tradition, and it seems like a school that should at least be competing in the SEC.
We’re in a state where we have a competitor in that state in Mississippi State, who’s done a really good job the last few years, and trying to split up the players there, unlike a state like Louisiana, where LSU can pretty much dominate, or Arkansas. Alabama has to go half-and-half with Auburn. It’s been a long time since we’ve been in the upper echelon of the Southeastern Conference, but we’ve never been on the bottom. LSU is the best team in the country, most people agree. Three years ago, we beat ‘em. Two years ago, Ole Miss beat ‘em. … And this past year, we couldn’t even stay on the field with them. It doesn’t take long. A few things go wrong — you miss out on some recruits here and there, you get some discipline problems — and it’s hard to get your head above water. I’m not being critical of Coach Nutt. Houston is a good friend of mine. But sometimes, it just doesn’t work, and you’ve got to start over.

Previously by Robert Mays:
F@*! Off: In Defense of Cocky Prick Jay Cutler
Is Justin Blackmon Really 6-foot-1? (And Other Questions About Oklahoma State’s Star Receiver)
The Twilight of the Andrew Luck Era at Stanford
LSU-Alabama: College Football’s Biggest Day
Does Missouri fit in the SEC?

Filed Under: Things We Made Robert Mays Write, Andrew Luck, Eli Manning, Indianapolis Colts, New York Giants, Peyton Manning, Grantland Q&A

Robert Mays is a staff writer at Grantland.

Archive @ robertmays