When he first arrived on the University of Florida campus in 1976, Jeremy Foley thought he had made a mistake.
“I drove down here from New Hampshire with my dad and got out of the car,” he said in Gainesville on Tuesday formally announcing his retirement as Athletic Director effective October 1st. “It was 4000 degrees and I was wearing corduroys. Florida was the only place in the country to offer me an internship to finish up my Masters. On the day I started, nobody, I mean nobody knew I was coming. I thought I was in the wrong place.”
Clearly things changed in the last four decades but it was 16 years before he applied for the Athletic Director job.
“I applied for one job in my life before I applied for this job. When I walked on campus at the University of Minnesota, no disrespect to them, but it didn’t feel right. I wanted to be here. I like watching sports and I wanted to be a Gator.”
From his internship in the ticket department to his ascendency as ticket manager and eventually Athletic Director, Foley has spent 40 years on campus at the University of Florida. When he was a candidate for the AD’s job, I was a big supporter of his candidacy. I said so on the air consistently and even called the president of the university at the time to say that Foley was the right guy for the job. Obviously he didn’t need my help and far exceeded any expectations I might have for him. In fact, Jeremy was so good for so long, it felt like that’s how everybody did that job as AD. But that’s not so. Foley redefined the position with a blend of leadership, compassion and just being a fan. He figured out early what makes any college program tick. “College athletics is a coach’s game,” he explained. ” Student-Athletes come and go but if you have the right coaches in place, you’re going to find some success.”
Foley noted that he hired Billy Donovan and Urban Meyer and added that he became friends with both. That’s a bit unusual but winning, and according to Foley, winning the right way, made it easy to establish friendships, even with people who worked for you.
“I have a ring at my house from 1984 for a football championship but it doesn’t mean anything. It was vacated (for SEC and NCAA violations). There’s always another championship, always another game. Let’s do it right. The Gator brand is special and it is strong. We pay attention at the highest level at all sports. If you’re going to do things right and be a national brand you have to win in more than one or two sports.”
There are no controversies on the horizon for University of Florida athletics. No coaches to be hired, no programs to fix. Foley will raise money and continue to work on a facility plan for football, baseball and basketball. He doesn’t plan on going anywhere soon. “I’m still the boss,” he said with a smile.
“I’ve been blessed to do this. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do. It’s the right time, it’s my call. I’ve loved every minute of it. It’s a perfect time for a transition because it’s going so well. I’ve done things that I could have only imagined doing. It’s the juice and energy of what we do. If they’re keeping score, we’re going to try and win.” ”
While he said he didn’t regret anything he’d done as the AD, Foley did say when a decision didn’t work out; he regretted the turmoil it created around the program.
“I hate the fact that all that turmoil existed when a decision to hire a coach didn’t work out. But that’s the decisions that have to be made when you sit in the chair.”
At 63 years old, Foley is still full of the energy and enthusiasm he’s had the entire time he’s been at Florida. It’s not unusual to see him doing stadium steps or working out somewhere near his office. But he said now’s the right time to leave. Things are good.
“I never imagined this day would come. You have to self-evaluate and do the right thing for your self and for the institution. When the team charter takes off for the first time and I’m not on it, that’ll be tough. I’ll be a long way away from Gainesville, Florida, that’s for sure.”
Picking a new AD will start with a committee and eventually be the choice of the university president. Foley will be involved only when asked for his input and using his experience in the business. But he’ll let his successor know how special he thinks the job of leading the Florida athletic program is.
“I’ll tell them about the coaches, the commitment and the culture we have here. I’ll tell them about the people here because we have some special people here,” he said with a tinge of emotion in his voice.
And he’ll give them a little bit of advice.
“You need to be a fan. You have to be a CEO, you have to raise money but you really have to be a fan.”
And as far as his legacy, Foley said he’ll let others decide what that is, but he’s proud of the accomplishments at the University during his tenure.
“When I came here in 1976 we hoped we’d someday win one SEC Championship. Now It’s one of the best programs in the country. Is it the best? That’s debatable. But you can’t keep us out of the conversation and that’s what I’m most proud of.”