Don’t call this a football school! You could almost see that written on Jeremy Foley’s forehead when he addressed the media after Bill Donovan’s farewell media session concluded. Foley, fighting away tears at times over having to say goodbye to the 19 year Florida coaching veteran, also showed fire and determination when asked about where this job is really at in terms of bringing in a quality successor.
The time has come and gone to say his goodbyes and now it is down to business.
“Billy's not going to be here anymore,” Foley said Monday. “He's been here so long, but then you wake up and you have a job to do. (We have a) great staff to work with, and great job to offer. That excites us.
“You know what excites us? When people say I can't continue because Billy is leaving. It can't continue because that's not a great job. I don't buy that for one second. I'm going to tell you right now, it's a really good job. The competitive juices get going. But you don't get reenergized when people leave. You don't.
“You've got to take a step back, control your emotions. Let your emotions go, and then a day later or two days later you have a job to do and you go do it. And that's what we're doing here now.”
Sustaining excellence in basketball…
Foley said that they have worked hard to make sure that the perception at Florida is that it isn’t just a football program. Quick to give Donovan much of the credit, a lot of resources have gone into it so that the national perception isn’t just that.
“Well, first of all, back whenever we hired Billy the exact same thing was said,” Foley said about not being able to sustain a high level basketball program. “All they care about is football down there. Don't go down there. Even Billy was advised by some of his closest friends don't go down there. It's The University of Florida it's a very good recruiting base in the state of Florida. The commitment we have internally is second to none. I'll give Billy Donovan 90% of the credit or 99.9% of the credit, but I promise you a lot of people in this program were heavily involved in changing the culture of Florida basketball, and he'll tell you that.
“He had great coaches, great commitment from a lot of people. We have resources, a great fan base, we play in a great league. Again, why people would say this is not a good job is beyond me. Do we have the nicest arena in the world? No. (We’re) getting ready to put $60 million into it. Will it be the nicest when it's done? No, but it will be really, really nice.
“Do we treat our coaches well? Do we have a great opportunity with academics? People come to The University of Florida and get one of the best degrees in the country. So there are a lot of pieces here. Certainly the tradition piece that we were missing through the years, that's what Billy put on the table in my opinion.
“You go down to our practice facility and see Final Four floors down there, we have five of them. How many schools in America can say that? How many schools in this league can say that? The one up in Lexington, can. So there is a lot to sell here for a new coach. So I'm excited about that.
“Again, I just think when people sell The University of Florida short in anything, I guess all of our competitive juices go on.
Panel of administrators to meet for first time today to talk about candidates…
The thing to do is to make the best hire for the job, not the fastest. Foley has changed the way he makes staff hires and uses a panel of administrators to find the best candidates.
“We'll meet this afternoon with our internal staff,” he said. “The style here is to do that. We've done that before. (We) did that in football a couple times, three times, I guess. But for me to talk about exactly where we're going to go, the process we're going to do, I'm not comfortable until I have a chance to sit down with the staff.
“They are people and I told you before, we started making a lot of good hiring decisions around here when I involve the staff more. So that's why I like to do that. They're all talented. They all help. They're not afraid to tell me what's on their mind. They're not yes people. They're honest people. They care and know this university as well as I do.”
A lot has been made about the timing of the situation. A month ago there were a few other candidates available that aren’t any more. But, Foley says that they do have built in buffer right now not to be in a hurry.
“I don't want to put a timetable on it,” he said about hiring a coach. “I think I said the day with the release with Billy, two or three weeks. But with that, the key is to have something in place obviously sometime in June because July is a huge recruiting month, and you're not going to hire a coach on July 1.
“So we have some time to do our due diligence. That's what we like to do. Call a lot of people, and try to figure out the right person. There is some time here.”
What they are looking for…
While they didn’t officially meet as a group yet, they have started gathering information on candidates, understanding the possibilities that were ahead with the likelihood of the Oklahoma City Thunder opening. They will use that information gathered to help find all of the characteristics they are looking for in a new hire.
“We've been collecting information on a number of coaches,” Foley said. “Candidly when Oklahoma City decided to make a change, we paid attention too. We heard some undercurrents that this was a possibility, so we began looking at coaches probably several weeks ago. But we know what Billy has built here, and I think Billy said it himself, we're not taking a step back. We want to keep this thing going in the right direction.
“I think there are a lot of people doubting that we can do that, and that fires us up because we have a good job here. We have a great institution, great commitment, great support. The same conversation we had with Billy 19 years ago, we're going to have with another coach saying, hey, let's keep this thing going. Let's build this thing.
“So characteristics are really that… obviously, doing things the right way, treating people the right way. That is going to be on the top of the list.”
Foley was asked directly about current assistants John Pelphrey and Anthony Grant and if they would be considered candidates for the head coaching job. Foley was not ready to rule anybody out.
“I think that the slate is totally wide open right now,” he said. “You know how I like to do things. I'll sit down with our internal group. Our first meeting with them is this afternoon. We've not made any decisions, but nobody has greater respect for those two guys than I do. Their contributions to this program, and what they've done with their lives, I love them too. They're all about the right things as well. So certainly those are people we'll be talking about along with others.
“We have a process here. We have a job to hire the best basketball coach for the University of Florida.”
Foley seemed ready to take on the task at hand.
(I’m) confident we have a really good job,” he said. ”I think we're going to have a great candidate pool, and we'll figure out what the best fit is for The University of Florida, and someone that can be successful here and win here.”
Just like that last guy.