Before Kevin O’Sullivan, the Florida Gators made it to the College World Series in Omaha five times in school history. This is O’Sullivan’s ninth year on the job and the #1-seeded Gators (52-14) are Omaha-bound for the fifth time after shutting out Florida State, 7-0, to win the NCAA Gainesville Super Regional Monday night at McKethan Stadium.
In beating the Seminoles by a shutout for the second straight night, the Gators saved the Southeastern Conference the embarrassment of an Omaha shutout. Five SEC teams hosted Super Regionals, but only Florida survived to advance to college baseball’s biggest stage where they will face Coastal Carolina in their quest to bring home the first NCAA baseball championship in school history.
Ironically, the Gators won the Super Regional on the day that UF athletic director Jeremy Foley announced he will retire October 1. Foley has overseen 27 national championships by 13 UF sports teams, but baseball is the elusive big prize.
Will the battle cry in Omaha be “Win one for Jeremy”?
The Gators, who were shut down by FSU, 3-0, in the series opener Saturday night, used three pitchers to shut down the Seminoles Monday. A.J. Puk went the first 3-2/3 innings but he struggled with his control. Puk only gave up 1 hit but he walked 6. Still, even though the Seminoles threatened in every inning, Puk came through with strikeouts to escape. When O’Sullivan lifted Puk in the fourth, on came Dane Dunning, who scattered 4 hits in 4-1/3 innings before giving way in the ninth to Shaun Anderson, who struck out 2 of the 3 batters he faced to close things out.
The Gators held the Seminoles, one of the best offensive teams in all of college baseball, to only 9 hits and 0 runs in the final 22-2/3 innings of the Super Regional.
The only run the Gators needed came in the bottom of the first when Dalton Guthrie, who reached on a leadoff error, scored with 2 outs on a wild pitch. Peter Alonso made it 2-0 in the third when he launched his 4th home run of the NCAA Tournament and 13th of the season deep into the seats in left center field.
The clincher came in the bottom of the fifth when Guthrie and Buddy Reed singled and Alonso walked to load the bases for JJ Schwarz, who ripped a no doubt grand slam to deep left center field on a 1-0 count for his 7th homer of the year. Schwarz capped the scoring in the sixth with a double to right field to drive home Reed.
Getting the win was Dunning (6-3, 2.40 ERA), who didn’t walk anyone while striking out 5.
The 52 wins tie last year’s College World Series team for the second most in a season in school history.
FOLEY LEAVES BIG SHOES TO FILL
There is no such thing as perfect anywhere but especially collegiate sports. There are no perfect athletes, no perfect coaches, no perfect athletic directors. That doesn’t mean, however, that for the last 25 years Jeremy Foley hasn’t been the perfect man for the growing and incredibly complex job of athletic director at the University of Florida. Dissect what he’s done top to bottom of the athletic department and the only conclusion you can make is that he’s been the perfect fit to expand Florida athletics from the $30 million budget he inherited when he took over to the $131-million behemoth it is now.
Foley has been the perfect fit at Florida the last 25 years because he came up through the ranks and earned his way to the top. He started as a ticket intern, worked concessions, unloaded trucks, did all the grunt work that nobody else wanted to do and never bolted, even during the bad times when UF athletics were a poorly run, nearly bankrupt department (see 1978-79). I believe Foley learned the cautious approach to spending because he was there during the rob Peter to pay Paul days. He has never forgotten the days when there was barely enough money in the bank to cover the checks.
I know he’s taken a good bit of heat in the last couple of years from folks who think he’s been a bit too tight with the bucks and has allowed facilities to lag behind some of the other SEC schools, but when he hands over the athletic department on October 1, whoever takes over won’t have to deal with a mountain of debt, a program in disarray and a skinny bottom line. The program Foley took over as the AD in 1991 had won only nine national championships in five sports in the entire history of the school. Since Foley took over UF has 27 national titles in 13 sports, won 130 SEC championships, 24 SEC all-sports trophies and has finished in the top ten in the Director’s Cup standings all 25 years. There isn’t another AD in the country with that kind of sustained success.
Here is another reason why Foley’s tenure should be appreciated by every Gator. When he took over as the athletic director, UF had the reputation as an outlaw school that hadn’t met a rule it wasn’t capable of breaking. UF has run the cleanest program in the SEC since 1991. The only blemish is the 2015 incident when Joker Phillips had impermissible contact with a prep football player that gave UF a recruiting advantage. That run from 1991-2015 without a single major violation against ANY of its sports programs is the longest in SEC history.
So, if you want perfect then keep on looking. You can nitpick what Foley has accomplished to your heart’s content and you will certainly flaws. You’ll find flaws wherever you look in college sports but Florida’s flaws pale by comparison to what you will find elsewhere. One of the things I’ve always liked about Foley is that if something didn’t go the way it was scripted he didn’t waste his time pointing fingers because he was too busy working on a plan to make things right as quickly as possible. Give him credit – he’s never balked at fixing problems whether they were of his own creation or someone else’s.
Has Foley been the perfect athletic director? You know as well as I that there’s no such thing. However, you don’t have to be perfect to be the perfect guy to get the job done and there’s no denying, Jeremy Foley got the job done.
THREE NAMES TO REMEMBER
By retiring in June, Foley is giving Dr. Kent Fuchs, the athletic board of trustees and the boosters adequate time to come up with the right replacement. Kevin Scarbinsky of Al.com wrote yesterday that it might be tougher to replace Jeremy Foley than it was to replace Steve Spurrier. Figure that on a 1-10 scale of difficulty, replacing Foley will be right there at the top. Here are three names that could very well rise to the top of any UF list.
1. Bernard Muir, Athletic Director, Stanford: He played on the same high school basketball team as Vernon Maxwell at Gainesville Buchholz but while Mad Max stayed home to play for the Gators, Muir went to Ivy League Brown University where he was the co-captain. He got his master’s degree in sports administration from Ohio University, same place that Foley guy got his. After Ohio U, he went on to work for Kevin White at Notre Dame, working his way up the chain of command to the #2 position as associate AD. Kevin White is UF hoops coach Mike White’s dad so there is a further connection with UF. Muir went on to become AD at Georgetown and Delaware before taking the job at Stanford in 2012. The 48-year-old Muir oversees a 36-sport athletic program with a budget in the $100 million range. He’s a member of the NCAA Basketball Tournament Selection Committee. Would he leave Stanford to come home to Gainesville?
2. Jeff Long, Athletic Director, Arkansas: From a football standpoint, convincing Long to leave Arkansas would be a real coup since he was the first chairman of the College Football Playoff Committee. He has one of the best AD pedigrees going, having worked for Bo Schembechler at Michigan, Jim Weaver at Virginia Tech and Joe Castiglione at Oklahoma. Long has continued the Frank Broyles legacy of courting big name, high roller donors and getting them to write big checks. Long got Dallas Cowboys owner and former Arkansas football player Jerry Jones to donate $10.65 million for a new academic/nutrition/wellness center for the entire athletic department plus secured the donors to make a 30-year, $320 million commitment to upgrading all athletic facilities. Long is 56 years old. He makes a base salary of $900,000 with a potential $650,000 in performance bonuses.
3. Chris Del Conte, Athletic Director, TCU: This is the most intriguing name out there and perhaps the guy UF will zero in on. Del Conte is 46-years-old and he’s spearheaded major capital campaigns for facilities development at both Rice and TCU. Since 2012, he’s overseen more than $250 million in construction projects for TCU’s athletic program, which probably does more with less than any school in the Big 12 Conference. TCU is a small private school with some of the better academics in the Big 12 but Del Conte has elevated the entire athletic program to never before seen levels. Del Conte’s salary is in the $750,000 range.
THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX
Would the University of Florida think outside the box like Alabama did when it hired Bill Battle? Battle is a former Bama football player under Bear Bryant and went 59-22-2 as the football coach at Tennessee who made it big in business. His net worth is said to be in excess of $1 billion. Battle has been extremely successful lining up corporate sponsors for Alabama athletics and it is rumored that he’s about to hit Nike up for an obscene amount of money to keep the swoosh on Crimson Tide uniforms.
Would Florida consider turning to a Brad Culpepper, a former All-American and wealthy Tampa lawyer, or Trace Armstrong, another former All-American at UF who is agent to college coaches such as Butch Jones and Urban Meyer and Green Bay Packers’ coach Mike McCarthy? Armstrong wouldn’t even have to move since he makes Gainesville his home. He’s also former president of the NFL Players Association. Both Culpepper and Armstrong have a great love for UF, both have remained connected to the program and both are strong in the leadership department.
FEEL GOOD STORY OF THE YEAR FOR COLLEGE BASEBALL
If you’re looking for the feel good story of the college baseball season, look no further than Conway, South Carolina, home of the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers. You want to talk about living the dream, these guys are doing it. They pulled off the unthinkable by knocking off North Carolina State in Raleigh in the regional then took it a step farther by taking out LSU in two games at Alex Box Stadium during the super regional. They’ve won 18 of their last 20 games and now that their ticket to Omaha is punched, they patiently await the Gators, who are next on their agenda.
Without Draymond Green, the Golden State Warriors couldn’t take out the Cleveland Cavaliers in game 5 of their NBA Championship Finals Series. LeBron James and Kyrie Irving went off for 41 apiece to offset a combined 62 points from Golden State’s Klay Thompson (37) and Stephen Curry (25) for a 112-97 win that sends the series back to Cleveland for game 6 with the Warriors still in command, 3-2.
It is being reported that Baylor may opt to suspend Art Briles for one year then bring him back as the head coach. Preposterous as that sounds, Clay Travis of Fox Sports writes that the school may have no choice because Briles is owed somewhere in the neighborhood of $40 million on his contract and Baylor doesn’t have pockets that deep. If Briles were to sue the school for wrongful termination, Travis writes that the evidence could tilt Briles’ way and a jury could award him far more than the amount owed. Travis concludes, “If Art Briles ends up coaching again at Baylor it won’t be because he’s blameless, it will be because his contract protected him to such a degree that Baylor couldn’t afford to fire him.”
Kentucky hired Mississippi State assistant Nick Mingione as its new baseball coach. Mingione is a former Kentucky assistant who was the top recruiter for the UK team that won the 2006 SEC championship.
The Philadelphia Eagles extended the contract of D-lineman Fletcher Cox to the tune of 6 years and $103 million of which $63 million is guaranteed money. Cox will get $27 million of the guaranteed money as a signing bonus. That’s nice work if you can get it.
Kentucky basketball player Derek Willis was arrested in Union, KY after he was found passed out and laying in the middle of a street. Willis has yet to turn 21.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
More than all the championships, I think Jeremy Foley’s greatest accomplishment is running a clean program that had only one major violation in all sports in 25 years. What do you consider Foley’s greatest accomplishment?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
I’ve been listening to a lot of Philadelphia music from the 1970s the last few days. Motown may have dominated the soul charts in the 1960s, but Philadelphia soul was about as good as it got in the 1970s led by the Delfonics and the Stylistics. Today’s music is by The Stylistics, who put four straight albums on the top five on the R&B charts to go with 13 top 10 singles.