It's been an emotional couple of days for Jeremy Foley. On Monday, Foley announced that he would retire as Florida's athletic director starting October 1st.
"The outpouring of comments to me have been extremely gratifying," said Foley on Tuesday at his press conference. "It's been special."
One of the well wishers was former Florida basketball coach, Billy Donovan, who wanted Foley to reconsider his decision.
"I'm changing my mind. I'm coming back. Okay. That's not true," Foley joked. "But what I said about Billy was true...is a terrific friend."
"I've been blessed to do this. When I was growing up, this is what I wanted to do," he said.
Foley has been the head man in charge for 25 years at Florida. During his time at Florida he has seen 27 different Gator teams win National Championships - which is tied for first among current athletic directors. He is the only AD in Division 1 history to have multiple national titles won in both football (1996, 2006, 2008) and men’s basketball (2006, 2007) under his watch and the Gators were the first to win both a football and basketball national championship in the same year.
"Everything comes to an end. It all does for all the right reasons," said Foley. "I honestly believe this is the right time for me and it's the right time for the University of Florida, and it's all good. As I said in my release, it's my call. I'm not sick. This job has energized me. I've loved every minute of it. But when you analyze where this program is right now, it's just that you feel like it's a perfect time for a transition, because things are going so well.
One of the reasons why Foley believes it's the right time to move on is because of the staff the university has in place at the moment in all sports.
"The group of coaches we have here now is as good as I've ever been around, the collective group," he said. "You look at what they've achieved this year. Where we have finished and where we're headed, it's unbelievable. So a new individual will come in and inherit that group of coaches. They'll inherit an unbelievable staff. At the end of the day, to be an effective leader you've got to have good people, and we have the best here. We have the best."
With Florida's stock continuing to rise across the board, Foley knew the transition would not be hard for a new Athletic Director.
"I told someone the other day, it's like if this was a private company or a public company and we were a stock issuing company, you want transition when the stock is high. You don't want transition when the stock is low, because if the stock is low that means there's a problem, something is not moving in the right direction; you don't have the right people in place, and we have that here."
Foley was big supporter of women's sports and brought in softball, soccer and lacrosse into the program. Florida ranked among the nation's top ten athletic program every year under Foley in top five nationally in all-sports rankings in 17 years of his 24 years at the helm of the program and in the top 10 every year. More than half of the program's 229 SEC titles have come under Foley, as Gator teams have claimed 130 league titles. UF has also averaged an NCAA graduation rate of 85.2 percent, second highest in the SEC, since 2005. Quite the legacy for Foley.
"We celebrate the career of Jeremy, a man who has become an example of everything good associated with collegiate sports," said Florida President Kent Fuchs. "He's a fierce competitor. He's admired by both friends and adversaries. He's grown and nurtured the relationship between academics and athletics. He's a role model for respect, always providing a greeting and a smile to Gators, to custodians and to caterers."
"I have done things that I only can imagine have doing, talking about national championships in football and Final Fours in basketball and Oklahoma City and watching the women's lacrosse program being here for two or three years and being in the Final Four, and seeing what I guess last Saturday night, Friday night I was sitting in a restaurant in Gainesville watching a 4 by 400 relay on my phone," said Foley. "I said Final Four in basketball, national championship in basketball. When I first got here people said you can't even win a basketball title here at Florida. So I've been blessed. And it's all good. I will miss it. I have work to do here."
Although this press conference was about his retirement in the fall, Foley had one thing to say.
"I'm still the boss here. So we've got stuff to do. We're going to get some work done, and I look forward to it." he said. "I especially want to get some stuff done on the facility front. I'm sure we'll get that question in a little bit. But moving some things forward. But at the end of the day, like I said, I'm the luckiest guy in the world."
Q. One thing everyone says is that you always wanted to do things right. Was it what this program went through in the '80s, or was that just your mindset, that whatever we're going to do we're going to try to do it right?
JEREMY FOLEY: Absolutely. I've said it often. When I was trying to figure out what this business was all about and the problems in the '80s had a huge influence on me. And let me tell you why, just quickly.
When I first got here, all anybody wanted to do was win one Southeastern Conference football championship, just one. In 1984 we won one up in Kentucky. We flew back into Gainesville. And there were 50,000 people in the stadium waiting for us.
There were parades, people lining the streets of Gainesville. And it was an unbelievable night. For those of you that were there, you remember; it was an unbelievable night.
Two, three, four months later the trophy, the championship was taken away from us because the issues we were dealing with. And I can remember back then saying to myself: What was that all about? I have a ring somewhere at my house that I could wear it but it doesn't stand for anything because the championship was vacated.
So we talked a lot about that. And obviously we had additional problems later on in the '80s. I always thought we were a program that had two strikes against us.
I told my staff often: We're not going down the three strike route, the place that it is too important to this institution to run this, to run this right. So it was a constant message. Obviously we have coaches and staff who buy into that.
And that's the key. At the end of the day, there's always another championship, there's always another game, but your integrity is there's nothing worth that. So, again, that's something we talked about time and time again.
Q. With what the revenue producing sports, the two biggest ones, football and basketball, can do for an athletic program and everything, but the emphasis on the Olympic sports, the women's sports, what are those sports and what do success in those sports do for a college campus and a student body and the student athletes involved?
JEREMY FOLEY: Well, I think that one thing we're very proud of I think that the Florida Gator athletic brand is special for a lot of different reasons. But I think for the fact we have success in 21 sports is one of the biggest reasons.
If you're on a college campus, you have to pay attention to all sports. It's been part of our DNA here before I was athletic director. It was just the way it was when Bill Carr was the AD and when Bill Armsparger was the AD, that's the only thing I ever knew, is you've got to pay attention to all sports.
When you're having success at the highest level, I can't tell you the number of people that emailed me after Mouse won last Friday night, when Tim wins back to back, and Rhonda wins back to back to back. It's important. It may not have as much money involved or may not have as many people there, may not get the same headlines.
It's just so important if you're going to do things right and represent an institution like this and be a national brand, you gotta be more than a one or two sports program. That's always been our philosophy.
For those of us that work here, it's the energy in what we do. We all love watching football and basketball games. I'll tell you, we don't miss many lacrosse games or soccer games or softball games or baseball games. It's the juice and energy in what we do.
If you're going to do it, might as well do it right and try to win, and that's what we try to do here. Keeping score in all of them. So we're going to try to win.
Q. When you are walking away after 25 years, any regrets at all; it's not about walking away, about your time?
JEREMY FOLEY: Regrets about my time? I got asked that question earlier today. I don't regret anything. I regret that some decisions that you made, and if you're in the chair you're going to make them, they all don't work out. And I regret decisions that didn't work out, because when they don't work out, especially hiring coaches, tremendous turmoil within a program, within a fan base, obviously to the coaches themselves and their families and their staff.
And none of those decisions were made with ill intent. And they were thought through. And they didn't work as I envisioned them to work.
So I hate the fact that all that turmoil existed. But if you sat here in a chair, especially the one I've sat in for 25 years, and regretted every decision that didn't work you make a lot of decisions that don't work. And that's part of the gig.
But I hate it when the Gator Nation isn't all united and moving in the right direction. That's like I told you earlier, that's why I think it's a perfect time for transition, because whomever comes in here is not dealing with those conversations, not dealing with we have to evaluate this coach or this program and fans are telling them what to do and there's decisiveness or NCAA issue or what have you. You're taking over a program obviously one of the nation's best. Some of the best coaches, if not the best coaches, in America, unbelievably talented, committed staff. That's what they're getting here.
Yeah, I regret that, but I regret things didn't work out the way they were planned. But that's the nature of again my chair.
Q. You're under contract until January of 2018. Do you anticipate possibly you have the option do you anticipate being here or being around or being an advisor beyond that, or a clean break?
JEREMY FOLEY: No, I mean I'm always going to be part of this institution. But obviously this decision just got made yesterday. And I've been offered an opportunity to stay around the university and be part of this institution.
I think that's going to depend on Kent. Obviously it will depend on my successor, whether I'm involved in the athletic program. I certainly do have some institutional knowledge that I think can be helpful. But I don't want ever a clean break from the Gators ever. Maybe from you. (Laughter).
Q. How busy will you be these last few months, and the facilities thing, what things do you want to make sure get taken care of or at least in that direction when you leave?
JEREMY FOLEY: I think not I think I know. I've looked Coach Mack in the eye, looked Sully in the eye, looked at them all in the eyes, there's some things we need to do with their facilities.
Staff of people Chip Howard obviously works on the facility front and gets those things designed and everything. And at the end of the day it comes down to making sure we have the resources in place to pay for them.
I need to put together a funding plan. I think it will entail some fundraising. I think Gator Nation is committed to that. And obviously we'll call on them to help us out.
If the funding is in place and the design part and architects, that's just work in getting it done. So I feel some urgency to get that done. I think if it's not done on October 2nd, like I said, I'm not going anywhere; we can finish some things.
I think all those facilities are very, very important to those coaches, to our program, and we're excited about doing it. We like building facilities.
We get, I think, assigned the stigma every once in a while that we're not invested in facilities. We're spending $100 million in facilities. When the Hawkins Center that Kent referred to is open and dedicated, people are going to see how first class it is. The same with the O'Connell Center across the street.
Coach Mack will tell you the indoor practice facility is as good as any in the country. We like building them and doing them right. We're excited about the next phase of our projects.
Q. You were here 15 years, I believe, before you got the AD job?
JEREMY FOLEY: 16.
Q. Did you ever get other AD offers? And why did you stay here for the 16 years?
JEREMY FOLEY: You know, I never probably I didn't get any offers because I never dabbled my toe in those searches. I applied for one job my entire life here before I applied for this one.
And I don't know why, got feeling kind of restless, and the University of Minnesota had a job opening up there, senior management. I went up there, interviewed.
To be honest with you, the minute I got on campus it didn't feel right for me. No disrespect to Minnesota. And I came down here. I like being here. I got asked the question when I got hired as the AD: Why did you stay so long? I like being here.
I never ever had a main goal I had to be an athletic director until they appointed me the interim in between, I guess Bill Carr left and Bill Armsparger took over. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed sitting in the chair, having a chance to put my ideas forth.
But it wasn't a burning desire for me. I wanted to watch football games and baseball games, back then we didn't have softball and lacrosse and soccer, but I like watching sports.
That's what I was doing. I tell people all the time, if you're happy, enjoy it. That's what I was doing.
So I never applied for another athletic director job in my life. I made the statement that one day I wanted to apply for this one. When it came open, if I didn't get it, that would determine the next direction of my life. But I wanted to be a Gator.
Q. All the press conferences that you've been involved with in this room here, at any point did you ever think one day it's going to be me up there talking about I'm leaving?
JEREMY FOLEY: No, no, no. Every December, my birthday, I go: Are you kidding me, happy 63rd. I'm 63 years old. I never feel that way. It's hard to imagine. You guys will all get there, trust me.
No, I never imagined this day to come. I love what I do and love this place. But at some point in time you have to self evaluate what's right for the place, in my opinion, and what's right for yourself in your opinion.
So that's what I'm doing here. But certainly never envisioned, and this day, it's a little surreal. I told the story to a couple of you that someone told me, one of my staff people told me that when the team charter takes off on time and I'm not on it, the first time that happens that will be very strange for me, very surreal for me.
I promise you, I'll not be sitting in Gainesville, Florida when that happens, I'll be as far away as I can, because that will be hard, that will be difficult. But that's the game of life. We all deal with that.
But, no, I never thought this day would come. But it comes for all of us.
Q. I know it's been 40 years. But everyone remembers their first day at a new workplace. What do you remember about your first day as an intern?
JEREMY FOLEY: That's a great story. I drove down here with my dad. I had to do an internship to finish up my Master's degree. Nobody in the country gave me an opportunity except the University of Florida.
And I'll be honest, he used to laugh about it all the time after my career took off. Because I complained the whole way down. I'm from New Hampshire.
I came down for my interview. It was 4,000 degrees. I was wearing corduroy pants as, somebody wrote about today. It was hot. And I didn't want to be here.
Now I drive down with him to start my internship. I think it was August 1st. And I came to work and I was supposed to go to the ticket office, that's where I was going, and nobody knew who I was or that I was coming. I was like nobody. The ticket manager wasn't in the office that day.
Nobody knew I was coming and I'm going: What am I doing here? And from that time forward I've always told my staff, whenever you hire a new employee make sure someone is here to welcome them with open arms. Human resource, they didn't know I'm coming. I thought I made a mistake; I was in the wrong place.
But I remember that. And I remember I used to argue with the ticket manager at the time, that's when Florida was drawing we had a 60,000 seat stadium, and we were drawing 45, 46,000 people.
I'm from Hobart College. We would get a thousand people for a football game. He announced the attendance, 46,000. I'd been here a month now. I go: No, no, there's more people in this stadium than 46,000, because I'd never seen that many people at a football game before.
So I have a lot of great memories from being here. In fact, we have time, let's talk about the next month when I was here and we'll talk about my whole career, okay, 40 years worth.
Q. So in that vein, eventually your successor will be named and you'll probably have a conversation with him or her. What will you tell him or her on their first day?
JEREMY FOLEY: First of all, I'd make sure I would welcome them, that we knew who he was or she was. But I'll tell you what I've said before: They're walking into an incredible place. Not just championships and facilities and stuff. The people. No idea whoever takes over this year has no idea about the people.
And that's what I'll tell them. I'll tell them about the coaches. I'll them about the commitment. The way we get along and the culture. How much fun it is. That's what I'll tell them.
Whatever goals and agenda he or she has, they'll put it in place, but they'll put it in place with the most special people in the world. That's what I'll tell them. I'll tell them not to read Gator Country Internet, (laughter) and I will tell them don't open your e mails after you lose a football game. But I will tell them about the people is what I'll tell them because we've got some really special people here.
At the end of the day, college athletics I've said it often, I don't mean to minimize the impact of student athletes. This is what we do. We bring them here to graduate and compete. And can't be successful without great student athletes.
But college athletics is a coaches game. Student athletes come and go. If you have great great coaches you have a chance to have a great athletic program. And we have some really good ones. Time and time again, at the end of the day, not just here, around the country, the success of a program on a consistent basis depends on the quality of coaches. And I would make sure again he or she knew these people are beyond the best, in my opinion.
Q. Will you play any role in the search for the new AD?
JEREMY FOLEY: I think I'll play a role to the extent I know this business, I know the profession. I'm sure I'll know some of the candidates. I'm sure a candidate at some point will ask me. Certainly not my role or my place to choose who sits in this chair. Just obviously not appropriate.
But because I've been around for so long and because I do know so many people and I do know how it works and been involved with a lot of searches myself, Kent has indicated to me that he will use me as a resource. But at the end of the day, the process gets put in place will be Kent's and the decision will be Kent's.
But, again, that's the role I'll play. I've told our coaches that. And I think that's important because, again, I know the culture here and I know them and I know on your people, and I would like to have an input. But the final decision, I'll have no say in it.
Q. There was a lot of talk about Sully in Texas. Are you going to do anything for him contract wise in the next three months?
JEREMY FOLEY: He needs to get us to the College World Series. Oh, he did. (Laughter).
Q. You weren't there.
JEREMY FOLEY: I was not there. I was watching, trust me. Obviously we put tremendous value on all our coaches. Try to be very proactive. I told you folks in Destin, I thought Sully would be our coach for a long, long time.
I'm still saying that. He said that himself. He loves the University of Florida. His wife loves this place. What he's built here is pretty special. It's hard to build a program to a certain level. We have a couple of coaches in the room who have done that.
To start over is hard. It's a hard enough business at is. But certainly our commitment to Sully is the same as our commitment to other coaches. Like I said, Sully will be our coach for a long, long time.
Q. So when did you actually come when did you come to this decision? When did you start thinking about this decision? And was there a point you joked about Billy Donovan. Was there a point where you thought, nah, I'm not going to do it?
JEREMY FOLEY: That's going back and forth for several months. I really started thinking about this probably in February. I think probably the thing that really started me thinking about it is the fact that football season has such a good year. The football program is in shape.
I never wanted to leave here all the sports are important, you know that, but you've got to make sure the football program is heading in the right direction.
Then I started thinking about timing for myself and I started thinking about what's right for the institution. And I said then we'd go win a basketball game. I said I'm going to do this for a couple more years. I like this. This is fun.
But then I kept thinking about what does that get maybe two years from now we are dealing with some issue that makes the jobless attractive or maybe two years from now you have four or five coaches that have decided to do something different.
I just don't know another year or two gains anybody anything. So the more I kept coming back to that point, that I think that the longer potentially the longer I stayed on it could hurt the institution.
I'm not doing that selfishly or not saying that to say anything positive about myself, necessarily, in that.
Part of my job is to analyze an organization. And that's what I did. And I know where we are and I know where we want to go and I know what the future can look like. I told the coaches yesterday, I think that the future here is even brighter than it's been. I'm not just saying that. I believe that because of the coaches and the staff.
So I just thought that another year, another two, another three or four, you just can't do that forever. And at some point it may have a chance to back up on the institution.
So the fact that it's in good shape; the fact that I have an opportunity to stay around; the fact that I have a chance to still be involved, live in Gainesville, be involved in the program, it all just came together.
And then I prepared a document to share with Kent. And I did that sometime last week.
Q. And everybody has an opinion on you and your tenure. How do you define it or describe it or tell people, want to be remembered?
JEREMY FOLEY: First of all, I don't control how I'm remembered. Everybody will have a different memory or different thought or opinion.
I tell people a lot, I get asked that question a lot, is that again I go back to when I got here in 1976: If we could just win one SEC title in football. We had won some national championships, I think, in swimming and golf, and maybe one other, I forget, but certainly the University of Florida used to have a name, some of you guys wrote it, "sleeping giant," "wait until next year." "Untapped potential."
Time and time and time again. And if you fast forward to where we are today, again collective effort by so many people and so many coaches. And I said the other day what Steve Spurrier meant to the culture of this place. I think he's a huge factor in this conversation.
We've changed the conversation. It is not "wait until next year," it's one of the nation's best athletic programs. Is it in best? That's the beauty of sports. You can have those conversations, but you can't leave us off the list. And that's reality.
So that's what I'm most proud of. And, like I said, that's a bunch of people involved in that conversation. But I had a chance to sit in the front row and watch it.
Q. Do you have to be a fan to do this job? You were always a fan.
JEREMY FOLEY: Sometimes being a fan is really good except when you're sitting at courtside yelling at officials when you're the athletic director at Florida. That's not good.
And if Roy Kramer is watching, I owe him an apology. I went into an umpire's locker room once because I was mad. You can't do that when you're the athletic director.
So that part of the fan is not good. But, yeah, you've got to be a fan. You've got to love sports. Gotta be there. Gotta watch these people play.
The investments that our coaches and our student athletes put in this business, and not to watch them play, I think that would be you can't make every match. There's a thousand of those. But you better pay attention and better know.
I think you've got to be a fan. Because when you're a fan it's fun. It's what makes Ted Leland, great athletic director at Stanford, when he hung it up, I called him and said: Good luck, Ted. Are you going to be okay?
He goes: Yeah, the thing I worry about, Jeremy, is people like you and me have been on an adrenalin rush for how many years. I've been on an adrenalin rush for 40 years because I get to watch our guys and women compete.
Yeah, you've got to be a fan. I understand you have to be a CEO, raise money and do all those things you gotta do, but you better be a fan. And to me being a fan is the best part of what I do.
Q. You guys named the field after Spurrier last week, Florida Field, Florida Steve Spurrier Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Might it be at Jeremy Foley Athletic Complex someday?
JEREMY FOLEY: I think we're going to be put a roof on the baseball stadium and name it after me. (Laughter).
I've heard that for 40 years. That's what going to happen. I think that's what's going to happen. Be named for a roof. (Laughter).
Q. Is there a part of the challenges facing college sports today, any part of that you wish you could have affected more. And going forward what would you advise ADs and conference commissioners and everything to kind of buckle down and work the hardest on?
JEREMY FOLEY: You always want to impact people and impact change. When I first became AD I got involved with the NCAA because that's what I wanted to do. Calling it like it is: NCAA, sometimes it's hard to change because there's so many different factions, so many different people.
Finally I got to the point, I said I'm going to go back to Florida and try to impact people at Florida. Didn't mean I didn't have a voice in the room and didn't have my opinion.
But at the end of the day, I think conference commissioners have the biggest voice in college athletics. I think there's some really good ones in this country.
And it got really too complicated for me. Not the issues, but at the end of the day that's why I was never on a national committee like a basketball or baseball committee because I wanted to be here to watch our teams play.
They're gone a lot. They do great jobs. Thank God people are willing to do it. But I wanted to be on the campus to impact change here. That's what I did.
I would tell people all the time: You better make sure you're taking care of your home base, because sometimes it's hard to effect change at the next level.
It's not hard to effect change. You don't do it by yourself. You do it with a lot of people, like I said.
But on your own campus, it's easier to effect change, because you're working with coaches and people and student athletes.