"Can't tell you how excited and honored I am," said Scott Stricklin, as he was introduced as Florida's new athletic director. "Going through this process, it became obvious to me that there's really only one job I'd leave Mississippi State for, and that is to be a Florida Gator."
The Gators first made contact with Stricklin back in June, however, it was not until August that things quickly moved forward.
"This was a very challenging decision for me to make the decision to leave a place that is my alma mater; it's very important to me, where I had built a lot of relationships, had a lot of family connections," he said."There may be two or three jobs in the country I might be interested in leaving Mississippi State for, and those jobs may never call and that's okay, because I've got a good deal. And then this job came up."
Manny Fernandez led the way in the search for Jeremy Foley's replacement. The committee started with a list of all the athletic directors in each power conference, which soon dwindled down to 25 and then to two.
"We wanted someone that was going to be here for quite a while and not someone that was going to come here and have this a stepping stone to another university or be a commissioner somewhere," said Florida president Kent Fuchs. "Secondly, we wanted someone that had been successful, maybe not quite at the same level as the University of Florida, but could demonstrate success with less resources as Scott has demonstrated."
In Fuchs and the committee's mind, that choice was Stricklin.
“After we called him, it was his real interest in being a Florida Gator," said Fuchs. "Some people, they are just not sure they are really interested in being at the University of Florida. He really was right at the beginning. It’s a two-way relationship. We have to want him, he has to want us. Secondly that he is a person who can take a wonderful program and make it even stronger. He’s done that at Mississippi State. We believe he can do that here. So it was those kind of attributes.”
Stricklin brings almost 30 years of experience in collegiate athletics to Gainesville. In the last six years he worked as an athletic director at Mississippi State. During his time working in the SEC conference, Stricklin has had the opportunity to meet with current Florida athletic director, Jeremy Foley, a number of times.
"The more I was around him, the more I was with him, had meetings, NCAA conventions, athletic director meetings, what have you, we kind of gravitated toward each other," said Foley. "We liked to pick each other's brain. We represent a lot of the same values. We like to have fun. We drink a glass of wine together. He became one of my closest friends. I admire what he's done at Mississippi State. He admired what we did here. He's just one of the good guys in the business. He's a real guy and he's one of the good guys. I think we're blessed as heck to have him."
Those same values are what drew Fuchs to Stricklin from the beginning.
"He will continue what Mr. Foley described as doing the right thing the right way." said Fuchs. Following all the rules and again making decisions that I will believe will be in the best interests of the students first and then the institution as well.”
"Much of the success that has happened here [at Florida] is credited to great athletes, great coaches, great staff, but certainly there's one person the last quarter century who's driven that boat, and that's Jeremy, my good friend," said Stricklin. "Jeremy, arguably -- and it may not be much of an argument -- is the best athletic director in the history of the SEC. And I firmly believe that. And there's been some really good ones. But Jeremy has set a standard."
Foley's focus on all sports and on education is something Stricklin hopes to continue and expand.
"If they're putting on an orange and blue uniform that has Gators across it, we want them to win," he said. "We want them to have every resource available to be as successful as they possibly can. I really think 25 years ago in this league that may not have been the case, and I credit Jeremy for kind of setting that tone here in Florida.
"I think that there's so much return when everybody who walks on your campus feels like they are valued equally and that they're given all the tools necessary that they can get to be as successful as possible," added Stricklin. "Winners breed winners, and the more winners you put on your campus, the better your campus is going to be.
During his time at MSU, he not only led over $140 million in facility improvements, but he also helped the school increase its booster club membership and donations, while also helping the student athletes to excel in the class room. In his few years there, MSU athletes posted a combined 3.0 GPA, marking the highest in the school's history.
"College athletics is such a great enterprise," he said. "We have such a great opportunity to impact lives. And we gotta win games, but it's not just about winning games. We have to educate young people, and it's not just about educating young people... For our student-athletes that's an experience based on getting great education, competing at the highest level and developing relationships that will last the rest of their lives."
The Mac Vision
During his short time in Gainesville, Stricklin did have a chance to speak with many of the Florida coaches, including Gators head football coach Jim McElwain.
“You know, it was much more of a surface conversation," he said. "We did talk a little bit about facilities, and we did talk about the way, kind of his program and what he sees. To be honest with you, it was yesterday morning and he still had Saturday on his mind, so I just kind of listened.”
The focus on new facilities is always a hot topic for Florida fans and McElwain alike. According to Stricklin, he understands the importance of updating facilities to be ahead of the game.
"I do think it's important to make sure the facilities are at a level that when a prospective student-athlete comes on this campus, when your current student-athletes walk into these facilities, when your coaches and staff use those facilities, that they know that we're putting a priority in what those young people are doing, we're putting a priority in what the staff is a part of," he said. "I think we have really good facilities here, and I think you're always trying to push forward and improve upon that. I'm really excited about the plan that Jeremy and Chip Howard and everybody else has put together, and you gotta have a roadmap for where you're going. And that's kind of in place. I'm excited about being a part of trying to execute that, make that a reality."
Odds and Ends
Playing Mississippi State Bulldogs in football
“I think the Gators go to Starkville in 2018. Mississippi State is going to be be good that year so we got to get going.”
On Jeremy Foley's new role
“He was very helpful. Any time you walk into a situation like this, Jeremy is a great resource to say, ‘Hey, what’s it like. What’s the challenges? What are the opportunities?’ Jeremy is a guy that I consider a close friend regardless, but it’s been nice to have him as a resource during this.”
Expect Stricklin to stay connected to the Gator fan base. The new athletic director boasts over 50 thousand followers on twitter.
"More importantly, when am I going to change the Twitter handle; right? We're working on that right now," joked Stricklin. "like social media because I think it's a way you can communicate directly with people. And there's a lot of people who care about our athletic programs. That's one of the great things about college athletics is the passion people have for what our young people and our coaches do. And the opportunity to directly community to the masses is really cool, something that didn't exist 15 years ago.
Stricklin hopes to begin his duties at Florida on Nov.1.null