Jeremy Foley accomplished a ton at the University of Florida in his 25 years as athletic director. The football team grew and won national championships. Sports across campus experienced tremendous success. The Gator Nation, as it came to be called, grew prouder and more boisterous in its support.
His greatest risk may have been his greatest accomplishment though. It changed a moribund basketball program and injected it with life, eventually leading to back-to-back national championships and four trips to the Final Four. The Gators were a power.
Hiring a 30-year-old coach from Marshall to lead Florida was a big risk at the time. But nearly 20 years later, it was clearly the right choice and set off one of the best coaching careers in the collegiate game and, now a burgeoning professional career.
With Foley announcing his retirement as Florida’s athletic director effective this fall, former Florida basketball coach Billy Donovan expressed his gratitude for the opportunity Foley gave him two decades ago.
“He changed my life,” Donovan told Matt Baker of the Tampa Bay Times. “He changed my life. He provided an opportunity for me at a very, very young age. … He took a chance on me. I’ll always be grateful for that.
“I don’t lose sight and perspective. A lot of people can say, yeah you won some games. It’s not about that. It’s about the opportunity and how thankful I am for what he was able to do for me at a very, very young age, then go 19 years. It’s unheard of that the athletic director’s going to be the same person in place.”
Donovan certainly owes a lot to Foley and that opportunity. And he took full advantage of it.
Donovan accumulated a .715 win percentage and 467 wins for the Gators. He went to the NCAA Tournament in 14 years, including two national championships and four Final Four appearances. In his final five seasons, the Gators reached the Elite Eight four times.
There is no Florida basketball without Billy Donovan. And there is no Billy Donovan without the risk and chance Foley took that changed Donovan’s life.