GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Scott Stricklin can finally take a deep breath and — for a moment — relax.
After eight months on the job and nearly three months of non-stop travel, his first season as Florida’s athletic director has come to an end.
And above all else, Stricklin needed just one word to describe his first eight months at the helm of Florida athletics: Special.
“There’s a reason this is one of the premier athletic programs in the country,” Stricklin told SEC Country. “It’s because there’s incredible people you get to work with and you get a chance to impact the lives of young people who are as talented as anyone in the country at a university that’s one of the top-10 public institutions in America.”
In just eight months on the job, Stricklin has already seen his share of highlights.
There were the three team national championships — all of which came in the final five weeks of the athletic season.
There were the plays of the football and men’s basketball seasons — the goal-line stand against LSU that secured a second SEC East title for football and Chris Chiozza’s buzzer-beater to send the men’s basketball team to the Elite Eight for the first time since 2014.
And there was the third-place finish in the national Learfield Directors’ Cup standings — a statement that the Florida athletics program hasn’t experienced a dropoff, and won’t anytime in the near future.
“You kind of know it from the outside, but once you get a chance to experience it up close, it just illustrates what makes this place so special,” Stricklin said.
In May, Stricklin bounced around campus and watched a slew of his teams compete in the opening rounds of the NCAA Tournament. Softball, lacrosse, and men’s and women’s tennis were all on the docket over a span of four weeks. At the end of the month, he was in Athens, Ga., as the women’s tennis team won its seventh national championship in program history — and the first under Stricklin’s watch.
In June, Stricklin made his way to Oklahoma City and Omaha, Neb., to watch the softball and baseball teams play in their respective College World Series. Softball finished as the national runner-up while baseball won its first title in program history.
All told, Florida ended the year with three national titles — men’s outdoor track and field was the other — and 10 top-5 team finishes.
“It’s a good problem to have,” Stricklin has said.
Now, Stricklin will be the first to admit he can’t take all the credit for the holistic success of the athletic program. When he officially left Mississippi State and took over for Jeremy Foley on Nov. 1, the pieces for success were already there.
The coaches. The top recruiting classes and high-level student-athletes. The administrative and fan support. They were already in place.
But that didn’t make the ride any less sweet.
“Anyone knew whoever was going to be the next AD at Florida was going to be walking into a great situation because of the great job Jeremy did,” Stricklin said. “It has certainly been fun to be a part of and anytime you’re around people that are having success, it helps affirm all of the good things that go on at your program. … You get a chance to appreciate all the little different components that go into success.”
Foley, who is serving as the Emeritus Athletic Director after 25 years as AD and 40 overall in the University Athletic Association, has aided Stricklin along the way, too.
But even without his help, Foley knew Stricklin had what it takes to be successful at Florida.
“He’s a competitor,” Foley said in September following Stricklin’s introductory press conference. “He’s very confident in himself. … I think the best days in this program are ahead of us, and I think you have the right leader to take us there.”
Regardless of the successes and failures, though, Foley’s overarching piece of advice to Stricklin was to take care of the people and make sure Florida is only accepting the highest standard.
“You know that, but to hear someone who has had the success he’s had for as long as he’s been here stress that, it’s great advice,” Stricklin said. “At the end of the day, this enterprise is centered around people, whether it’s student-athletes or coaches or fans. We have to make sure of that as much as we talk about budgets and facilities and everything else.”
Stricklin has done just that.
He interacts with fans at games and on social media. Fans have taken to Stricklin’s quasi-branded “#IsThatGood?” catchphrase on Twitter that is regularly seen by his more than 59,000 followers.
“I like the interaction,” Stricklin said. “I enjoy the ability to get a message out quickly. I like being able to show a little personality out there. … In this day and age, it’s a key form of mass communication.”
And as Stricklin’s first chapter of his Florida career ends, he is already in the midst of preparing for Year 2.
There’s a lot to get done.
Fundraising and design plans for the $100 million master facility plan are still in the works. Another football season — Stricklin’s first full season — is on the horizon. And the athletic program as a whole is still competing at a high level.
Which means it looks like Stricklin will still be running around once again when August comes around.
“I’ll get a little bit of down time,” Stricklin said, “and then we’ll get right back at it to do anything we can to support the Gators and continue with our facility plans and our fundraising and everything else we have to get done.”