GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Scott Stricklin appreciated the interest he was receiving from search firms in recent years, but with his stock rising as one of the bright, up-and-coming athletic directors in the country, he finally decided he should say something.
“I’ve gotten calls for the last two or three years, and they were Power 5 type jobs,” he said. “But I had one earlier this summer where I told the guy, he’s called me a couple times, I said, ‘Hey, I appreciate it, and don’t stop calling me, but I’m just telling you there’s only a handful of jobs I think I’d leave here for or I’d consider leaving here for. And they may never call, that’s part of it.’
“But going through this process, I don’t think I’d leave Mississippi State for anywhere but Florida.”
Stricklin, 46, had graduated from Mississippi State while starting out as the media relations representative for the Bulldogs’ baseball team. He later returned to his alma mater in 2008 to continue his climb up the ladder, eventually becoming the university’s athletic director in 2010.
He said he never really considered any of those feelers from other schools in recent years, but there was something different about Florida.
On Tuesday, three months or so after first being contacted about the job, Stricklin was formally introduced as the Gators’ new athletic director. He signed a six-year contract with a $1.076 million annual salary to succeed longtime AD Jeremy Foley, who has pushed back his retirement date to Nov. 1 to accommodate the transition.
“I think it’s the best job in college athletics, so it is very special,” Stricklin said, while sporting an orange and blue tie and matching pocket square with his dark suit. “I have an unbelievable family that supports my dreams, and you know, our faith is strong and we did a lot of praying over this. And at the end of the day this is where I feel like we were led to be, and I think the doors opened to put us here, and I’m just excited about the opportunity.”
Stricklin said Florida first contacted him in June when Foley announced his plans to retire in the fall after 40 years with the University Athletic Association and the last 25 in the top job.
University of Florida president Dr. Kent Fuchs said he and the search committee started by looking at all the active athletics directors within the Power 5 conferences. From there, they whittled the list down to about 25 preliminary candidates and later down to 12 or 13 targets that they had “real intense conversations with” before narrowing the list further to six and then two and ultimately one.
“We wanted somebody that was going to be here for quite a while and not someone who wanted to come here and have this as a stepping stone to another university or to be a commissioner somewhere,” Fuchs said. “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.”
Fuchs added that SEC commissioner Greg Sankey had recommended a few names at the start of the process — a short list that included Stricklin.
And, according to the university president, Foley had made the same recommendation early on as well.
“Jeremy was telling me (to) trust his instincts many months ago that Scott’s the guy. So we’re glad we ended up here,” Fuchs said.
From his own perspective, meanwhile, he was impressed by Stricklin’s demeanor and by the observation that he had a way of getting along with everybody, which Fuchs felt was a valuable quality for the position.
While the first contact was made in June, the conversation really picked up in August.
Manny Fernandez, a former chairman of the board of trustees at Florida, chaired the committee that led the AD search.
He said he met with Stricklin around the end of August as the two dined at a French restaurant in Birmingham, Ala. All of the meetings with prospective candidates occurred outside of Gainesville so as to keep the process under wraps, he said.
“And never in their hometowns,” Fuchs added with a smile.
As for zeroing in on Stricklin: “It became very apparent that this was a great fit,” Fernandez said.
There were other names linked to the search through various reports during the three-month process, but Fuchs said nobody else was formally offered the job.
The Clarion-Ledger had reported that Stricklin, who was making about $500,000 a year at Mississippi State, turned down the Florida offer earlier this month before the school returned with a better offer.
Stricklin said there were multiple factors in the time it took to get to this point.
“I had some factors. UF had some factors. Candidly, Florida was kind enough to work with Mississippi State on some factors that needed to be kind of considered, which I really appreciate,” he said. “I think that shows the respect the two institutions have for one another and the respect the institutions in this league have for one another.
“But from about mid-August on, I had a chance to really kind of focus in and figure out is this an opportunity that I was willing to look into and to pursue. And at the end of the day I decided obviously it was.”
Scott Stricklin’s path to Florida
|1990-92||Mississippi State||Media Relations (baseball)|
|1999-03||Baylor||Communications & Marketing|
|2008-10||Mississippi State||External Affairs|
|2010-16||Mississippi State||Athletic Director|
*Graduated from Mississippi State in 1992.
He reiterated that it was important to him that he left Mississippi State in a good situation to carry on after his departure.
According to the news release put out by Florida, Stricklin spearheaded more than $140 million in facility improvements and significant increases in booster club membership and donations during his time at Mississippi State.
He also received the NACDA Athletic Director of the Year Award at the FBS level for the 2015-16 school year.
“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,” Stricklin said. “… And really that says something really special about Mississippi State and what that place means to me, but it says something really special about the University of Florida and what this place represents.”
Stricklin had been to Florida’s campus before in his role as the Bulldogs’ athletic director, but in regard to this hiring process he hadn’t visited campus until Monday, he said.
He hasn’t had a chance yet to thoroughly evaluate Florida’s athletic facilities yet, but he acknowledged there is room for improvement.
The Gators just recently announced their “athletics facility master plan,” a projected $100 million project that will include the construction of a stand-alone football complex and major renovations to the baseball and softball stadiums.
“I just know them more from memory than I’ve had a chance to really look at them here,” Stricklin said of the Gators’ sports complexes. “I’ve always thought Florida had really good facilities, but there’s always a chance to improve and move forward and I’m excited about being part of that process.”
A new era of Florida athletics will begin in a little more than a month when Foley steps aside into whatever emeritus or consulting position he settles on while remaining involved in some way with the Gators.
But it will be Stricklin’s imprint on all major decisions moving forward.
Stricklin praised his soon-to-be predecessor, saying that Foley “arguably — and it may not be much of an argument — is the best athletic director in the history of the SEC.”
He looks forward to continuing their friendship and working relationship on a closer level, and he’s ready to continue the momentum he’s inheriting.
“I’ve always admired this place, admired the job that’s been done — not just by Jeremy, but the whole staff. A lot of the people on this staff I have relationships with just from being in the SEC so I know how talented they are and I know how good they are and I just respect the way Florida has gone about achieving this unbelievable success,” Stricklin said. “And how can you not be attracted to that?”