GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Many people wear their hearts on their sleeve.
Jeremy Foley has his on his ankle.
Twenty years ago, Foley made a bet with then-women’s tennis coach Andy Brandi that he was happy to lose.
“He and I bet the team that if they won the national championship he would get a tattoo and I would get one,” Foley said. “They won, so I got one and Andy went and got one. I think Andy’s is on his shoulder and mine is on my ankle.”
Foley went with a Gators logo tattoo, quite fitting for a man who enhanced women’s sports like no other Florida athletics director before him. He will retire in October, leaving behind a program that has collectively dominated the SEC for more than two decades.
That women’s tennis title in 1996 was the third of 27 national championships UF has won under Foley. He is most recognized for the national and conference titles in football and basketball, and rightfully so. But his commitment, investment and support of all sports is what set the Gators apart in college athletics.
“The fact we have success in 21 sports is one of the biggest reasons,” Foley said. “If you’re on a college campus, you have to pay attention to all sports. It’s been part of my DNA here before I was athletic director.
“To be a national brand, you got to be more than a one or two sports program. We all love watching football and basketball games. But I’ll tell you, we don’t miss many lacrosse games or soccer games or softball games. … We’re keeping score in all of them.”
So does the SEC, which awarded Florida the All-Sports Trophy in 24 of Foley’s 25 years at the helm. Women’s athletics carried the weight for many of those trophies.
Foley, who came to UF in 1976 as an intern in the athletic department, was turned onto women’s sports by his predecessor, Bill Arnsparger, before his retirement in 1992.
“When I first got here, I didn’t go to all the sporting events,” Foley said. “I went to football and basketball. I didn’t quite get that part until Bill came here.
“He used to go to them all, so I started going with him. I said, ‘This stuff’s pretty good.’ Ever since that time, I’ve been heavily involved. I just like it.”
Foley has been a regular at every sporting event, cheering as loudly at a gymnastics meet as he does on Saturdays in The Swamp. He feels it’s important for an athletics director to be a fan, regardless of whether he sports a team tattoo.
“You’ve got to love sports. Got to be there and watch these people play,” Foley said. “You can’t make every match. There’s a thousand of those. But you better pay attention and better know.
“I’ve been on an adrenaline rush for 40 years because I get to watch our guys and women compete. I understand you have to be a CEO, raise money and do all those things you got to do, but you better be a fan. And to me, being a fan is the best part of what I do.”
Only the biggest fans get a tattoo commemorating a national title, let alone for women’s tennis. Fortunately for Foley, he didn’t get one for all of his championships.
“I’d look like somebody that played for Motley Crue,” Foley said. “I’d have a bunch.”