GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Longtime Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley helped point the Gators in the direction of Scott Stricklin during the school’s search for his successor.
And now he says it will be up to Stricklin to determine Foley’s role upon his retirement.
Stricklin was formally introduced as Florida’s next athletic director Tuesday and will take over on Nov. 1 when Foley steps aside after 25 years in the role and 40 years overall within the school’s University Athletic Association.
Foley, who announced his upcoming retirement in June, has said he wants to remain involved in the future, but it’s still to be determined what that will entail.
“He’ll determine that. Again, I’ll be very respectful. I’m not trying to be the AD behind the curtain. I mean, I was the AD and I made the decision. We’ve all talked about my decision. All’s I care about is the University of Florida being successful,” Foley said Tuesday.
Foley recounted what former Gators basketball coach Billy Donovan said while speaking at the athletic department’s annual staff retreat this year.
“Obviously, this organization went through change, he went through change. He just made the comment, ‘All of us have the responsibility to make sure the next guy doesn’t fail.’ First of all, (Stricklin is) not going to fail, and all of us are going to do everything we can to help him not fail and I’m going to play my part in that,” Foley said. “I respect him, I respect the decision he’s made and I want to do all I can to help him, but (he’s) going to determine where he wants me.
“Coach Spurrier already has the ambassador title and he has the consultant title, so I don’t know what I’m going to be. He doesn’t have the emeritus title — I’ve got that — but I’m going to be here to help Scott Stricklin be successful and help the Gators be successful. So, we’ll refine that obviously as the days go forward.”
Stricklin spent the last six years as the athletic director at his alma mater, Mississippi State. He and Foley have developed what both called a friendship during those years of crossing paths at SEC meetings, NCAA meetings, basketball tournaments and the like.
Stricklin had strong praise for his soon-to-be predecessor during his introductory news conference Tuesday.
“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,” Stricklin said. “And there’s been some really good ones. But Jeremy has set a standard. (The) last several years I’ve gotten to know him as a colleague and then as a friend, and he’s always been there with a word of advice. Sometimes it was wanted, sometimes not. But he’s been a great confidant.
“I can’t (explain) how special it is to walk into an opportunity like this and have a guy like Jeremy available to seek as a resource. No one knows the Florida Gators better than Jeremy Foley does, and to have him available at a moment’s notice is such an incredible resource and a great benefit.”
As Stricklin, university president Dr. Kent Fuchs and search committee chair Manny Fernandez detailed Tuesday, Florida first reached out to Stricklin in June sometime after Foley’s retirement announcement, and the conversation progressed from there.
Fuchs noted that Foley had been pushing Stricklin from the start.
“Over the last three years maybe, three-and-a-half years, four, he and I have become really close,” Foley said. “(But) this isn’t about me and him being friends; it’s about me knowing him, knowing what makes him tick, knowing what’s in his heart and how he does business, knowing what he stands for, knowing how he treats people, knowing how he’ll value this staff and these coaches. That’s what excites me.
“At the end of the day, I love this place — you know I do. I care about these people — you know I do. And I just want them to be in good hands. They’re in great hands in my opinion.”
One of the highlights of Stricklin’s resume to this point has been his success in fundraising.
Florida’s news release for his hiring noted that Stricklin spearheaded $140 million in facility improvements at Mississippi State while generating increases in booster club membership and donations.
Florida just recently announced a projected $100 million facilities plan that will include a stand-alone football complex and major upgrades to the baseball and softball stadiums.
Foley thinks that’s an area in which Stricklin will be a real asset.
To that end, though, Foley also thinks he can be a real asset to Stricklin in those matters.
“We’ve got some things to do. … He’s done a great job raising money for facilities in Starkville, and I think he’ll do some great things here and hopefully I can help him,” Foley said. “I think I can help him a little bit because I know a lot of people, will get him in front of some people, but we’ll get those facilities done. The plan was put on the table a couple weeks ago. He was fully aware of what we were contemplating and obviously he’s fully on board with what we’re going to go get done.”
Florida baseball coach Kevin O’Sullivan was in attendance at the introductory news conference and said the discussions for the baseball facility upgrades have been very preliminary to this point.
“We’ve had about three or four meetings. Obviously, Chip (Howard) and Jeremy have been spearheading that whole project, but it really hasn’t gone any further than that,” O’Sullivan said. “I know there’s plans in place, but obviously it’s a long process. It’s got to go out for bid, we’ve got to get the engineers and the architects involved and we’ve got to raise money. So, there’s a lot of things we still have to do, but I’m excited about it.”
Fuchs said the goal remains to fund that $100 million facilities initiative through private money, but the university is willing to borrow the money upfront if need be.
One way or another, those projects are getting completed, Fuchs said.
That will be Stricklin’s first major task, perhaps with a little help from his predecessor.
“We’re going to raise a lot of money. We want our generous friends to fund all of it, but if we’re not able to, we’re going to borrow,” Fuchs said. “We’re going to make it happen. We decided to go ahead even before we knew that Scott was going to be our next athletic director. … Obviously, he embraces that. He’s going to be a marvelous fundraiser. He’s going to raise a lot of money for the facilities, but we’re going to make that happen.”
Said Foley: “People are excited. I haven’t gotten many checks yet, but we’re going to start asking shortly. But (we’re) really excited and now you have to go get it done.”