GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Much like his partner on the dais Thursday night, longtime Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley said he didn’t want to meddle in the work of his successor after he retires.
Foley and legendary former Gators football coach turned ambassador/consultant Steve Spurrier were the guests on the kickoff edition of “Gator Talk,” taking questions from fans during the live radio show hosted by Mick Hubert inside Piesanos.
Foley has announced he will retire effective Oct. 1 after 40 years at Florida overall and the last 25 in his current top role. A new athletic director has not yet been named.
“Like coach Spurrier, this place is my home. I’ve been here for 40 years,” Foley said. “… When it’s all said and done, there are some things I think I can come back and help with, especially on a facilities front, trying to push some of those things forward. I don’t want to be in the way, I don’t want to step on people’s toes. I have no desire to do that, but I think there’s things I can do to help the program and help the university.
“I have a lot of institutional knowledge, (being) around as long as I’ve been around. It’s all going to depend on who sits in the chair, it’s going to depend on the president and what have you. But being around this place is special. … It’s a fun program to be part of so I hope to be able to do that, and right now that’s my plans.”
Foley noted that part of the reason he set his retirement date for Oct. 1 was to be able to take part in the ceremony to honor Spurrier during the Gators’ season opener Sept. 3 against Massachusetts.
Asked by a fan if he would consider extending his tenure longer if a new athletic director was not in place by Oct. 1, Foley sidestepped that question like the experienced university official he is.
“We’re trying to get that figured out here in the next couple weeks, but obviously I’m always going to look after the Gators. We’ll see what’s going on,” he said.
At that point, Spurrier chimed in, “I told Jeremy, ‘At least stay through football season. I need somebody to sit with.’”
That drew some laughs from the crowd. There were plenty of those as the crowded dining room relished the opportunity to hear from two of the most visible faces of Florida athletics over the past few decades.
For that matter, Foley enjoyed the stories, too.
“Coach Spurrier and I spent a lot of time together. We’d got to The Bahamas once a year together, he and I have known each other a long time and I can listen to those stories a lot,” Foley said. “… He’s talking about a lot of fun times for all of us.”
While Spurrier is the master of the witty soundbite, Foley dropped a couple of good lines himself Thursday night.
He was asked if former men’s basketball coach Billy Donovan, who led the Gators to back-to-back national championships in 2006-07 and just finished his first season with the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder, would have the school’s basketball court named for him the same way the football field will soon bear Spurrier’s name.
“As much money as Billy makes in the NBA and as much as we paid him, he’s going to have to write a check for that,” Foley joked. “Obviously at some point in time this university is going to honor Billy in appropriate fashion. We really haven’t had those conversations because he’s obviously moved on, but just like coach Spurrier changed the culture of our football program … Billy was the same way.
“We never had a basketball program that was great. We had moments of success, not to take away from those moments, but trying to sustain it and kind of be a national force in college basketball, it never happened until Billy got here. So I would say he changed the culture as well. So at the appropriate time I assure you the University of Florida will honor him, and he won’t have to pay for it — I promise you that, too.”
While Spurrier is set to release his memoirs next week, appropriately titled “Head Ball Coach,” Foley said he doesn’t have any plans for a book of his own.
Well, not unless the circumstances were too good to pass up.
“I get asked that all the time about writing a book, and I don’t think I have interest in that. At some point in time people will lose interest in what I have to say. If I get a big advance, yes, I’ll write a book,” he said to more laughs.
On a more serious note, he was asked what the toughest moments of his tenure have been and he gave a sincere response.
“The toughest decisions you have to make when you sit in a chair like mine relates to letting coaches go,” he said. “It’s not an easy gig here. Coach Spurrier will tell you that — a lot of hard work, a lot of expectations. Every coach that we’ve had in here, they work their tail off, they’ve got families and they’ve got staff and they’ve got lives and this is a great place to be. And every once in a while it just doesn’t work for whatever reason and you have to make those calls and you’re disrupting a lot of people’s lives. … Those are very, very difficult conversations.”
Ryan Young is a Florida beat writer for SEC Country and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.