GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- University of Florida Athletics Director Jeremy Foley announced his retirement on Monday morning, effective Oct. 1.
Foley started at UF in 1976 and took over as athletics director in March 1992, building UF's athletic department into a powerhouse with 27 national titles in 10 different sports during his tenure.
In the wake of this morning's announcement, here is a Q&A Foley did with FloridaGators.com:
Q: Was this a decision you considered for a while or one that you woke up and made one day?
A: This decision has caused me to miss many hours of sleep. It's the type of thing that you wake up in the middle of the night and you can't go back to sleep. And not in a negative way. There's just a lot of moving parts to this: me personally, the organization, the staff and coaches, the timing. I haven't spent years on it but I've spent months on it. I want to do what's right for Florida. That's why I have spent a lot of time thinking through it. And I want to make sure everyone understands this is my decision. I'm not sick; I'm not dissatisfied; I'm not getting pushed. It happens to all of us. The time comes. What's important to me is that Florida is OK, and I think the timing now is really good for Florida mostly because of the incredible talent that is here right now with the staff and coaches. That part excites me.
Q: When you make a decision like this the first question usually on everyone's mind is 'why now?'
A: You get to a certain age in life you do think about it. I think the 'why now?' is probably, I would say, on a couple of levels. For 25 years this organization has heard one voice and continuity around here is very important to us and I think it's important to success. You know, change is sometimes a catalyst for more success. I also think when you get to a certain age, it becomes a dangerous time for the organization in terms of potential coach or staff transition. I've been through a million searches, and every coach has looked me in the eye and said, 'How long are you going to be there?' And when you can't give a really good answer to that, then maybe you don't get the best. I don't want that to happen here. Another thing is you always want to leave an organization in good shape. Right now, we obviously have a great group of coaches, we have had a good year, we've got things moving in the right direction, I think we represent the institution well. Obviously we have a lot of work to do on the facilities front, which I am still going to be involved in. I just think whoever inherits the chair is going to inherit an unbelievably talented group of coaches and group of people. And that's a good thing. We've got things moving in the right direction here and I just think that makes it a good time to transition. And the last thing I would tell you, I've had a heck of a run here. You can't do it forever. I don't know what the next phase of my life is. I do know in the short term I have an opportunity to remain here as Emeritus Athletics Director and I'm going to do that. I've got some facility commitments that I want to see through. I might not totally get them built, but I want to get some off the ground because I've looked some coaches in the eye and told them we are going to do some things. I'm not going to back out on my word on that. And I want to see what the next phase of my life entails for me. I'm excited about that. It doesn't make it any less hard or less emotional, but it's the game of life. At some point all good things come to an end. I just firmly believe that now is the best time for the organization, for me. And I've thought about it. At the end of the day I want this organization to continue to thrive. I don't want it to stagnate, and I don't personally want to stagnate, and I just think the timing is really, really good for me personally but also for the organization.
Q: You have been at Florida for 40 years and athletic director for 25 -- what does that mean to you considering in this day and age that type of longevity is rare?
A: That's a source of pride and it's also been a blessing. Before I went to grad school I just wanted to work in sports. Next thing you know I'm working at one of the best athletic programs in America and one of the best universities in America. I did it for my whole entire life. That is special. I've had some incredible experiences here when you think about all the things I've been able to experience in terms of watching sports. That's why I got into this business. You're talking about national championships in football, Final Fours, Omaha, Oklahoma City, national championships all down the line. There are a lot of people in my shoes who don't get to experience that stuff. I've got to experience it multiple times. I've been blessed and I've been blessed to be at one place. I love this university and I love this town. The good Lord looked after me.
Q: You are a prominent spectator at events all across campus, is the 'Gator fan' in you an important piece to the way you want to be remembered?
A: I got into this business to be a fan because I am a fan. I grew up a huge Boston Red Sox fan and obviously I became a huge Gator fan. I like to cheer, I like to root. That's the juice in the business, watching our teams and our coaches compete. There is no question I'm a fan. Sometimes my being a fan may have caused me problems in my career, especially with members of the media because I was too much of a fan. There was a time people asked me about being a conference commissioner. I've got tremendous respect for those jobs but I never had interest in doing that because it would be hard for me to be a fan of 14 teams. I'm a Gator fan. It would be really hard for me to go to a Gator game and act like I don't care. That never interested me for that reason alone. If I'm remembered as a fan, that's a good thing.
Q: As you call it a career, what are you going to look at as your most important impact here?
A: I get asked that question a lot and I'll get asked here a million times in the next few days about that. Other people write your legacy. There will be some people who write that I had a couple of coaching searches in football that didn't work out as well as they could've, and some people will write that I had a couple that did work out. Who's right? That's not relevant to me. What is truly relevant to me, and obviously I was just a part of it, but when I came here in 1976 all anyone wanted was to win just one Southeastern Conference football championship. This athletic program was a good one. We had a couple of national championships, but it certainly wasn't what it is today. So the thing I'm most proud of is that I was part of a program that over a period of time, through the efforts of a lot of different people, and a lot of different coaches, and as I've said here recently I believe Coach Spurrier was a huge part of it, elevated this program to where, if you want to talk about the nation's best athletic programs, you can't leave Florida off the list. It wasn't on the list when I first got there. I'm very proud of that. I think we set the bar at a certain place and I think Florida fans like that and the people who work here like that. The bars are tough around here in terms of success and integrity. But I think those bars are good and have served the University of Florida well.
Q: What are you going to miss most from the day-to-day routine?
A: The people here. I was talking to someone on my staff on Friday and they said, 'Jeremy will be fine until the first football road trip and he's not getting on the airplane.' That is a fact. When that first trip is taken, I'm not going to be anywhere near Gainesville. That is going to be hard for me. The people here is what makes this place. We get along here, we have a lot of fun, and we have an unbelievable culture here. The fact I have been given the opportunity to stay around this university means a lot because the people around here, they are my family. They are my friends. That's the part I'll miss. I'll get a chance to go to Gator games again. And I'll root for them, you know that. But I will miss coming to work every single day, walking down the hall shooting the breeze with this person, cutting up with that person, that's what I'll miss the most. We've been through some great times here, and we've been through some tough times here. When you work everyday with some people I really love and respect, and who love the University of Florida and are all about the right things, that's what I will miss the most.
Q: In staff meetings, one of your consistent messages is the importance of running a clean program. How much of that is derived from those difficult moments the department experienced in your early time here?
A: No question. Calling it like it is, in the '80s we had some tough times around here. We had some integrity issues around here. The story I tell a lot, in 1984 when we won that first SEC championship at Kentucky and we came back here and the stadium was full and the town was going crazy, and then it got taken away. I remember saying to myself, 'What was that all about?' It got taken away because we weren't doing business the right way. The championship didn't even count. So if you're not doing it the right way, what's the purpose? How can you feel good about it? We've had our issues and we're not perfect, but when we raise the trophies, we're doing it the right way. I think that's important for the University of Florida. During that time in the '80s, coaches lost their jobs, and it was a tough time over here [at the UAA] and everything, but you know who kept getting kicked in the teeth day after day after day, was the University of Florida. Not the UAA, but the University of Florida. When you have a department having that kind of negative impact on the institution -- that just can't be. Conversely, I want this athletic program â and I think it is right now â as something that enhances the brand of the university. Everyone has to buy into that, the coaches, the staff, everyone associated with the program. I don't think that's a message you can talk about just one time. You've got to talk about it every single time and you've got to walk it. When you have tough decisions to make, you've got to make them. You've got to hold people accountable. At the end of the day, the university's brand and the UAA's brand is as important as anything else. Because when it gets hurt, and look around the country right now, there are a lot of brands taking a beating because of athletics, that's just something I expect to be part of the culture around here. That will continue around here. That is more important than any win, more important than any trophy. You know why? Because there's always another game, another championship, another trophy. But when it comes to your institutional integrity, when that gets hurt, it takes forever to get back. It took us forever to get it back.
Q: The '80s as a low point, what is the high point for you that resonates most?
A: There's a couple, and not because these sports are more important than other sports, but because I know how important football success is to the Gator Nation. Certainly 1996. I can remember that night in New Orleans as if it was yesterday. Obviously, the basketball championships are special. For as long as I had been here up to that point, the talk was that Florida is only a football school. They can't get it done in basketball, so the first [national title] up in Indianapolis. 'Yeah, we can get it done in basketball. We just did.' All of the championships â regardless of sport - are special, they are so hard to do. So they stand out. I know how hard the coaches work. I will remember them all. But for Gator Nation, certainly those championships in '96 (football) and 2006 (men's basketball).
Q: What is the outlook for the next person to inherit this job?
A: We've got some work to do, especially in facilities, and we're going to get that done. I feel really good about that. That's just work, that's fundraising, that's going to happen. I think the program is in good shape for whoever sits in that chair next because of the good people. I know this staff here. I know how hard they work. I know what they are made of. I know how professional they are. I've seen them deal with every single situation and the fact I've had them in the room with me is the reason I've had a chance to have some success as athletic director. Somebody else is going to inherit those people. And I also look around at the collective group of coaches that we have right here. There is an unbelievable track record, talent, success, achievement, that's all there. There's not a program around here that is 1-12 or 5-20 and you've got to figure out what's going on. They are achieving at the highest level. An unbelievably talented group of coaches who live their lives the right way, do the right things, good people. I love being around them. That's what the new athletic director is going to get. Because of that I think they are going to hit the ground running and we can take this program farther than it is today.
Q: What is the greatest challenge an athletic director faces in today's climate?
A: A lot of unknowns. That's what I would say. There are a lot of unknowns right now. I thought about that, 'Has it always been that way?' I'm not sure to the magnitude that it is now. At the end of the day, the job remains the same. We've got to try and be successful, we've got to graduate young men and women, represent the university in the right way and make sure we are funding this program the right way. The challenges are to try and navigate a changing world.
Q: Once the news settles and you begin to navigate that next phase, what do you think that realization is going to be like for you?
A: All this is new. I'm not the first person to go through this. I've invested a lot in this place. It will be different. For 40 years I've driven to the same place for work, and so I'm just going to see how it fits. I have a strong faith. The good Lord will guide me as he sees fit. But I also know that we've got a lot of work to do here. I'm not leaving on Friday. Everybody knows me and I'm not putting my feet up. As long as I'm here at this desk and whatever my next desk is, I've still got work to do for the University of Florida. I've got work to do for some coaches. I'm talking about building buildings. I'm talking about living up to commitments to Mac [Jim McElwain], to Sully [Kevin O'Sullivan], to Tim [Walton], to some other folks. That's what we're talking about doing here. Those commitments are really important to me. We're going to make sure this program keeps on keeping on. Any time there is transition in any company, there is probably a little hiccup. Those hiccups don't last that long. This is a great place. It will be strange for me, but again, it's the way of the world. I've thought about it a thousand times, 'I don't want to do this, I'll do it a year from now.' What's a year from now, two years from now? Why is that different? At some point, this job â unless I died in that chair â is going to come to an end. I think because the organization is in such good shape in terms of people, and coaches and achievement, now is the perfect time. What that allows us to do is a smooth transition. That's what you always want, a smooth transition. You want whomever comes in to take their ideas and move it to the next level and not dealing with stuff that takes you away from being successful. It will be new, it will be different, but that's part of the equation in this. It may be time for life to go in a different direction. And I mean that in an exciting way. This is a complex decision that has a lot of multi-faceted pieces, and two of them are Florida and me. I'm like the professional baseball player who played for 15-to-20 years and all of a sudden spring training comes and they aren't going. Everybody has to navigate that in the game of life and I'm confident I will do it. It will all be good.
Q: What are plans you do have for yourself away from college athletics?
A: There's going to be a lot of live music. I'm a live music fan and because of timing in this job, I've missed certain things. I'm going to do some of that before people say, 'What's this grandfather doing here?' But on the short term though, my bucket list is finishing things for the University of Florida.
Q: Is this tricky for you in regards to timing and your commitments to coaches?
A: Our coaches are really smart. They realize [I] wasn't going to be here forever. I have great relationships with all of them, I really do. I'm not saying the conversations with the coaches won't be difficult. At the end of the day, this is about Florida for them. They are at a really good place. This is why they are here. Is it ideal to leave Mac and Mike [White] after a year? No. The flip side of that is the programs are on the rise. They will get a great athletic director here. I think the timing is right.
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