GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley thought he was conducting a secret search.
It ended up being about as public as possible.
Foley acknowledged Saturday that he underestimated the attention his pursuit of Colorado State's Jim McElwain would receive when he traveled to Fort Collins earlier this week to hire Florida's next head coach.
Foley used a booster's plane to travel with four staff members to Colorado on Tuesday. When the plane filed its flight plan to leave Jacksonville, stop in Gainesville and eventually land in Fort Collins, it set off a public pursuit. Media members were waiting for Foley and his entourage at the Fort Collins airport and then followed them to McElwain's house.
"Obviously technology has changed or you guys are a little more on top of your game," Foley said Saturday. "It didn't distract us. At some point, it was a little silly."
A photographer captured a paparazzi-type picture of Foley and his colleagues eating dinner at McElwain's house.
"I was more surprised by the people at his house," Foley said. "Really? I don't know what they thought. We were going to walk out and have a press conference there that night? It was freezing out there. I was like, 'What are you guys doing?'"
Foley ran into a similar situation in 2001, when the university athletic association's jet was track as he traveled to Denver to try to hire Broncos coach Mike Shanahan to replace Steve Spurrier.
Foley changed things up in 2004 by using a booster's seemingly less-traceable jet to interview and eventually hire former coach Urban Meyer.
Twitter and other social media sites have changed media coverage since.
"At the end of the day, we've got a job to do," Foley said. "I guess we could have driven to Miami and flown to the Bahamas. But I had five people that I needed to take on a trip to go hire a football coach. At the end of the day, if that ends up on Twitter and it's what I would call silly — some of it was silly — then that's unfortunate. We were hopeful to stay under the radar."
Nonetheless, Foley ended up getting his guy when McElwain agreed to a six-year deal that averages $3.5 million annually. The biggest sticking point was working out McElwain's hefty buyout, which was eventually reduced from $7.5 million to $5 million.
"We did not just vet one coach," Foley said. "He's the only coach I talked to. This job isn't for everybody. Playing in this league isn't for everybody. Walking into Tiger Stadium, he's been there before. Walking into Jordan-Hare, he's been there before. ... I think that experience is valuable.
"Obviously, he knows what it takes to win in this league. He's won in this league at the highest level. So the boxes kept getting checked off."
Pretty much in the public eye, too.