Longtime Florida AD Jeremy Foley retiring after 25 years
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley drove through the baseball parking lot, turned left at the grounds crew entrance and stopped a few feet from left field.
Any closer and he would have been in the dugout.
''It's good to be king,'' Foley said Sunday as he emerged from his SUV before the Gators and Florida State played Game 2 of their NCAA super regional.
His reign is coming to an end.
One of the most successful college sports leaders in the country, Foley announced his retirement Monday after 40 years at Florida. He started as an intern long before Steve Spurrier, Billy Donovan and Urban Meyer coached at Florida, worked his way to the top of the athletic department and built a powerhouse program whose annual operating budget has risen from $30 million to more than $119 million.
The Gators have won 27 national championships during Foley's 25 years at the helm and claimed the Southeastern Conference's All-Sports Trophy every year except one during his tenure.
Now, they're searching for someone to sustain that success.
''I want to do what's right for Florida,'' Foley said in a statement. ''That's why I have spent a lot of time thinking it through. 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.''
The 63-year-old Foley will officially step down Oct. 1. He informed his staff and head coaches of the move Monday morning, calling it quits after four decades at Florida. The school scheduled a news conference with Foley on Tuesday afternoon.
Foley started in the ticket office in 1976, became a full-time employee a few months later and needed just five years to become an assistant athletic director. His rise continued until he was named AD in 1992, taking over a program that had been known mostly for cheating and mediocrity and helping turn it into a model organization accustomed to winning championships the right way.
Although Foley didn't hire Spurrier, he brought a distinguished list of coaches to Gainesville while molding one of the SEC's elite programs. Donovan and Meyer were among his best hires. Each won a pair of national championships.
There were missteps, too, including giving football coaches Ron Zook and Will Muschamp their first head-coaching jobs. Foley's critics also point to Florida falling well back in the arms race of football facilities, a problem second-year coach Jim McElwain inherited and has been working to correct.
But all those championships speak for themselves.
Under Foley, the Gators won national titles in 13 different sports. They had won nine national championships in five sports before he took over. He is one of two sitting ADs - along with UCLA's Dan Guerrero - to have won at least one national title in each of the last seven years. Foley's streak continued when the men's track and field team won the NCAA outdoor crown last week.
Foley also is the only AD in Division I history to lead a program that won multiple national championships in football (1996, 2006, 2008) and men's basketball (2006, 2007).
Foley and Florida made history in 2006 when the Gators became the first to win national championships in football and men's basketball in the same year. Foley was rewarded with an 11-year contract that paid him $1.2 million annually and set up his retirement.
The deal included a clause that gives Foley the option of serving as emeritus athletic director and senior adviser to the university president for five years after his retirement, either full or part time. Foley also can choose to be an adviser to his successor.
Foley made it clear he plans to remain connected to the program, especially during the completion of several on-campus facility upgrades. The O'Connell Center is undergoing a $64.5 million renovation that will be completed in December, and a $25 million academic center for student-athletes is expected to open later this month.
''I've invested a lot in this place,'' said Foley, who also has 130 SEC tiles on his resume. ''Everybody who knows me knows I'm not putting my feet up. I still have some work to do for this organization.''
University President Kent Fuchs said Foley's ''amazing accomplishments as athletics director are well known.''
Foley was never shy about making changes in his department when they were needed.
Upon parting ways in 2001 with popular baseball coach Andy Lopez, who guided the Gators to two College World Series berths and five NCAA regional appearances in seven seasons, Foley famously said, ''If something needs be done eventually, it must be done immediately.'' He has used the line repeatedly since.
Now, it's Foley stepping aside - better now than later, he felt.
''What that allows us to do is a smooth transition,'' he said. ''That's what you always want, a smooth transition.''