Foley made himself into an indispensable Gator

by Gary Shelton on June 14, 2016 · 1 comment

in College Sports in Florida, general, University of Florida

Tuesday, 6 a.m.

What does an athletic director do, really?

Besides direct, that is.

He shakes hands. He slaps backs. He hires. He fires. He buys suits. And after that, most of the time, you don't notice him.

Even when an athletic director is as successful as Foley, you don't notice him for all the great athletes. Unless, of course, you glance at the guy standing underneath the goalposts, watching his Gators win again. Unless you notice the guy in the back of the room during press

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conferences basking in the glow. You glad-hand the big Gators, the ones you have enabled to feel so good about their lot in life.

If you are Foley, you spend a lot of time feeling good about your lot in life.

In his 25 years of working for the University of Florida, Foley made himself into an essential figure. He was the orchestra leader. He was the CEO. He was the man behind the men who did all the winning. That's why it will feel so strange at the University of Florida without Foley, who announced his retirement Monday morning. He was just so, well, so much of a Gator to the core of his being.

“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.”

Think of the last 25 years, and all of the men who you might put on the Florida Mount Rushmore. There was Steve Spurrier and Tim Tebow and, as distasteful as it feels, Urban Meyer. There was Billy Donovan and Joakim Noah and Al Horford. There were swimmers and baseball players and track stars. Foley saw to it that they were all good.

He oversaw 27 national championships. He managed 24 out of 25 all-sports trophies. He could not have been more of a Gator if he led “two-bits” on Saturday afternoon.

He was an engaging guy, one who always seemed happy to see you. With me, he usually had a dig about why I didn't get to Florida more often, probably because there was never anyplace that Foley liked better. So why would a columnist want to be anywhere else.

Oh, Foley wasn't undefeated. He took a chance on Ron Zook, and he missed. He took a chance on Will Muschamp, and he missed. But he was there in Spurrier's early days, when Spurrier fashioned the program that the Gators would be, and he took a chance on Donovan, and he hired Meyer.

And he stood in the end zone.

And he watched the touchdowns.

I remember when he brought Billy D to Gainesville. Lon Kruger had done okay, but he never seemed to believe in the Gators, and he was, more or less, a one-hit wonder. So I asked Jeremy “Did you hire the Beatles, or did you hire the Blues Magoos.” He thought he had hired the Beatles. For years, that was Foley's running gag with me. “We didn't hire the Blues Magoos.”

In a thousand years, could you have pictured Foley being the athletic director somewhere else? Me, neither. He was Florida, through and through. He wasn't cut out to work at Southern Cal or Oklahoma or Nebraska. He was a Gator. An essential one.

A story. I had a hard time communicating with Bill Arnsparger, Foley's predecessor. He would would spin, and he would dodge, and he wouldn't answer questions. Then he would tell you, pleasantly, to “call anytime.” When I stopped drinking — and I never much cared for it — in 1990, I told friends that I wouldn't start again until Arnsy was no longer with the Gators. “Know who the most popular AD in Florida history is?” I would ask people. “Whoever comes after Arnsy.”

Turns out, I was right. Foley was perfect for the job. He could talk Gators with the most intense fans, because he loved them just as much, and he was pleasant. He cared as much as any athletic director cared about his program, and it showed.

Consider 2006. His school won a football national title and one in basketball. In 2007, Florida won another one in basketball. In 2008, another one in football. It was a good time to be a Gator.

Foley loved to see the orange-and-blue win, and he saw a lot of it. Women's softball. Track. All of it.

What does an athletic director do? He directs. He takes care of eligibility and scheduling and hiring and fundraising and all the rest.

With Foley, he cared. Mostly, he did that.

Good job, Jeremy. Also, chomp.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Cecil DeBald June 14, 2016 at 8:52 am

Go Gators! Hope the powers to be can find another AD that is competent – and cares.



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