GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Jeremy Foley arrived at Florida 36 years ago last month to begin work as an intern in the ticket office.
Foley was in his office at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium preparing for another day’s work, with the athletic year opening tonight, he starts his 21st year as Florida’s athletic director.
Below is the first of four Q&A sessions – Foley’s Quarterly Report -- GatorZone.com will conduct with Foley during this school year.
Foley addressed where the football program is in his view, how he works to maintain the program’s integrity in a college sports world that has seen its share of turbulent times recently, and he discusses the recent renovations at The Swamp.
Q: As you enter your 21st year as UF’s athletic director, how do you stay motivated and motivate your staff to continue to get the job done the way you want?
A: I think we all stay motivated because we recognize we have a huge responsibility to this place. I think all of us love working here and in the world of intercollegiate athletics, you can’t focus on the past too much. It’s not who we are. It’s also not the way of the world in sports. Nobody really cares what you did two years ago -- they care about what you are going to do this year. If you are a competitor you stay challenged. We like being successful. We like representing this university. There are still a lot of things for us to achieve. We are trying to build a football program back. We are trying to win championships in sports that we have never won championships in before. We’ve got some new coaches on board. All of those things excite us. Most of what excites us is trying to do what’s right for this institution. We have a lot of competitors around here and we like competing on the highest level and we like competing on behalf of the University of Florida.
Q: Will Muschamp is entering his second season on the job. What’s your assessment of the football program since he took over?
A: I just met with the football staff and I see it building. Like anything, it doesn’t get built overnight. All coaches want that and all fans want that. I get that, but if it’s going to be something substantial, and it’s going to be built to last, it’s got to be built the right way. I see that in terms of what is happening with our team: discipline, the weight room, academically. I see the buy-in from the players. I see the way the staff works. At the end of the day, you’re judged on winning games in any sport, but I see it building to where Gator fans want it to be and where Will wants it to be. I think that’s very exciting. If we’re going to build it, we’re going to build it the right way. Will has said that a thousand times. He’s building a program here and that’s what you want – a program built to last.
Q: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium has undergone some major renovations since last season. What was involved in the decision to improve the stadium?
A: We’re renovating the stadium on the west side because I think it was built 70 or 80 years ago– except for a couple of layers of paint – that we’ve done a whole lot. It was a matter of time, and to make it a little better experience for our fans. Our fans are certainly our life’s blood and we’ve said often that we have the best fans around. The stadium needed some ‘bring it into the 21st century,’ that was our motivation. I think fans will be pleased with the changes.
Q: What other facility projects are ongoing at this time?
A: We’ve had a lot going on. We’re building an indoor tennis facility which is in progress right now. We’re adding 6,600 square feet to our gymnastics studio. We have a very talented staff here and we’re certainly blessed to have a lot of fan support to allow us to afford those types of renovations and expansions. It’s all going to be good for the Gators when it’s all said and done.
Q: What is the message to your staff to protect the Florida program against the kind of high-profile troubles other schools have experienced over the past couple of years in college sports?
A: I think the message is consistent in terms of every decision we make needs to be in the best interests of the University of Florida. Not individuals, not for the sake of winning a game, not for the sake of any individual goal. It’s what is best for Florida. Certainly we’re not perfect around here. We make mistakes every single day and when we make them, we’re not proud of them and we try to fix them. But I think one thing our staff does a great job of is always keeping Florida at the forefront. If you start making decisions solely for the sake of winning a game, or if you start making decisions solely for the sake of a player or a coach or for your own personal situation, you have the potential to hurt the institution. The institution is who we work for. It’s who pays us. It’s why we get up every day, to do what’s right for the institution. People who work for me have heard it 10,000 times, ‘Every decision we make needs to be in the best interest of the University of Florida.’ We try to stay true to that.
Q: Do you have a primary goal for the 2012-13 athletic season that you want the UAA to accomplish?
A: We have a goal to be as successful as we can be. We have a goal to work harder than we did a year ago. We have a goal to represent the University of Florida in the right way. We don’t sit down and say we want to win X number of championships or we want to win X number of games. We’d like to win them all but it doesn’t work that way. We do know that if we work hard and stay focused on the right things in the best interest of Florida, we have a chance to have a special year. Our goal is to not slip back. Our goal is to not get complacent, our goal is not to get lazy, our goal is not to think that this stuff is easy because we had a great year last year. But you also look at last year and you look at some sports and how close they came to having special years – and my point in bringing that up is to show how hard it is to do what we do. It’s a very competitive league, a very competitive business, so you better just focus on moving this thing forward and focus on the right things. Those are our goals.