From the Director’s Desk
GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Last year’s athletic calendar was highlighted by a one-for-the-record-books men’s basketball season, and a second straight NCAA championship for the gymnastics team, and an historic first national title in the sport of softball not even three months ago.
Time to reboot and start it all again.
The Gators soccer team opens its 2014 season Friday night against state rival Miami. Volleyball rolls out for a weekend tournament Aug. 29-30 in the Active Ankle Challenge at the O’Connell Center.
Oh, and there’s a season-opening football game in “The Swamp” (Aug. 30 vs. Idaho), in the mix, too.
All this activity, as students are set to flood the campus and community for Monday’s start of the fall semester, means it’s time for another edition of “From the Director’s Desk,” the occasional GatorZone.com series that catches up with UF athletic director Jeremy Foley, set to begin his 23rd year on the job after taking over in March 1992.
Here is our Q&A:
Q: As an AD, is there something about the coming of late-August, and the anticipation of another academic and athletic year, that gets you going?
A: “A week from now, the energy level in this town, on this campus and around this athletic program, is going to be turned up 1,000 degrees. It’s like that every year. Every summer, as the days go by, you’re waiting and waiting for the switch to be flipped -- and it’s going to get flipped. At the end of the day, that kind of juice is why we’re in this business. It’s fun. It’s fun to be on this campus and see the energy. It’s fun to be around the program. On Sunday [Aug. 24], we’re going to have a welcome-back function for all our student-athletes, and if you could bottle the energy in that room you could shoot yourself to the moon. Like I said, that’s why we do what we do. It’s fun to be around that environment.”
Q: One of the main focal points in the fall, of course, is the football season and bouncing back. Where is your level of optimism for Coach Will Muschamp, the Gators and 2014?
A: “Obviously, I’m very positive. I’ve seen how things are progressing. I see how Will’s been. I see how his staff’s been. I’ve seen the type of effort that’s been put into turning this thing around. My message has been pretty consistent. I’m very confident in our football program under Will’s leadership. I’m excited, just as all Gator fans are. I know there’s a lot of wait-and-sees out there. We get that. But I’ve been very impressed to the way people have reacted to what was a very difficult year.”
Q: What’s most impressed you about Coach Muschamp?
A: “I’ve said often, you learn a lot about people when things aren’t going well. That goes for a coach, a staff member here or yourself. The way he’s reacted to last season, I’ve been impressed with. Not one excuse made. Not one ‘woe-is-me’ comment. He’s just gone to work. I think he’s done a great job with his staff and a great job with his team. No one here is sitting around feeling sorry for ourselves -- and we know no one out there is going to feel sorry for us. One of the keys, I think, to Will Muschamp’s success to this point in his life is his work ethic. He is as hard-a-working guy as I’ve been around. I’ve always believed if you work hard, work smart, work right, you have a chance to be successful. He’s reacted like real leaders do. It’s been impressive.”
Q: There’s been a focus in your department on address concerns with the fan base about improving the game-day experienced in “The Swamp.” Last week, you attended the inaugural meeting of the Fan Advisory Council. You’ve added 36 cell phone antennas in the stadium to bring the total close to 400 to help improvement connectivity. What are your thoughts on the progress made in that area?
A: “We’re going to continue to evaluate our game-day experience and try to get as much input as we can. We want it to be as good as it can be. We understand fans have choices. We understand in some cases we may have let them down by not reacting to some things earlier. But we have a very, very aggressive staff here that takes this stuff seriously. We’re going to work very hard to make sure when our fans come here they have a lot of fun. We appreciate them.”
Q: What is the latest on the O’Connell Center renovation project?
A: “We’re designing it as we speak. We have architects on board. We’ve had a lot of meetings this summer. Obviously, a lot of details still need to be worked out. A lot of meetings still to be held. We’re still trying to raise money. But we’re full-speed ahead. Next March, sometime, I don’t know the exact date, we’re going to begin work on that project with a goal to be ready to play games in there December 2015. But we’ve talked about it and talked about it, and now it’s coming to fruition.”
Q: The newest buzz word in college sports -- certainly this summer -- was “autonomy.” The NCAA’s big five conferences have voted for more say in the decision-making process. What is the University of Florida’s position on where this is all headed?
A: “Well, that was a decision that was a long time coming. It’s not that the NCAA model that we’ve worked under for the longest time has been a failure. It hasn’t. But change is inevitable. There are certain schools in this country that need to have a little more say in how we do our business. The cost-of-attendance conversation is one of them. We tried to pay a $2,000 stipend for student-athletes several years ago. It got derailed. Everybody has their role and place in this business, but not everybody is the same. So for larger schools, such as Florida, and larger conferences, like the Southeastern Conference, it’s not like we’re looking to reinvent the wheel. But there are some things we’d like to have a little more control over; to take care of our student-athletes and to take care of our programs. This new autonomy is going to help us do that. Now, what is that going to look like? President Machen and I have met and talked about that. There will be a million ideas out there, but all those ideas aren’t going to get passed at once. What are the most important ones? We have to try to figure that out over the next four or five months. We are going to get with our coaches and figure out what those are.”
Q: I know you’re excited about the debut of the four-team college football playoff format, but I also know how you felt about bowl games all these years. That hasn’t changed, has it?
A: “I love bowl games. I’m very much looking forward to the college football playoff, but for the other 30 or so that aren’t in the top four, those bowl games are good for your players, your program and your fans. Bowl games, to me, are woven into the fabric of college football. Always have been, always will be.”