After UF Athletics Director Jeremy Foley was handed the game ball following Florida’s homecoming victory on Oct. 15, coach Jim McElwain asked Foley to talk to the team.
It didn’t end well. Foley didn't know what to say.
“He kind of stumbled a little bit on his last game in The Swamp,” McElwain said.
On Saturday, after Florida’s 24-10 win over Georgia, Foley was given a rare second chance.
As he stood in Florida’s locker room at EverBank Field, the 63-year-old athletics director huddled the team around him.
He talked to them briefly before chanting “Gators Forever.”
“He performed a little bit better in the execution part of it,” starting quarterback Luke Del Rio said, “but the enthusiasm was always there.”
Foley, whose final day as UF’s AD was Monday, always had a positive zeal when it came to his Gators. For almost 25 years in his position, Foley made it his mission to prioritize the student-athletes, to make them feel at home, to make sure they knew they always had a friend in him.
“This is what we do,” Foley said during his retirement press conference on June 14. “We bring them here to graduate and compete. And can’t be successful without great student athletes.”
When Foley was named the school’s athletic director in 1992, the Gators had won just nine national titles. The common rhetoric among the athletic program was “wait until next year,” “the sleeping giant” and “untapped potential,” among others, Foley said.
A quarter-of-a-century later, UF brought home 27 team national titles in 12 sports. The Gators claimed at least one national championship trophy each of the last seven years. Florida finished in the top 10 for the Directors’ Cup every year.
Also, no team was placed under NCAA probation during his era.
And in the classroom? UF has averaged an 85.2 percent NCAA Graduation Success Rate, which measures the rate of student-athletes who graduate from a university within six years, since the NCAA began keeping track 11 years ago.
“If you fast forward to where we are today, again collective effort by so many people and so many coaches. … we’ve changed the conversation,” Foley said. “It is not ‘wait until next year.’ It’s one of the nation’s best athletic programs.”
And even with Foley’s time at the top reaching its conclusion, the stage he set and the foundation he created is not going to fade into oblivion.
Incoming AD Scott Stricklin will take over the program with a top-10 football team, a basketball team with the potential to reach the NCAA Tournament and up to a dozen of its 21 varsity sports on pace to contend for a national title.
“I think the best days in this program are ahead of us,” Foley said, “and I think you have the right leader to take us there.”
UF athletics director Jeremy Foley listens as Jim McElwain gives his press conference on Dec. 6, 2014, at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.