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Friday, January 27, 2023

Stricklin to serve as bridge for athletics between Fuchs’ presidency, his successor

UF’s athletic director is under contract until 2027

<p>UF athletic director Scott Stricklin talks with president Kent Fuchs during Florida's search committee meeting on Sept. 27, 2016, at the Kelly Smith Conference Room.</p>

UF athletic director Scott Stricklin talks with president Kent Fuchs during Florida's search committee meeting on Sept. 27, 2016, at the Kelly Smith Conference Room.

As UF looks to install its 13th president, UF athletics will look to a key figure to smooth the transition: Scott Stricklin. 

In September 2016, UF President Kent Fuchs, who was less than two years into his term, introduced Stricklin as UF’s newest athletic director. Former athletic director Jeremy Foley retired that June, ending his 24-year stint that began in 1992.

Fuchs was faced with the tough task of replacing one of the most decorated athletic directors in SEC history within his first two years at UF. 

Sen. Ben Sasse is currently in line to take over for Fuchs as he’s the sole candidate to be named president of the university. Sasse, or whoever becomes the next president, likely won’t have this same hurdle as Stricklin is set to be in charge for the foreseeable future.

Stricklin’s set to work with the next university president as he’s under contract until 2027.

When Fuchs took the helm in January 2015, he was handed a university with a thriving sports program. Under Foley’s guidance, Florida won 27 national championships, the highest number among active athletic directors at the time.

To this day, Foley remains the only athletic director to ever win multiple men’s basketball and football titles during his tenure. From 2009 to 2016, the Gators won 14 national championships — the highest total in the nation — across six different sports.

After Foley announced his retirement, a search committee was convened with Fuchs and former Board of Trustees chair Manny Fernandez. Fuchs and his newest hire talked about Foley’s legacy at Stricklin’s introductory press conference.

“Jeremy arguably — and it may not be much of an argument — is the best athletic director in the history of the [Southeastern Conference],” Stricklin said.

The search advisory committee narrowed down its initial list to 22 candidates. Foley and the rest of the committee came in to help Fuchs narrow the list down to six, then two, then the eventual hire, Stricklin, The Alligator reported in 2016.

Since Stricklin officially took over Nov. 1, 2016, he’s led the Gators to nine national championships in his six years in Gainesville.

In Stricklin’s first year at Florida, the Gators were ranked No. 30 among all college sports programs, according to rankings from Next College Student Athlete, an organization that provides guidance for college recruits. The school’s NCSA ranking now sits at No. 3 for the 2021-2022 year.

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Despite recent controversy within the women’s basketball and soccer programs, Stricklin has placed trust in personnel like Kelly Rae Finley and Samantha Bohon to right the ship. Stricklin has also made new coaching hires in Florida’s two biggest programs: football and men’s basketball. 

Outside of his role in helping select UF’s athletic director, Fuchs also had a hand in the University Athletic Association, a not-for-profit organization created to conduct various intercollegiate athletic programs for the university.

During his time as president, Fuchs served as UAA board chairman. The president also serves as the chairman of the UAA Board under the University Board of Trustees governance structure, UF spokesperson Cynthia Roldan said.

Even though the president and UAA Board are involved with the UAA, the majority of sports decision making lies with the university’s athletic director. But none of these parties can single-handedly make decisions, Senior Associate Athletics Director Steve McClain said. 

McClain declined to give further comment on the specific relations between the university president and the athletics department but said the UF’s new president’s role will align with the current structure.

There’s also a precedent for UF presidents to sit on the SEC Executive Committee, whose primary responsibility is to approve the conference’s yearly budget. The board also serves as an advisory council at the disposal of SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey. Some former members include John J. Tigert, J. Wayne Reitz, Stephen C. O’Connell, Robert Marston and John Lombardi.  

Fuchs served on the board from 2019 to 2022. In his final year on the committee, he served as vice president. 

Sasse will likely fill Fuchs' role as chairman of the UAA board.

The sole candidate to be the next UF president would be coming to the university with experience as president of Midland University, a member of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletes, from 2009 to 2014. The move to Florida would give Sasse the responsibility of overseeing a NCAA Division I athletics program, a step up from his time at Midland.

In the past, Sasse made his name for himself as a sports fan and avid viewer.

When COVID-19 threatened the 2020 college football season, Sasse wrote to the Big Ten Conference presidents pushing for the season to not be canceled. It would be safer for the 18- to-20-year olds to play football and risk testing positive for COVID-19 than it would be for them to live their normal lives, Sasse wrote at the time.

“These young men need a season,” Sasse wrote. “Please don’t cancel college football.”

In a 2018 ExcelinEd interview, Sasse said his interviewer, a Gators fan, had her football loyalties misaligned. He referenced the team calling it, “the best team money can buy.”

One major decision Sasse, or whoever becomes UF’s next president, could be involved in is a possible expansion of the SEC. The University of Oklahoma and University of Texas are both on their way to the SEC, with a date for their arrival currently set for July 1, 2025. 

However, there’s speculation the current Big 12 schools could try to join the conference earlier.

University presidents make these decisions, so UF’s incumbent could have their hands full if the situation continues to develop. If Oklahoma and Texas want to leave the Big 12 early, or other schools want to join the SEC as well, UF’s president would be involved in some capacity.

Stricklin’s fingerprints are seen on each of UF’s athletics programs, and Fuchs provided six years of guidance to the operations. UF’s next president will do the same and work hand in hand with the current athletics director for the foreseeable future, assessing the future of the Florida Gators. 

Contact Kyle Bumpers at kbumpers@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter @BumpersKyle.

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Kyle Bumpers

Kyle Bumpers is a fourth-year journalism major and the sports editor of The Alligator. In his free time, he cries about Russell Wilson and writes an outrageous amount of movie reviews on Letterboxd.


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