For the better part of the past 25 years, Jeremy Foley was one of the most successful figures in all of college sports but one we probably didn't talk about enough.
Athletic directors mostly have a thankless job, and few know their names, unless something goes wrong. But just about everyone knew Foley, who announced his retirement from Florida on Monday. His unprecedented success across the entire landscape of sports at Florida separated him from the pack. While Foley, who started his Florida career as an intern in the ticket office back in 1976, can't cover a single hand with football national championship rings, he always made sure Florida was one of the nation's most well-rounded athletic programs.
A lot of his success came from his ability to spot and hire up-and-coming coaches, but the biggest takeaway from Foley's incredible 25 years as Florida's athletic director was the fact that he equally loved every sport he oversaw. He cared about his women's golf team as much as his bread-winning football program. His back-to-back, national-championship-winning basketball program meant as much to him as his men's golf team.
In a business that is predicated on the success of college football, Foley didn't lose sight of the bigger picture of running an entire athletic program. Foley was revolutionary in how he looked at the entire athletic program as a business, and he made sure every part of it worked. In his eyes, if one part lagged, the entire foundation lagged. He pumped resources into his Olympic sports to consistently keep them at or near the top in the country.
Two-time Olympic medalist and former Florida swimmer Elizabeth Beisel said it best:
You know your AD is amazing when he cares about the swim team as much as the football team. You will be missed Foley https://t.co/lhKDMC3A6H— Elizabeth Beisel ⚓ (@ebeisel34) June 13, 2016
When Foley became Florida's athletic director on March 9, 1992, five UF sports had earned the program nine national titles. Now, Florida has 36 national team titles in 13 sports. Five of those come from football and men's basketball, including the Gators' 2006 basketball and football titles, which still marks the only time any program has won both crowns in a single year.
The 27 national titles won under Foley is tied for the most among sitting Division I athletics directors, and he is the only athletic director in Division I history to supervise a program that has won multiple national titles in football (1996, 2006, 2008) and men's basketball (2006, 2007). Florida has won a national championship in each of the past seven years and has captured 14 national team titles since 2009, equaling the highest total in the nation.
Currently, Florida's baseball team -- the No. 1 overall seed -- is a win away from the College World Series, and the men's track team just won its third outdoor national championship. Sixteen Florida programs just finished their most recent season ranked in the top 25.
Florida has claimed the overall SEC All-Sports Trophy in 24 of Foley's 25 years and has swept the trophy in men's and women's sports 15 times. Florida has ranked in the top five nationally in all-sports rankings 17 times and has been in the top 10 in all 25 years. This is the only SEC program to take all three trophies in one season.
"What a privilege it has been to be a part of this athletic program," Foley said. "It's never been a job -- the relentless energy from the student-athletes and coaches ensured that. I've worked with some of the best in the business and met some truly outstanding people. I've been part of some memorable Gator events and championships. I came to work every day with a staff full of friends, and we've shared every emotion along the way. I have been truly blessed with a career I have loved at a place I love."
Foley has constantly been searching for ways to touch every program evenly. He first oversaw an athletic budget that grew from $30 million in the 1991-92 academic year to $119.3 million for the upcoming season.
Florida had 366 student-athletes in 1992 but has 479 for the 2015-16 academic year. Foley was instrumental in adding three women's sports -- soccer, softball and lacrosse. Soccer and softball have combined to win three national titles, and Florida's lacrosse program, which began play in 2010, has won six straight regular-season conference championships and made four NCAA tournament quarterfinals and one Final Four (2012).
Foley always understood that the main focus of fans, boosters and the outside world would revolve around football, but he wanted to make sure every sport had the appropriate resources to succeed at the highest levels. Even when his attention turned away from football and frustrated many factions of Florida's enormous fan base, he stayed set in his ways of running his own program. He didn't let outside efforts or opinions influence his vision for Florida sports.
Unfortunately, that meant his mistakes in football were magnified. The failed hires of Ron Zook and Will Muschamp are stains on his résumé. He garnered plenty of criticism when it came to spending -- or lack thereof. Potential upgrades for Florida's football facilities have been a contentious subject for years, and only last year did the school open a $17 million indoor practice facility.
While people continuously challenged that Florida's football facilities were subpar compared to many others around the SEC, Foley stood firm and put facility efforts elsewhere at times, keeping his faith in the entire process.
As chief financial officer for the University Athletic Association, Foley has spearheaded a number of improvement projects involving every athletic facility, including two expansion projects to the football stadium. Florida has invested $307 million in capital improvement projects since 1999 and has $90 million invested in a state-of-the art Academic Advising Building scheduled to open in late June and a renovation of the Stephen C. O'Connell Center, which is expected to be completed in December.
According to the school, the UAA is waiting on the results of a major facility feasibility study that will address facility improvements in multiple sports with emphasis on football, baseball and softball. There's even talk of a potential standalone football facility.
Foley was someone who wore his athletic heart on his sleeve at every school event. He made sure he showed his face in every facility and learned everyone's name -- from coaches to department staff members.
His love for every sport and refusal to cast programs aside for the betterment of one is what made him and Florida so successful. Replacing Foley will be incredibly tough, but finding that same mindset might be even harder.