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Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley stepping down after successful run

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Remember him standing in the end zone, looking out at another conquest. More than anything, this was the image of Jeremy Foley, the band leader of the University of Florida Gators for most of the last quarter-century.

Under Foley, the Gators worked. He was the one who saw the great potential of the program, and he guided it well. Football championships. Basketball championships. As much as anyone, Foley helped to unify Gator Nation.

Yes, he hired well most of the time. Steve Spurrier and Billy Donovan and Urban Meyer and Jim McElwain. But isn’t that part of an athletic director’s job? In the end, no one blamed Foley for Ron Zook or Will Muschamp. He enabled success unseen by Florida.

Now he is stepping down, and he has left awfully large shoes for the next guy. His team won 27 national titles. It won the SEC all-sports trophy in 24 of his 25 years. He is tied for the most national championships among sitting athletic directors.

Foley took over from Bill Arnsparger in 1992 at the age of 39. Arnsparger was a former defensive coach for the Miami Dolphins who, really, was out of his element. A test of leadership would arise, and Arnsparger wanted to be in another room. I used to joke that the most popular athletic director in Florida history would be the man who followed Arnsparger.

Turns out, I was right.

“So many memories. Of championships won. Of teams setting goals and then achieving them,” Foley said. “The passion shown by Florida fans across the state, nation and world. Those letters or emails from student-athletes after they receive their degrees, so appreciative of their Gator experience. Those are what I’ll take with me because they are a part of me. This is a special place built by the effort, passion and drive of our coaches and student-athletes.”

When Foley hired Donovan as basketball coach, I asked him an odd question. “Did you hire the Beatles or the Blues Magoos,” I said, insinuating that Lon Kruger had been a one-hit wonder.

After that, Foley would walk past me and say “He’s not the Blues Magoos.” It became a running gag.

“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.

“You always want to leave an organization in good shape,” Foley said. “Right now, we obviously have a great group of coaches, we have had a good year and we’ve got things moving in the right direction.”

The lasting legacy of Foley? Eventually, he would make it right. Yeah, he might miss with a Zook every now and then, but eventually, the Gators would be in good hands.

It was Foley’s responsibility, after all.

He took it seriously.

Gary Shelton is one of the most recognized and honored sportswriters in the history of the state. He has won the APSE's national columnist of the year twice and finished in the top 10 eight times. He was named the Florida Sportswriter of the Year six times. Gary joined SaintPetersBlog in the spring, helping to bring a sports presence to the website. Over his time in sports writing, Gary has covered 29 Super Bowls, 10 Olympics, Final Fours, Masters, Wimbledons and college national championships. He was there when the Bucs won a Super Bowl, when the Lightning won a Stanley Cup and when the Rays went to a World Series. He has seen Florida, FSU and Miami all win national championships, and he covered Bear Bryant, Bobby Bowden and Don Shula along the way. He and his wife Janet have four children: Eric, Kevin, K.C. and Tori. To contact, visit garysheltonsports@gmail.com.

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