As the athletic director at one of the premier universities in the SEC, Jeremy Foley is a powerful man. With great power comes great responsibility.
Yesterday we looked at how it is impossible to replace Billy Donovan. As a coach, few have been able to do what Donovan did for the Florida Gators — maybe Rhonda Faehn, who Foley is also currently trying to replace.
That is just the reality of Foley’s job. He’s tasked with replacing the irreplaceable. Sure, a coach could come in and still have success at Florida but replacing Donovan’s presence in the community, his graciousness with the media and the people of Gainesville, finding someone who embodies everything that Donovan did for nearly two decades, now that, is one tall task. But, as they say, that’s why Foley gets paid the big bucks, to replace legends and keep the machine moving forward.
Thanks to Donovan, Foley has an easier sale to make this time. 19 years ago, Donovan was standing in a used car lot, trying to find someone to turn it into a Ferrari dealership. He needed someone with a vision to create something where nothing stood.
“You go down to our practice facility and see Final Four floors down there, we have five of them,” Foley pointed out. “How many schools in America can say that? How many schools in this league can say that? The one up in Lexington, can.”
Now, Foley is standing in that Ferrari dealership. He has one of the premier programs in the country, thanks solely to the work Donovan and his staff put in.
“The commitment we have internally is second to none,” Foley said. “I’ll give Billy Donovan 90% of the credit or 99.9% of the credit, but I promise you a lot of people in this program were heavily involved in changing the culture of Florida basketball, and he’ll tell you that. He had great coaches, great commitment from a lot of people. We have resources, a great fan base, we play in a great league.”
That wasn’t always the case. Florida was a football school with a basketball program that showed flashes of success in between long stretches of barren seasons. The perception was that a university needed to pick one — basketball or football — you can’t be great at both and Steve Spurrier was great at football. The past 20 years at Florida smashed that expectation to those close to the program and the fans that pack Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in the fall and cross the street to do the same at the O’Connell Center in the spring, but to outsiders, this will not last.
Donovan is the face of Florida basketball. He’s all people know. Donovan took Florida basketball from irrelevancy to the pinnacle and many on the outside predict the program will fall back into irrelevancy now in his absence.
“You know what excites us? When people say I can’t continue because Billy is leaving,” said Foley. “ It can’t continue because that’s not a great job. I don’t buy that for one second. I’m going to tell you right now, it’s a really good job. The competitive juices get going.”
Foley noted the $60 million dollar makeover the O-Dome is scheduled to undergo in a years time. The weight room in the practice facility is being re-done this offseason and the commitment from the University Athletic Association to making Florida basketball successful does not leave with Donovan.
Thanks to the nearly two decades of work from Donovan and his staff, Foley has one of the best opportunities in the country to offer a coach. His search for that coach began in earnest on Monday afternoon after saying his goodbye to Donovan in a heartfelt, tearful press conference.
To the normal person, the task that Foley is about to take head on is overwhelming, but someone in Foley’s position doesn’t see it that way. The greater the challenge, the greater the reward and the more excited Foley is to be able to do his job.
“I think there are a lot of people doubting that we can do that, and that fires us up because we have a good job here,” he said. “We have a great institution, great commitment, great support.
“Let’s keep this thing going. Let’s build this thing.”