2013 was an up and down year for Gator sports. Two teams, gymnastics and outdoor track and field, earned their second national championships in team history, while several other sports stayed in the national spotlight throughout the season.
However, the focus of Gator Nation come fall shifts towards the gridiron, and after an underwhelming 4-8 football season in which Florida failed to finish above .500 for the first time since 1979, longtime athletic director Jeremy Foley faced the challenges of steering the program back toward success and soothing the restless fan base.
“Last year was difficult for everyone that is involved with the Gator program—coaches, players, administrators, fans, students, you name it,” Foley said, speaking to ESPN 850 WRUF. “We’re not going to repeat that. Nobody wants to go through that again. We can’t go through that again.”
Foley, who has served as the AD for the University of Florida since 1992, has dealt with adversity on the football field before. The Gators have been held to eight wins or less five times in the last decade, but the fan support has been largely unwavering.
“We want our fans to come out there and continue to support us. Last year was obviously the most difficult season any of us can remember, and our fans did not let us down. The environment was special. Were there some empty seats? Yeah, but that’s a phenomenon not solely related to losing,” Foley said.
The Gator coaching staff has undergone numerous changes in the offseason, starting with the dismissal of Brent Pease as offensive coordinator. Former Duke offensive coordinator Kurt Roper was lured away from David Cutcliffe’s staff to take over the reins of Florida’s offense, assisted by new offensive line coach Mike Summers and special teams coordinator Coleman Hutzler. Florida football is in need of a quick rebound, and Foley believes this staff can bring about the necessary alteration of approach.
“It’s time for us to step up. I think Coach Muschamp has made the changes he needed with his staff. I’m very excited about having the new people on board,” he said. “I think there’s going to be a change in attitude. We’re not a 4-8 program, and that’s not who we’re going to be. We’re going to see something different next fall.”
Speculation over Will Muschamp’s future as head coach hovered over the final games of the 2013 season, and although the stakes are higher for the team and those who coach it, Foley says there is no magic number in place for Muschamp and company to secure or lose their jobs.
“In 22 years of being athletic director, I’ve never told a coach how many games he or she has to win,” Foley claimed. “That’s just the truth. I never told them they have to win a championship, but we’d better be headed in the right direction.”
Florida football is not the only UF sport undergoing changes. Indoor track and field has shined in recent years, highlighted by a string of three consecutive national titles by the men’s team from 2010—2012. However, with a string of changes in place to revamp the O’Dome, indoor track will no longer be a fixture at the venue.
“Once the O’Connell Center gets renovated, there will be no indoor track in there. Obviously, we’re totally gutting the inside of that building,” Foley said. “We’re going to move the seats closer to the floor, we want to have an actual concourse where you can walk around the stadium and have concession stand and restrooms. There will be no more [indoor track meets] in the O’Connell Center once the renovation is complete.”
Florida will continue to host outdoor track events at Percy Beard Track at James G. Pressly Stadium.
UF baseball fans have clamored for facility changes, seeking refuge from the distracting and uncomfortable sun. Although a cooler environment would be ideal, McKethan Stadium’s location makes taking the sun out of the equation impossible.
“The thing a lot of folks don’t realize is that the way our field is situated is different from a lot of fields. To put a cover on it would be difficult. You’d have to cover the entire facility, which means you’d never be able to sit in the sun out there ever,” Foley said.
One month through 2014, the outlook for Gator sports seems bright, and athletic director Jeremy Foley is optimistic the year will hold even more in store than 2013.
To hear audio from Jeremy Foley, click below.
AD Jeremy Foley on Football Struggles
Jeremy Foley on Fan Support
Jeremy Foley on Staff Changes
Jeremy Foley on Muschamp’s Job Security
Jeremy Foley on the Future of Indoor Track
Jeremy Foley on McKethan Stadium