GAINESVILLE — Jeremy Foley went and saw Springsteen at Fenway Park over the summer and left the concert more impressed than ever.
In the midst of his 20-year anniversary as the athletic director at the University of Florida, the boss of the Gators is still inspired by the real Boss.
"Bruce is 62 years old and he played 31/2 hours and 30 songs," Foley says during a recent interview in his office. "It's like nothing I've ever seen before, and I've seen him 27 times. He doesn't look like the guy I saw when I was 20 years old. His band is different. His music is different. He's evolved. But one thing hasn't changed: He still has the passion and still brings it every single day."
Foley, who himself is nearing his 60th birthday, is much the same way. He's evolved, he's matured, he's been through times of divorce and depression, but he still brings it. He is considered by many to be the most successful athletic director in the country, evidenced by the 20 Southeastern Conference All-Sports Championship plaques that line the corridor wall leading into his office.
The SEC should just go ahead and change the name of the All-Sports Trophy to the Jeremy Foley Cup. The Gators have won it every year but one since Foley took over as AD two decades ago. Florida also finished with an all-time high in the national all-sports rankings last year. The Gators were No. 2 behind Stanford, which has won the title for 17 straight years. Then again, it's not exactly a level playing field. Stanford offers 34 intercollegiate sports; Florida 21.
At a time when coaches and administrators use colleges as steppingstones to bigger, better jobs, Foley is throwback to a time when love and loyalty mattered. He came to UF as a college intern from Ohio University in 1976, and 36 years later he's still there.
He's done every menial job you can imagine at UF — picked up trash, parked cars, stuffed envelopes, sold tickets.
"For 36 years when that alarm goes off, I've never once had to say, 'I've got to go to work today,' " Foley says. "I've loved every second of it."
He's had plenty of chances to pursue more prestigious jobs. When the Southeastern Conference was looking for a new commissioner a few years ago, one of the first people contacted was Foley. The same with the Big East. Foley told them both thanks but no thanks.
"I got into this business because I'm a fan," Foley says. "I like to root for teams. To me, that's where the energy in this business comes from — from watching your teams perform and trying to help them excel. It would be hard for me not to have a team I'm totally passionate about. If I were working in a conference office, it just wouldn't be the same."
Not that Foley hasn't had his trying times at Florida. Who will ever forget the contentious, controversial period when he hired his good friend Ron Zook as the football coach? Always popular among UF fans, Foley suddenly became a catalyst for criticism. The man who hired an unproven, 30-year-old Billy Donovan and watched the young coach turn UF into an elite basketball school was instantly being skewered by message boards and bashed by the media. Foley still remembers standing on the field at a football game during Zook's first year when a fan threatened him from the stands: "Foley, we're gonna get Zook," the fan yelled, "and then we're comin' after you!"
It got to a point where he couldn't sleep at night. His personality changed. Once so open and outgoing, he became paranoid and aloof. He called reporters and columnists on the phone and yelled at them for their critical comments.
"I was amazed at how it impacted me," Foley says. "I didn't like the criticism; I didn't like it at all. I was blown away by it. I let articles, emails and the Internet change who I was. It made me tentative and less of a leader. I became reclusive. Finally, one day I woke up and said enough is enough. I got to where I was by being a strong leader and making the best decisions I could at the time. I decided then I was going to get back to being me."
He eventually fired Zook, hired Urban Meyer, and the rest is national championship history.
Or is it?
After all the success his athletic program has enjoyed, you'd think Foley would get the benefit of doubt from now until retirement. But he won't. Will Muschamp, the unproven coach he hired to replace Meyer, must win and win big or Foley will once again be blamed.
But Foley doesn't even flinch when asked if he's worried about whether Muschamp will succeed.
"It's not a matter of if," he says, "it's a matter of when."
After 20 years of choreographing one of the most successful athletic departments in the nation, Foley has every right to be secure and confident in his decisions. He's nearing 60 but looks much younger. The stress and sadness of a few years ago have been replaced by one of his favorite Springsteen lyrics.
"For the ones who had a notion, a notion deep inside
That it ain't no sin to be glad you're alive."
Springsteen's still singin' it.
Foley's still bringin' it.
It's good to be the boss.
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