GAINESVILLE, Fla. – In the beginning, the kid from New Hampshire who grew up cheering for Yaz and Tony C. and other gods of Fenway had a dream deeply tied to his New England roots.
"I wanted to be general manager of the Red Sox,'' Jeremy Foley said. "I ended up being general manager of the Gators."
In the end, Foley is retiring as the University of Florida's athletics director after an unprecedented run of success leading one of the nation's top athletic programs. The 63-year-old Foley informed his administrative staff and Florida's head coaches on Monday morning that after 40 years at the University Athletic Association – the last 25 seasons as head of the organization – he will retire effective Oct. 1.
Foley will remain at UF as Emeritus Athletics Director per his current contract agreement.
Following months of contemplation, Foley said he feels the timing is right to enter the next phase of his life.
"You always want to leave an organization in good shape,'' Foley said during a 30-minute interview in his Ben Hill Griffin Stadium office Friday morning. "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. I just think that makes it a good time to transition."
27 National Titles in 25 years. He will go down as the greatest AD in UF history!Congrats to JF https://t.co/brWSPEucth— Coach Steve Spurrier (@SC_HBC) June 13, 2016
Foley arrived at UF in 1976 after completing his master's degree in sports management at Ohio University. He never left. Foley began his career as an intern in the ticket office and following a steady climb through the UAA, he was introduced as AD on March 9, 1992 – two days after getting a call at home from then-UF President John Lombardi that he had gotten the job.
Foley soon began to build the Gators into a perennial contender for national championships in sports across the college athletics landscape. Florida had won nine national championships (in five sports) prior to Foley taking over the program. Under his leadership, the Gators have won 27 national titles in 10 different sports, the most recent on Friday night when the UF men's track and field team won the NCAA Outdoor crown in Eugene, Ore.
The Gators made history in 2006 when UF became the first school to win national championships in football and men's basketball in the same year. Foley is the only AD in Division I history to lead a program that won multiple national championships in football (1996, 2006, 2008) and men's basketball (2006, 2007).
Foley wanted to make his plans official prior to UAA Board and UAA Booster meetings this week that will focus on future planning for the organization.
"I want to do what's right for Florida,'' Foley said. "That's why I have spent a lot of time thinking it through. And I want to make sure everyone understands this is my decision. I'm not sick; I'm not dissatisfied; I'm not getting pushed. It happens to all of us. The time comes."
UF President Kent Fuchs has worked closely with Foley for the past year in his first year leading the university. He expressed respect for the job Foley has done in building the UF athletic program into a symbol of pride for the university and Gator Nation.
"Jeremy's amazing accomplishments as athletics director are well known, and the university is very grateful to him for the national championships, a winning sports program that is highly ranked year after year, and the growth of women's sports,'' Fuchs said. "Jeremy also has a well-deserved reputation for recruiting the nation's most talented coaches and building an athletic association that is recognized as among the very best in the country.
"What I especially appreciate about Jeremy, however, is his integrity and his commitment to our students. Success to Jeremy is a student-athlete who graduates and wins championships in the right way. That is the culture he created here over his 25-year career and it is what we will remember."
Incredible. pic.twitter.com/1wyW1II6WU— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) June 13, 2016
Perhaps as much as his accomplishments as an administrator, Foley's passion for the Gators is what many fans will remember most about his career.
Foley remains a regular at UF sporting events and spent the weekend at McKethan Stadium to watch the Gators play in-state rival Florida State in the Gainesville Super Regional for a berth in the College World Series.
When Foley is at an event, his focus is on the competition.
"I got into this business to be a fan because I am a fan,'' he said. "I like to cheer. I like to root. That's the juice in this business, watching our teams and coaches compete. Sometimes my being a fan may have caused me problems in my career, especially with members of the media because I was too much of a fan.
"There was a time when people asked me about being a conference commissioner. I've got tremendous respect for those jobs, but I never had an interest in doing that because it would be hard for me to be a fan of 14 teams. I'm a Gator fan. That never interested me for that reason alone."
Don't expect Foley to disappear after Oct. 1. His top priority is to complete multiple facility projects that are currently planned as part of the UAA's master facility plan.
Two major projects – the renovation of the O'Connell Center and building of the Hawkins Center for academics – are currently underway. The $25 million Hawkins Center is scheduled to open later this month.
"I want to get some of the facility planning off the ground because I've looked some coaches in the eye and told them we are going to do some things. I'm not going to back out on my word on that,'' Foley said. "I feel really good about that."
Foley isn't sure what is next personally other than taking time to attend various music festivals he has missed over the years due to his hectic schedule.
What Foley knows for sure is this: He will miss making the same drive to work he has for the last 40 years and the people involved in the day-to-day operations for an athletic program that now operates with a $100 million-plus budget.
"I grew up wanting to do this,'' he said. "I've invested a lot in this place. Everybody who knows me knows I'm not putting my feet up. I still have some work to do for this organization. I think because the organization is in such good shape in terms of people and coaches and achievement, now is the perfect time.
"What that allows us to do is a smooth transition. That's what you always want, a smooth transition."
Foley's leadership has made that possible.