University of Florida

As Florida’s new athletics director, Stricklin ready to keep pushing the program forward

New University of Florida athletics director Scott Stricklin speaks during his introductory news conference on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2016, in the Otis Hawkins Center on UF’s campus in Gainesville, Florida.
New University of Florida athletics director Scott Stricklin speaks during his introductory news conference on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2016, in the Otis Hawkins Center on UF’s campus in Gainesville, Florida. For the Miami Herald

Scott Stricklin knows the task at hand. Replacing Jeremy Foley at the top of the University of Florida’s athletic program is no small feat.

But Florida’s new athletics director said he’s up for the challenge. He wouldn’t be here otherwise.

“We can either sit back, kind of let everything move around us, or we can keep pushing forward and making sure Florida maintains their position as the preeminent athletic department in the country,” Stricklin said during an introductory news conference Tuesday, just hours after being unanimously approved for the post by the UF Athletic Association’s board of directors. “To do that we have to be innovative; we have to be creative; we have to be progressive.”

Stricklin’s first chance to do so will be Nov. 1, when he officially takes over for Foley, who announced his retirement on June 13 after 25 years as the Gators’ AD. The 46-year-old Stricklin, who has been Mississippi State’s director of athletics since May 2010 and has been involved in college athletics since 1990, signed a six-year contract worth $1.076 million annually.

“Some people, they are just not sure they are really interested in being at the University of Florida. He really was right at the beginning,” UF president Kent Fuchs said. “It’s a two-way relationship. We have to want him, he has to want us.”

Foley, who has known of Stricklin since he was at Kentucky in the early 2000s and became close friends with him over the past five years, classified Stricklin as competitive.

“He’s very confident in himself,” said Foley, who will be staying at UF as emeritus athletics director. “… I think the best days in this program are ahead of us, and I think you have the right leader to take us there.”

It helps that Foley and Stricklin share the same ideals, too.

Both appreciate and value the success of the entire athletic department, not just the revenue-generating sports. Under Foley, UF has won 27 national titles in 13 sports and has finished in the top 10 for the Learfield Sports Directors Cup, which recognizes the schools with the best overall sports performances in an academic year, every year.

“If they’re putting on an orange-and-blue uniform that has Gators across it, we want them to win,” Stricklin said. “… Winners breed winners, and the more winners you put on your campus, the better your campus is going to be.”

UF lacrosse coach Amanda O’Leary, who has led the Gators since the program began in 2010, met with Stricklin on Monday and lacrosse was the third women’s varsity sport Foley added during his tenure, along with soccer and softball.

“He just brings a level of enthusiasm,” O’Leary said of Stricklin. “I think he has a clear vision of what he wants to do here and I love the idea that he embraces all sports.”

That enthusiasm also translates to facilities, in which he plans to tackle Florida’s $100 million master plan Foley presented two weeks ago, which includes a standalone football complex and renovations to the baseball and softball stadiums.

“I don’t know that we need gold-plated toilets,” Stricklin said. “I don’t know that you have to have waterfalls in the locker room. I think you need to have really nice facilities.”

For the next month, though, Stricklin will wrap up his time at Mississippi State, helping the program in Starkville make a clean transition before he moves to Gainesville for good.

And then, the Florida athletic program will be his.

“He’s just a real guy and a real person and he’s going to fit,” Foley said. “He’s going to be perfect.”

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