There’s been significant turnover within the University of Florida athletic department over the past six months with three head coaching changes.
In November, the tumultuous tenure of head football coach Will Muschamp came to a close. His departure was followed at the end of April by the sudden resignation of head women’s gymnastics coach Rhonda Faehn and the semi-sudden resignation of head basketball coach Billy Donovan. The latter two of the three had won multiple championships in their respective sports while at the school.
One thing I, and a number of others, have been impressed with in these partings is the way it’s been handled. In each instance, regardless of whether it was expected, unexpected, contentious, or otherwise, there was grace and appreciation shown. And in the oft- high-dollar, big ego world of college athletics, it’s not rare to see the bad side of people when working relationships unravel. Case and point…
The Art of the Graceful Goodbye
Leadership starts at the top. As the head of the athletic department, Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley sets the tone for how situations are handled. In each of the aforementioned cases at Florida, the public statements have been positive, praising the departing coach and encouraging of the future prospects for each party. In addition to the statements, the department released multimedia retrospectives of the coaches’ accomplishments, like this one done for Billy Donovan.
Since Foley and his team showed them respect when they left, it made it that much easier for each of these coaches to return the favor in kind. Here’s what each said when it was realized their career path was leading them out of Gainesville:
I appreciate the opportunity that has been offered to me and my family by Dr. Machen, Jeremy Foley and the University of Florida. I was given every opportunity to get it done here and I simply didn’t win enough games – that is the bottom line. I’m disappointed that I didn’t get it done and it is my responsibility to get it done. I have no bitter feelings, but this is a business and I wish we would have produced better results on the field. We have a great group of players and a staff that is committed to this University and this football program. They have handled themselves with class and I expect them to continue to do so. As I’ve said many times, life is 10 percent of what happens to you and 90 percent how you respond.
The University of Florida has provided an opportunity of a lifetime for me, my family and our student-athletes and I am so grateful. I couldn’t have asked for a more rewarding and supportive atmosphere to do what I love… …I would like to thank the Florida administration, my staff and all my current and former student-athletes for helping to build such an amazing tradition of excellence. I know the program will continue to thrive and I will always be a Florida Gator.
I want to thank Jeremy Foley, the players, coaches and staff I’ve had the chance to work with during my time at Florida. The administrative support and stability has been unbelievable here, and it is an incredibly difficult decision to leave that. I knew that it would take a unique opportunity to leave the University of Florida and that is clearly how I look at this situation.
I know that these athletic departments have some of the best public relations people working for them, and can craft masterful statements. But in listening to press conferences, you get the impression that these feelings are genuine.
When you’re not afraid of being mistreated it gives you the freedom to take your best shot. It may not work out the way you wanted, but there will be no doubt to whether it could have. I think the instance that encapsulates the ethos of the Florida athletic department the most is the Muschamp firing.
Muschamp was named the head coach of the Florida Gators football team in December 2010. Things started OK with a 7-5 record in his first season and an 11-2 record in the second. Unfortunately, the foundation began to crumble in the aftermath of a 4-8 2013 season.
If you know anything about SEC football, especially with schools that have tasted consistent success, you know that the Florida fan base would be impatient for improvement. Football is a second religion in the south, particularly in SEC country. The improvement didn’t come. The writing was on the wall by the time the Gators suffered a 42-14 homecoming loss to Missouri in 2014.
Florida fans wanted immediate action, however, Foley waited until the team was mathematically out of the running for the conference title before announcing that Muschamp would not be retained. In a gesture of good faith, Muschamp was even allowed to finish the season on the sideline. In his statements to the press, Foley remarked:
Upon evaluation of our football program, we are not where the program needs to be and should be. I’ve always said that our goal at the University of Florida is to compete for championships on a regular basis. Coach Muschamp was dedicated to developing young men both on and off the field. Our student-athletes showed tremendous growth socially and academically under his leadership. His players were involved in campus activities, engaged with the local community and represented the University of Florida with pride. I will be forever grateful to Will and his staff for their unwavering commitment to the University of Florida and the mission of our athletic program. He will be missed by everyone in our athletic department – from the people that worked in his office to the people that painted the fields. Will knew everyone and they knew him and everyone in the building loved working with him. Will is as fine a man as you will ever meet, and I will always cherish our relationship with him and his family.
No blame. No cheap shots. Just a stating of the facts and acknowledgement of the good things that happened during the tenure. Refreshing.
So often you see sports organizations in a cycle of strife. It’s nice to see an organization that appears to be run in a genuine, positive, respectful way.