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ITG Feature: Scott Stricklin Living Out His Dream with Gators

March 3, 2019
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FLORIDA FOOTBALL & RECRUITING COVERAGE
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Scott Stricklin looked up into the crowd with a wistful look, trying to soak in the massive wall of sound that was raining down from the stands in the Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta. The clock was ticking down on the Florida Gators win in the Peach Bowl over the Michigan Wolverines and the fans left in attendance—the majority of which were in orange and blue—were chanting, cheering and celebrating the biggest win in the Gators program in nearly a decade.

Stricklin watched it all with a small smile, turning to take in each section of fans before facing the celebrating players and coaches.

It was a moment that was a long time coming for fans but had arrived on the fast track; one season under new head coach Dan Mullen, brought in by athletic director Stricklin just a little over a year after the A.D. had arrived in Gainesville. And after a decade at Mississippi State for both men, it was a moment with the Florida Gators that had long been nothing but a dream.

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“Probably about three or four years prior to this job coming open I had come up with a list,” Stricklin tells Inside the Gators.

“I had someone tell me one time you should, instead of just being open to anything, you should have a list and if it wasn’t one of those schools, don’t consider it. So I had a list and there was only like two to three schools on it and Florida was one of them.”

So when Jeremy Foley—preparing to retire from the job after a quarter of a century—called Stricklin to ask if his name could be put on the list, the 48-year old athletic director said yes to one of the only places that could pull him from his alma mater.

“When I’d go to conference meetings, I was around people from different staffs and the Florida people I always thought were really sharp. But also felt like, even despite the success there wasn’t an arrogance, there was a down to earth quality that appealed to me. So it was one of the, like I said, one of the few places I would have left for.”

Less than a year after arriving, Stricklin found himself having to severe ties with head football coach Jim McElwain. Thus began a 3-week search that include high profile names like Chip Kelly and Scott Frost. All along there was one name Stricklin tried to stay away from, but just couldn’t.

“I was trying to avoid it and not because of Dan but because of how strongly I felt towards Mississippi State and not wanting to do anything that was perceived as negative toward them so that was not the plan.

“You know at the end of the day, you’re doing a search and you gotta do what’s best for Florida and we went through a process and considered a lot of options and I don’t think there was any question, when we got through that process, that Dan was the right guy and the short time he’s been here, it seems to have worked very well.”

“We’ve got a chance to be really exciting.”

Now both in place, they’re looking to build on the success found at MSU. A New Years Six win in year one (year two for Stricklin) of a new regime is certainly something to boast about but in a conference that long had an unwritten rule of three years to win a SEC title or you’re out, it’s already one year gone in the ledger. Florida is one of the leagues large programs that clamors for that instant success and has helped perpetrate the pressure, but Stricklin isn’t looking for any quick fixes or flashes in the pan. The Gators have had enough of those in recent years. This is about building something sustainable, something that can last.

“It was amazing to see how far we’d come in a years time and also what the potential is going forward…we’ve got a chance to be really exciting. We’re by no means a finished product. We’ve got a lot to do on the infrastructure side. We’ve got a lot to do I think still with making sure the fans understand how important a role they play in creating a great atmosphere and the investment we need them to make not just financially but with their time…obviously Dan, I’m sure the roster’s an ongoing thing that he’ll pay attention to. We’ve got a lot of the foundational things in place that gives us a chance to maybe attack some of those other issues quicker.”

While football may be the lifeblood of the program, it’s only one part of the organism that has been the Top 5 of the National Directors Cup (given annually to schools with the most success in college athletics) for the past 10 years. Each piece of the program helps provide the blueprint Stricklin is looking to replicate in football.

“We’ve got a lot of examples across this campus, successful coaches, they have a long term plan and they’re constantly trying to improve and get better and their plans are sustainable because of the way they set expectations and then hold people accountable to those expectations. That’s one of Dan’s strengths.” 

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In the head office, the man behind the curtain overseeing all these pieces does so with one mission in mind.

“We talk a lot about creating the championship experience with integrity; I think the most important thing we can do is make it front and center in everything in how we approach what we’re doing. Make our student athletes a priority, make sure we’re following the rules and doing things the right way and treating people the right way. At the end of the day, we exist, meaning college athletic departments exist, to create a rallying point for a university. If people are disconnected because we’re not creating that championship experience that they wanna be a part of, we’ve got a problem…so anytime we make a decision it needs to impact one of two groups; either our student athletes or our fans.”

It’s a plan that can make for not only a solid foundation but a sustainable program. And for Scott Stricklin—a man that has the qualities and experience often found in league commissioners—that plan can best succeed with a steady presence at the helm. So much like his predecessor, he doesn’t plan on going anywhere.

“I’ve never had any interest in being in a conference office. I like winning and I like competing…so the conference office, they get to root in bowl season and NCAA tournament time but during the regular season, they’ve got to be neutral and I don’t think that’s for me.”

What is for Scott Stricklin though is this school, this job and this plan for the future. It was the hope when the University of Florida first made his list a few years ago and is the dream he is going to see through.

“I’ll be honest—to me Florida’s a destination kind of job and if I’m fortunate enough to be here the rest of my career I’m gonna be really lucky.

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Part I - Scott Stricklin living out his dream with the Gators

Part II -  Stricklin's Commitment to Fan Involvement

Part III - Stricklin Outlines the Gators Fiscal and Physical Feature

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ITG Feature: Scott Stricklin Living Out His Dream with Gators

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