Gators softball coach apologizes for postgame argument with opposing player

With an errant high-five attempt, a shoulder tap and a push in the back, University of Florida head coach Tim Walton and Auburn shortstop Haley Fagan ignited what amounted to a serious softball beef.

The drama unfolded after the Tigers’ 1-0 win over the Gators on Monday. As the two teams were walking through the postgame handshake line, Walton and Fagan pushed each other before engaging in a heated exchange.

Fagan approached the skipper with her arms at her side. Walton proceeded to make contact with her right shoulder in what appeared to be a light shove with his forearm. Fagan responded by shoving Walton in the back, sparking a brief but spirited war of words.

Fagan then appears to yell at someone off camera before a teammate pulls her back to keep things from going further.

Why on Earth did this happen to begin with? It turns out there’s some history between the two.

Fagan’s sisters, Sami and Kasey, played for Walton at Florida. But the two were dismissed in 2012 following “an altercation on the team,” according to their father, Kevin, a former defensive lineman with the University of Miami and San Francisco 49ers.

Walton apologized through a statement released by the school Tuesday morning.

“I just wanted to congratulate Auburn on the win — it was a good series.

“My intent was to give a high-five to each opposing player as we do after every game. Apparently, her hand wasn’t up as I said ‘good game’ and I touched her shoulder. I should have paid closer attention and did not intend to upset her. I regret that this has taken attention away from the effort and sportsmanship both teams displayed all weekend.”

Florida and Auburn won’t play again during the 2017 regular season, but keep some popcorn on hand in case the two top-five schools cross paths in the postseason.

Steve Spurrier named ambassador and consultant for Florida athletics

FILE - In this Dec. 2, 2000, file photo, Florida head coach Steve Spurrier is carried off the field after the Gators downed Auburn 28-6 in the SEC Championship at the Georgia Done in Atlanta. Players from left are  by Mike Pearson (71), Kenyatta Walker (78) and Gerard Warren (61).  Spurrier already has a statue outside of the football stadium and the field named after him. Next he'll serve as ambassador and consultant for the school's entire athletic department. Gators athletic director Jeremy Foley made the announcement on Friday, July 29, 2016. (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)
In this Dec. 2, 2000, file photo, Florida head coach Steve Spurrier is carried off the field after the Gators downed Auburn 28-6 in the SEC Championship at the Georgia Done in Atlanta. Players from left are by Mike Pearson (71), Kenyatta Walker (78) and Gerard Warren (61). Spurrier already has a statue outside of the football stadium and the field named after him. Next he’ll serve as ambassador and consultant for the school’s entire athletic department. (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)

Former Florida quarterback and head coach Steve Spurrier is coming home.

The Head Ball Coach has been named Ambassador and Consultant for the Florida Gators Athletic Department, Gators athletics director Jeremy Foley announced on Friday.

“It’s a great day for the Gator Nation to be able to welcome Coach Spurrier back home,” Foley said, according to a release from the university. “He has served as a tremendous ambassador to the University and the athletic department for 50-plus years and it’s only fitting that at this point in his career, he is back in Gainesville. Being a Gator has always meant so much to Coach Spurrier, but it means just as much to us have him come home.”

Spurrier, who won the 1996 national championship has the Gators head coach and 1966 Heisman Trophy as the Florida quarterback, released the following statement in the Gators release on Friday:

“My wife, Jerri, and I are extremely thrilled to be returning home to our alma mater, and to Gainesville where we met on campus over 50 years ago,” Spurrier said. “I’m very appreciative to Athletic Director Jeremy Foley, Head Coach Jim McElwain and Phil Pharr of Gator Boosters for their role in making this happen.

“I also want to say thanks to the University of South Carolina for allowing me to be their coach from 2005 to 2015. Also a special thanks to all of the Gamecock players, coaches and fans that allowed our teams to set so many school records. I will now pull for South Carolina to win every game but one, just as I did when I pulled for Florida to win every game but one as the Gamecock coach. I will try my best to promote and assist in any way I can to help the Gators to continue to be one of the very best athletic programs in America. I admire what Coach McElwain and his staff accomplished last year. I’m anxious to watch the Gator football team as they strive to be the best in the SEC and the nation in the years ahead.”

After Spurrier spent the last decade involved with South Carolina athletics, second-year Gators football coach Jim McElwain welcomed the Hall of Famer back into the Gators football family, indicating that he’s ready to use the 71 year old’s experience to his advantage.

“I look forward to visiting with him on a lot of occasions and picking his brain on a number of issues,” McElwain said. “It’s a credit to Jeremy to get him back home where he belongs. More than anything I look forward to actually talking to him and being around him rather than just saying hello to his statue on my way to work every day.”

Spurrier led Florida to six SEC championships and was named the conference’s coach of the year five times while with the Gators. He retired midway through the 2015 season, finishing his career with a record of 228-89-2 as a collegiate head coach.

In early June, the Gators announced that Florida Field was to be renamed Steve-Spurrier-Florida Field in his honor, with the unveiling of his namesake set for the season opener against UMass on Sept. 3.

Potential replacements for Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley

Outgoing Florida AD Jeremy Foley (Seth Emerson/SEC Country)
Outgoing Florida AD Jeremy Foley (Seth Emerson/SEC Country)

GAINESVILLE — A new era of Florida athletics is upon us.

University of Florida president Kent Fuchs now faces the daunting task of replacing Jeremy Foley, who will retire on Oct. 1 after 25 years as the Gators athletics director.

“If I could clone Jeremy Foley and take off 20 years, that’s the ideal person,” Fuchs said.

Fuchs said Florida’s former board of trustees chairman Manny Fernandez has agreed to lead the national search. Foley also will assist Fernandez and Fuchs in finding the next AD.

“We’re going to ask Jeremy for some names,” Fuchs said. “He said he’s got a few suggestions. We’ve already had a lot of head hunters that have contacted us.”

Two prominent names with ties to Florida, Steve Spurrier and Duke athletics director Kevin White (father of UF basketball Mike White), won’t be candidates for the job simply because of their age.

Here are five potential candidates to replace Foley:

Mike Hill, Florida Executive Associate Athletics Director (external affairs)

Hill was hired by Foley in 1993 and appears to be the most likely member of his staff to receive the promotion. Hill’s responsibilities include overseeing the men’s basketball and tennis teams, multi-media rights and marketing, the latter of which has been a huge asset during his 20-plus years with the program. Hill was also a candidate to become Clemson’s athletics director in 2012.

Chip Howard, Florida Executive Associate Athletics Director (internal affairs)

Howard, like Foley, has worked his way up the Florida ranks and joined the University Athletic Association in 1989. He supervises the baseball and football program, including the scheduling for UF coach Jim McElwain & Co. Howard also is in charge of capital improvement project management and has coordinated facility upgrades such as the indoor practice complex.

Bernard Muir, Stanford Athletic Director

Stanford is the only program in the country that’s been able to match the success of UF athletics under Foley, and Muir was born and raised in Gainesville, Fla. He served under White at Notre Dame, then became athletics director at Georgetown and Delaware before coming to Stanford. Like Foley, Muir has a master’s degree in sports administration from Ohio University.

Greg Byrne, Arizona Vice President for Athletics

Byrne, 44, is the son of long-time Texas A&M athletics director Bill Byrne and has experience in the SEC. He was the associate AD at Kentucky for four years before his move to Mississippi State, where he was promoted to athletics director in 2008 and hired Dan Mullen away from Florida. Byrne has made some impressive hires and facility upgrades at Arizona.

John Currie, Kansas State Athletics Director

Currie has spent 12 years in the SEC, working in Tennessee’s athletic department from 1997 to 2009 and eventually becoming executive associate athletic director. At Kansas State, he has initiated $210 million in facility improvements, particularly within the football program, while also creating a self-sustaining budget that was once in massive debt.

5 greatest accomplishments of Jeremy Foley’s career as Florida AD

Florida Gators atheltic director Jeremy Foley talks with fans after of the game between the Florida Gators and the Idaho Vandals was terminated for weather and unsafe playing conditions on August 30, 2014 in Gainesville, Florida. (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)
Florida Gators atheltic director Jeremy Foley talks with fans after of the game between the Florida Gators and the Idaho Vandals was terminated for weather and unsafe playing conditions on August 30, 2014 in Gainesville, Florida. (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)

A year after having to replace head coaches in four sports, Florida is looking for a new athletics director.

Jeremy Foley announced his retirement Monday after 40 years with the University Athletic Association, 25 of which were under his direction.

The Gators won 27 of their 36 national championship in school history during Foley’s tenure, including a title in at least one sport for the last seven years.

The collective success of all Florida sports since 1992 is unmatched in college athletics. The program won the SEC All-Sports Trophy in 24 of Foley’s 25 years as athletics director.

Foley will retire in October with the program in solid shape from a coaching and facilities standpoint. UF opened its new indoor practice facility and a $25-million academic center in the last calendar year, and O’Dome renovations will be completed this December.

Foley also dealt with four coaching changes in 2015. After firing the coach of the school’s biggest sport, Foley made what now appears to be a slam-dunk hire in Jim McElwain, who was named SEC Coach of the Year last season after winning 10 games and the SEC East title.

Foley also replaced three of the most successful coaches in school history last year with the departures of Billy Donovan (basketball), Rhonda Faehn (gymnastics) and Buddy Alexander (men’s golf). Foley also kept Texas from hiring UF baseball coach Kevin O’Sullivan, who turned down the Longhorns last week.

Here are the five great accomplishments of Jeremy Foley’s career:

1. Year of the Gators

Foley has said the 1996 title was the high point of his time at Florida, but 2006 was the year of the Gators and will always stand out. UF became the first — and is still the only — program to win national championships in both football and basketball in a single year. It was a sign of things to come for both sports. Quarterback Tim Tebow won the Heisman Trophy the following year and led the Gators to another title in 2008. Basketball repeated as national champions in 2007, killing the notion that Florida is only a football school that can’t win in other revenue sports. The 2007 team consisted of six NBA draft picks.

2. Billy Donovan hire

After tasting Final Four success in 1994, Foley wanted to make the Gators relevant in basketball and set them up for long-term success. He entrusted 31-year-old Donovan with that task despite him having just two years of head coaching experience at Marshall. The 1996 hire proved to be prescient, as Donovan transformed Florida into a powerhouse program. In addition to the two national titles, UF had four Final Four trips and four straight Elite Eight appearances under Donovan as well as 10 combined SEC championships in his final 14 years. He also gave Foley his formula for hiring new coaches.

3. All-sports dominance 

While basketball will go down as Foley’s most notable success, it’s not his legacy nor his most impressive sport. Foley’s ultimate goal was creating championship programs in every sport, including some new ones. He did both. Women’s tennis and men’s track and field each won six national titles under Foley. They had a three-peat in gymnastics from 2013-15 and also went back-to-back in softball, one of three women’s sports Foley started at Florida. Soccer captured the 1998 national title in the program’s fourth year (also now has 14 SEC titles), and lacrosse won five straight conference championships after its inaugural season in 2010.

4. Running a clean program

Foley has preached about following NCAA rules and running a clean program since the day he took the job. He worked for the UAA in 1984 when the football program was placed on two years probation and had its SEC title stripped that season. The football and basketball programs were again hit with two years probation in 1990. Both of those programs were cleaned up under Foley’s watch, paving the way for their championship success. “We’ve had our issues and we’re not perfect, but when we raise the trophies, we’re doing it the right way. I think that’s important for the University of Florida,” Foley said in a Q&A with FloridaGators.com.

5. Fixing failed football hires

Foley’s few detractors during his time as athletics director pointed to the failed football fires of Will Muschamp (2011-14) and Ron Zook (2002-04). Foley not only owned up to those mistakes, he fixed them. “What must be done eventually must be done immediately,” Foley famously said after firing Zook midway into the season. He replaced him with Urban Meyer, who won twice as many national titles as Steve Spurrier in half the number of years. In hindsight, Foley should have pulled the plug on Muschamp after his 4-8 record in 2013, but he still rebounded with the McElwain hire. UF has made it to the SEC championship game in four of the seven seasons post Muschamp and Zook.

Other notable Foley accomplishments, according to a Florida press release:

  • Florida has ranked in top five nationally in all-sports rankings in 17 years of his 24 years at the helm of the program and in the top 10 every year. Five times since 1997-98, Florida has turned in its all-time high finish of second, including four of the last six rankings. It is expected Florida will again finish among the nation’s top 10 when the Learfield Directors’ Cup standings are released later this month. Gator teams have recorded 271 top 10 national finishes under Foley.
  • More than half of the program’s 229 SEC titles have come under Foley, as Gator teams have claimed 130 league titles. The Gators collected the 2015-16 men’s, women’s and overall SEC All-Sports Trophies, marking the 15th sweep for the Gators as Florida is the only league team to take all three in a single season.
  • Florida averaged a NCAA Graduation Success Rate (GSR) of 85.2 percent since it started in 11 years ago — the second-highest in the league over that time frame. The Gator athletic program is the only league school to place 100 or more student-athletes on SEC Academic Honor Rolls each of the last 19 years. Under Foley, UF student-athletes have been honored as Academic All-Americans 105 times, the highest total among sitting athletics directors and fifth best in the nation since 1992.
  • Florida’s attracted and supported a coaching staff that certainly stands among the nation’s overall top personnel. Coach of the Year honors have been collected at the conference level 111 times and 28 times at the national level.
  • He also oversaw a budget that grew from $30 million in the 1991-92 academic year to $119.3 million for the upcoming season. Each year under Foley, Florida has posted a balanced budget, and is one of 24 Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) programs to post positive net gains in 2014. The athletic department, which served 366 student-athletes in 1992, now has 479 for the 2015-16 academic year.
  • As chief financial officer for the University Athletic Association (UAA), Foley has spearheaded a number of capital improvement projects in the athletic department involving every athletic facility, including two expansion projects to the football stadium. Florida has invested $307 million in capital improvement projects since 1999 and currently has $90 million invested in current projects. The UAA is currently waiting on the results of a major facility feasibility study that will address facility improvements in a number of sports with emphasis on football, baseball and softball.