UF’s AD Scott Stricklin on new facility, Billy Napier and Georgia game | Commentary

There’s no denying it’s been a phenomenal couple of weeks for University of Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin.

He has watched with pride as his baby, the palatial $85 million, 142,000-square-foot Heavener Training Center, opened up to rave reviews last week. The stand-alone football complex has every bell and whistle, including resort swimming pools, a barber shop, a recording studio, a virtual reality room and lockers that cost $15,000 apiece (including zero-gravity chairs that recline into beds.)

Stricklin has also seen Billy Napier, the football coach he hired to replace the recruiting-challenged Dan Mullen, start to hit his stride on the recruiting trail by putting together a class currently ranked in the top 10 — and climbing.

Stricklin took time out recently to talk to Orlando Sentinel columnist Mike Bianchi about a variety of topics. Here are some excerpts from the interview.

Mike Bianchi: Scott, first of all, I’ve only seen photos and videos of the new Heavener Football Complex. Is it as nice as it looks?

Scott Stricklin: “Well, we’re certainly very proud of it. And it was fun seeing the reaction of our players getting to go in it for the first time. They were blown away by it, which was really, really cool. These kinds of facilities have become commonplace in college football. The University of Florida had a really good situation for a long time with, but from an efficiency and logistics facilities standpoint, we needed to put a facility right next to the football practice fields. This allows our football program to have everything they need on a day-to-day basis right there together. Before, everything was spread out and there was no ability to move in an efficient way during your day. One thing we’ve learned really quickly about Coach Napier is that being efficient and using your time wisely is really important to him.”

MB: It’s no secret that one of the reasons Billy Napier is the new coach at Florida is because recruiting was starting to lag under former coach Dan Mullen. How will the new facility help recruiting?

SS: “I think people want to see the physical embodiments of what a program values. We’ve got a great coaching staff and a great recruiting staff and they do a wonderful job of building the relationships that are really the key to recruiting. But they now have the opportunity to show a facility that is just physical evidence of how important the sport of football is to the University of Florida. I like to use the comparison to banks. There’s a reason why banks are traditionally in really nice buildings with nice lobbies. It’s because when you walk in, the bank wants you to feel like you’re in a place of quality; a place you can trust; a place where you say to yourself, ‘This is why I should invest my money here.’ It’s the same with football facilities. We want (recruits) when they walk in the door to think, ‘This is what Florida football is all about!’ ”

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MB: What has impressed you the most about Billy Napier since you hired him as head coach?

SS: “Wow, Mike, that’d be a really long list. Well, let’s start with he’s a really authentic, genuine individual who is incredibly organized, has a great work ethic and is really good at evaluating people and putting people in a position to be successful. Whether it’s his players, whether it’s his staff; he’s just really good at developing authentic relationships. He’s also really good at basically all the things that a modern-day CEO would need to be good at — setting goals, putting resources behind those goals, holding people, including himself, accountable to achieving those goals. He’s pretty special in a lot of ways. We’re all excited to see the Gators take the field Sept. 3 against Utah in the Swamp to see what the product on the field looks like, but everything about how he is running the program, how the players respond to his leadership, just the kind of person he is, I don’t think the University of Florida could have a better person in this really important leadership position than Billy Napier.”

MB: At SEC Media Days a few weeks ago, Georgia coach Kirby Smart once again talked about wanting to move the Florida-Georgia game out of Jacksonville and back to campus (for recruiting purposes). What exactly is the status of that game and where do you think it’s going to be played in the future?

SS: “You know, there’s been no formal conversations about moving the game. My counterpart at the University of Georgia (athletic director Josh Brooks) seems committed to keeping the game in Jacksonville based on our conversations. Because of the tradition and the fact that the schools benefit financially from having the game in Jacksonville, I would be surprised if it’s ever moved. But, obviously, Coach Smart is coming off a national championship and his voice is listened to by a lot of people in Athens. I get the sense there’s a couple of media people in Georgia who are driving this narrative because you’re the first Florida media person who has even asked me this question. Typically, I get that question from one or two particular Georgia media types. I don’t know how much of a story this really is other than obviously Coach Smart brings it up from time to time. Honestly, I don’t know how much of a priority (moving the game) is for Georgia. You know, Georgia has scheduled other neutral site games each of the last two or three years. If it were really that big of a priority, I would think they would just be going away from all neutral site games, but they don’t appear to be doing that.”

MB: Do you think the day is coming when college football programs like the University of Florida will have to factor NIL (pay-for-play) money into their athletic budgets?

SS: That’s a great question. In this day and age, it’s hard to predict what’s going to happen next because I don’t think any of us would have predicted what’s happening with NIL right now. We are in this weird paradox in college athletics between what we are currently doing for our student-athletes and the litigation environment we’re in. The value of a scholarship at the University of Florida is $80,000 per year tax-free we’re investing in each student-athlete. But because of this litigation, antitrust environment we’re in, so many things are handcuffing college athletics. When you have a dynamic like this, it’s hard to know what’s going to happen next, but it’s really important that you’re prepared for any eventuality. So if it happens (that colleges have to start paying their players), the University of Florida will be prepared to pivot and manage it. We have great resources and we’re going to be able to support our student-athletes in whatever way we need to.”

Email me at mbianchi@orlandosentinel.com. Hit me up on Twitter @BianchiWrites and listen to my Open Mike radio show every weekday from 6 to 9:30 am on FM 96.9, AM 740 and HD 101.1-2

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