Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley wasn't in Knoxville for the SEC women's softball tournament, but he wasn't out of mind. Neither was Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton.
Foley invariably comes to mind when one of his teams is clinching a championship. His latest championship production is the nation's No. 1-ranked softball team, which pushed its record to 55-3 in winning the SEC championship at Lee Stadium on Saturday.
You can't appreciate the championship or Foley's role in it without a quick history lesson. Florida's last coach, Karen Johns, won 40 or more games in each of her last three seasons. That wasn't good enough for Foley.
So Johns was out and Tim Walton was in. The exchange didn't get quite the attention as the firing of Florida football coach Ron Zook, who had three consecutive winning seasons, and the hiring of Urban Meyer in his place. But the same principle applied. And any coach who signs on at Florida should understand it.
Walton was asked Saturday about the expectations of succeeding a successful coach who was good enough to serve as an assistant on the U.S. Olympic team.
"I made it clear what my own expectations were," he said of his job interview with Foley.
My guess: He mentioned "championships." It's Foley's favorite word.
Winning a conference championship isn't a requirement for a Florida coach. But it needs to be a goal. You don't keep your job there with winning records.
The expectations might not be as high at UT, but they have been raised by athletic director Mike Hamilton. In the last two years, he has fired two longtime successful coaches, Rod Delmonico in baseball and Phillip Fulmer in football.
You think that doesn't send a message to the rest of UT coaches?
And it's the right message when you have an athletic department budget the size of UT's. You can't always win championships, but you can aspire to win them.
No other program in the SEC has Florida's in-state recruiting base. Yet the Gators had a favorable recruiting base long before they started winning championships in major sports.
Before Foley was hired in 1992, Florida had won nine national championships. Since he was hired, Florida has won 13, including three in football and two in men's basketball. Until Foley took over the athletic department, Florida's only national championships were in golf, swimming and gymnastics.
Florida also ended the last school year with a staggering 90 SEC championships under Foley. You can't just buy success like that. It's as much about hiring as spending.
The Lady Vols didn't become the No. 1 program in women's basketball because of their budget or recruiting base. They became No. 1 because of coach Pat Summitt.
Nor is there any mystery to the Lady Vols' rise to prominence in softball. Women's athletic director Joan Cronan hired Ralph and Karen Weekly as co-head coaches. It's that simple.
Since then, UT has been to three of the last four world series, won 60 or more games three times, won 50 or more in five consecutive seasons and has been ranked in the top 25 nationally for 88 consecutive weeks.
All of that success didn't make the last weekend any easier for the Weeklys. Saturday's SEC championship game was probably the toughest game they ever watched at Lee Stadium - because their team wasn't in it.
They're proud of what their program has accomplished and aware that they have a young team with a freshman pitcher. But they aren't content with being nationally ranked and qualifying for the NCAA tournament.
Obviously, neither is Summitt. After winning back-to-back national championships, she could have written off the last season as a rebuilding year with a young team and excused the first-round NCAA tournament loss as a bad day at the office. Instead, she was furious.
Never mind that she has won more than 1,000 games and eight national championships. She's more interested in the next game and the next championship.
So is Foley.
Sports editor John Adams may be reached at 865-342-6284 or firstname.lastname@example.org.