The Student News Site of University of Arizona

The Daily Wildcat

84° Tucson, AZ

The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Six most influential people in Arizona athletics history

Thousands of successful athletes and coaches have passed through the hallowed halls of McKale Center over the years. The list of athletes that were All-Americans while at Arizona or champions in the professional league of their sport is endless, but none of the successes of these men and women would have been possible without the contributions of the six most influential people in Arizona athletics history.


Lute Olson

Lute Olson transformed the southwest desert into a college basketball oasis in his 25 years at UA. After arriving in 1983, the Hall of Famer overhauled an irrelevant program into one of national prominence. He led Arizona to 24 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances.

Olson’s 1997 national championship team still remains the only one to beat three No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament. He went 589-188 at Arizona.

While Olson’s turbulent retirement in 2008 left the program in a state of uncertainty, it was later revealed that he had suffered from a stroke, which impaired his judgment and forced Olson to take a season-long leave of absence in 2007. As time passes, his legacy remains as one of the greatest coaches in college basketball history. His contributions to UA elevated a dormant basketball program to elite status and put the city of Tucson on the map.

– Bryan Roy


Mary Roby

If you’re looking for a reason that the Arizona women’s athletic programs have blossomed into what they are today, look no further than Mary Roby. A member of the 1948 graduating class, Roby returned to Arizona in 1959 as both a teacher and the director of the Women’s Recreation Association program. In 1972, Roby became Arizona’s first director of athletics for women, when men and women’s athletic departments were still separate. She set up a long-term plan for women’s athletics at the university, and was named the associate director of athletics in 1982, when both women and men’s athletic departments merged.

Roby guided Arizona’s journey through several conferences, including the Intermountain Athletic Conference, the Western Collegiate Athletic Association and the Pacific-West Conference. Arizona ultimately ended up joining the Pacific 10 Conference in 1978, which was only one of several groundbreaking advances in Arizona’s athletic department during Roby’s time.

Roby has been recognized several times for her success in bringing women’s athletics to the forefront of national attention. She is a member of the University of Arizona Mortar Board Hall of Fame, the University of Arizona Greek Alumni Hall of Fame, the University of Arizona Sports Hall of Fame, the Pima County Sports Hall of Fame and the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics Hall of Fame. Arizona’s Mary Roby Gymnastics Training Center is named in her honor.

– Alex Williams

John “”Button”” Salmon

There are not many UA athletes who had more of an impact than John “”Button”” Salmon. Salmon was a little bit of everything when he was on campus in 1926: student body president, starting quarterback and catcher for the baseball team.

Salmon was involved in a car accident in which he was seriously injured. Head football coach and athletic director J.F. “”Pop”” McKale would visit him every day in the hospital.

During one visit Salmon told McKale, “”Tell them … tell the team to bear down.””

Those words not only affected the team that year, when they won a tough battle against New Mexico State the next week, but they continue to echo across the campus today.

The impact of those words inspired the words “”Bear Down,”” written across the roof of Bear Down Gymnasium by the Chain Gang Junior Honorary organization, a plaque near McKale Center describing Salmon’s story and the school fight song.

– Kevin Nadakal

Fred Snowden

Fred Snowden was a pioneer for all black collegiate coaches.

In 1972, Snowden was named the basketball coach at Arizona, becoming the first black head coach at a major university.

The year before Snowden was hired, Arizona posted a 6-20 record. In his first year, he posted a 16-10 record and won the Western Athletic Conference Coach of the Year.

In 1973, Snowden’s second season, McKale Center opened and the team’s winning ways drew enough fans to fill the newly built arena.

In his fourth season, Snowden led the Wildcats to a WAC championship and made a deep NCAA run to the elite eight, giving Arizona its best season in the Snowden era.

The 1975-76 season would turn out to be one of the best in Arizona basketball history, but Snowden laying the ground work for all black coaches is what will be remembered forever.

– Vincent Balistreri

James Fred “”Pop”” McKale

When you hear McKale, you probably think McKale Center, the arena on campus that houses the gymnasium that plays home to Arizona gymnastics, volleyball and men and women’s basketball.

But James Fred “”Pop”” McKale has had far more impact than just a name to a building. McKale served as athletic director at Arizona from 1914 until 1957. In that time, McKale was a coach for track, basketball, baseball and football.

His most famous contribution comes from UA legend John “”Button”” Salmon, the star quarterback who passed away after an automobile accident in 1926. McKale visited Salmon in the hospital and brought back his last recorded words to campus. Thus, Arizona’s “”bear down”” rally cry was born and Salmon became a UA legend.

McKale is also directly related to the mascot that Arizona is now known as: the Wildcats. It was McKale’s football team that played and lost 14-0 against Occidental College, but the players’ fight led Los Angeles Times writer Bill Henry to say “”The Arizona men showed the fight of wildcats”” and the name stuck.

– Nicole Dimtsios

Mike Candrea

Mike Candrea coaching his Arizona softball team into a championship-level squad is about as likely as the sun rising every morning.

Candrea has eight national titles to his name, and for four-year players, only one graduating senior class has left Arizona without a championship, starting with the freshman crop of 1988.

Not only does Candrea win — he wins with consistency.

He’s also led the Wildcats to the Women’s College World Series 22 times in the last 23 years, meaning his teams have been one of the last eight squads standing after the regular season all but one time in that span.

Granted, Candrea has been busy outside of Arizona for a couple years of his tenure. He was the head coach for the USA Olympic Softball team in 2004 and 2008, where he coached teams into gold and silver medal runs, respectively.

– Kevin Zimmerman

Jerry Kindall

As a player, the career of Jerry Kindall was, well, forgettable. Kindall, a second baseman, bounced around the majors over the course of his nine-year professional career, playing for the Chicago Cubs, Cleveland Indians and Minnesota Twins. Since 1920, Kindall’s career .213 batting average is the lowest of all-time for players with at least 2,000 at bats.

As a coach, however, there is nothing to forget.

Kindall was instrumental in making Arizona one of the nation’s most prominent baseball schools, leading the Wildcats to three College World Series titles in 1976, 1980 and 1986. In addition to producing championships, Kindall also churned out several professionals such as current Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona.

Kindall, the author of “”Baseball: Play the Winning Way,”” is the namesake of the current Arizona team’s playing grounds, Jerry Kindall Field.

– Tim Kosch

More to Discover
Activate Search