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Former deputy athletics director LaRose retires after 34 years with Arizona

Rebecca Marie Sasnett
Rebecca Marie Sasnett / The Daily Wildcat Kathleen ‘Rocky” LaRose becomes emotional during her speech to family, friends and fellow co-workers at her retirement celebration Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013. LaRose has worked for the UA Athletics Department for 37 years.

Kathleen “Rocky” LaRose walked out of her office in McKale Center on Tuesday night having completed her last full day as UA deputy director of athletics and an illustrious 34-year career with Arizona Athletics.

“I feel good walking away, and I am just so filled with gratitude for having this amazing career here at the university,” LaRose said.

LaRose’s time at Arizona began when she was a student, then known as Kathleen “Rocky” Rockenfield. She was named homecoming queen in 1978 and was a star on the softball team. In 1979 she led the team to its first conference championship title and was a member of the U.S. National Championship Team.

Softball head coach Mike Candrea has known LaRose since she lobbied to hire him 29 years ago. Under Candrea’s leadership, Arizona softball has won eight national championships and 21 Women’s College World Series appearances.

“She can be hard-nosed when she needs to and she can turn on a smile when she needs to, so she’s got really good people skills,” Candrea said. “To be able to see someone have a career like that, you just don’t see it anymore. [Thirty-four] years at one place is almost unheard of anymore.”

The number of responsibilities LaRose has had during her time with the UA has increased immensely since she started out as softball coach. She was acting director of athletics for the 2009-10 school year, an NCAA-designated senior woman administrator, oversaw all 20 varsity sports, supervised C.A.T.S. student-athlete services, the Student Wildcat Club and just about every unit in the athletics department and has served three times as Pac-10/12 vice president.

When Athletics Director Greg Byrne joined the UA in 2010, LaRose was considering retirement.

Byrne, however, quickly made sure she would remain as his right-hand woman.

Byrne has known LaRose since he was in high school and his father, Bill Byrne, was the athletics director at Oregon. Her family held barbecues at their house before football games.

“She came over with the Arizona contention back then,” Byrne said.

Since then Byrne has come to know some of her best qualities.

“Rocky is a rock,” Byrne said. “She was so knowledgeable and consistent when giving advice, when making decisions that impacted our coaches, our student athletes and our programs.”

LaRose has been involved in every major decision made by the athletics department for the past three decades.

“It will be hard for us and for anybody to ever have more of an impact on Arizona Athletics,” Byrne said.

LaRose is recognized throughout the athletics department, even receiving letters from student-athletes thanking her for her contributions, which she notes as one of the most rewarding parts of her job. As much as others have enjoyed working with her, however, she said she has worked with some of the best in intercollegiate athletics, naming former athletics directors Cedric Dempsey and Jim Livengood.

She has also worked closely with many of the coaches.

“I love coaches. They are a breed unto themselves,” LaRose laughed. “You are on your toes working with coaches because they want to win, they are competitive and they just look straight ahead and there’s no stopping them. It gets you fired up; it gets you motivated yourself.”

LaRose is the first woman to be appointed as athletic director in UA history. She has also been a strong advocate for women’s sports throughout her career. Having day-to-day responsibilities over Division I football and basketball programs as a woman was also a first, but that didn’t hold her back.

“Don’t keep your dreams closed on just what you know about,” LaRose said. “Step forward and know that there are possibilities out there that you may not even know about. What that can lead to is pretty amazing.”

Taking over LaRose’s position will be Erika Barnes, another Arizona softball alum.

“She’s a rising young star in intercollegiate athletics,” Byrne said of Barnes. “She has a tremendous work ethic and has a very good understanding of the needs that go into being in this role.”

The LaRose era may be over, but the retiree still plans to keep close ties with the UA.

“I will be at the games, you better believe it,” LaRose said. “And I will now put on my fan hat.”

— Follow Megan Coghlan @MeganCoghlan

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