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Arizona parts ways with athletic director Dave Heeke, naming Mike Candrea as interim

Dedication+of+the+Dick+Tomey+Practice+Fields+11%2F1%2F19+in+Tucson%2C+Ariz.
Mike Christy / Arizona Athletics
Dedication of the Dick Tomey Practice Fields 11/1/19 in Tucson, Ariz.

Less than a week after securing a new head football coach, the University of Arizona finds itself in the midst of a significant shake-up in its athletic leadership. Athletic director Dave Heeke, who played a pivotal role in Arizona’s sports programs for nearly seven years, is being let go, with his departure set for Feb. 2.

“It has been my honor and privilege to have served the University of Arizona for the last seven years,” Heeke said in a statement.

The move follows a series of financial difficulties and an ongoing budget shortfall of $240 million, attributed in part to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Heeke, 60, arrived at Arizona in April 2017 from Central Michigan and played a crucial role in hiring more than a dozen head coaches across various sports. Notable appointments include Tommy Lloyd, Adia Barnes, Chip Hale, Caitlin Lowe and the recent addition of Brent Brennan as the head football coach. However, Heeke faced challenges, including navigating the financial impact of the COVID-19 shutdown and overseeing a $55 million loan to the athletic department during the pandemic.

The university’s financial woes became more apparent as Heeke implemented a recovery plan, addressing a $240 million miscalculation in projected cash on hand. The plan involved hiring freezes and pausing major construction projects. A forthcoming audit of the athletic department is expected to shed light on the financial situation and potentially contributed to Heeke’s departure.

Heeke’s exit comes less than a week after the successful recruitment of Brennan and his arrival was well-received, bringing optimism to Wildcats fans after their best season in a decade. However, Heeke’s departure raises questions about the circumstances surrounding the coaching change and the financial impact on the athletic department.

Despite this Arizona has already announced a swift transition in leadership, appointing former softball coach Mike Candrea as the interim athletic director. Candrea, a seasoned figure with 35 years of coaching experience, retired in 2021 as the winningest coach in NCAA softball history

President Dr. Robert C. Robbins said in a release, “I am confident Mike and Dave will ensure a smooth transition as we immediately begin a national search for a new director of athletics.”

His appointment aims to provide stability during this period of change.

Candrea, who is renowned for his achievements in softball, now steps into the interim AD role, pending approval from the Arizona Board of Regents. 

While the university undergoes this leadership transition, it’s also preparing for a move to the Big 12 Conference. Despite the financial challenges, Robbins remains optimistic about attracting a new leader for the athletics program. 

“With our transition to the Big XII, success in our high-profile programs, a passionate fan base, and institutional alignment, I am confident that we will be able to attract a tremendous new leader of our athletics program,” Robbins said.


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