Arizona AD Dave Heeke on next football coach: ‘We need a builder’

Dec 16, 2020, 11:04 AM
University of Arizona athletics director Dave Heeke talks to the media during half time during a co...
University of Arizona athletics director Dave Heeke talks to the media during half time during a college basketball game between the Washington State Cougars and the Arizona Wildcats on February 09, 2019, at McKale Center in Tucson, AZ. (Photo by Jacob Snow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
(Photo by Jacob Snow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The next head football coach at the University of Arizona will need to be willing to get their hands dirty from day one.

That’s the takeaway from athletic director Dave Heeke’s interview on 1290 AM in Tucson transcribed by the Arizona Daily Star on Tuesday.

Heeke, who hired previous head coach Kevin Sumlin in January 2018, said he’s looking for the school’s next coach to share his passion for the university and its surroundings.

“We need a builder. We need a program builder. We need a leader. We need someone who has unbelievable passion and a fire inside their gut, inside their belly – for football, for this job, for this place, for U of A, this city and this state,” Heeke said.

Heeke added that Sumlin’s replacement must be willing to become the face of the program going forward.

“We want someone who cares deeply about this place and will engage in the community, both through our local media outlets but (also) with our fans, with our fan base, with the people in Tucson, with the people in the state of Arizona,” Heeke added.

Sumlin was fired on Saturday after losing to rival, Arizona State 70-7 on Friday night the worst defeat for the Wildcats in the 94-year series.

Heeke said his decision to fire Sumlin wasn’t easy, but that he realized there needed to be a drastic change within the program, which went 9-20 under Sumlin.

A key to bringing the Wildcats back to contention in the Pac-12 rests on being willing and able to work tirelessly to promote the program and university at-large by succeeding on the gridiron.

“I want someone who has great respect for this place, the tradition here. We have really good tradition. We need to build it around the bones of what U of A football is all about. And that’s a lot of our history and our tradition and kind of understanding who we are,” Heeke said.

Several candidates have experience playing or coaching at Arizona, including current San Jose State coach Brent Brennan (2000, graduate assistant) and Oregon assistant head coach Joe Salave’a (1994-97, 2011, defensive line coach) would meet that category.

There are those who played for former Arizona coach Dick Tomey, such as current Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo (Hawaii, 1986), that could meet the definition that Heeke is speaking about.

Above all, Heeke wants the next head football coach at Arizona to have the work ethic necessary to run the gamut of responsibilities that are thrust upon someone who is tasked with rebuilding a program from the ground up.

“There’s a little toughness, a little bit of blue-collar attitude to it. But a real program builder that can put all those pieces together. Because this isn’t just about who can call plays. It isn’t about one aspect,” Heeke said. “A head football coach has to be able to look at, very broadly, all of the things that go on in a football program – recruiting, game-planning, developing your staff, your relationships with your players, your academic program, your character-building program, the overall plan, the grand plan of recruiting, roster management; that’s a whole different aspect that wasn’t here 10, 15 years ago.”

Heeke said that, if all those criteria are met, then there’s no reason why Arizona football can’t contend for conference championships in the near-distant future.

“I believe our football program can be positioned to be highly competitive in the Pac-12 Conference. It can be developed into a winning program, one that can compete for championships, can compete for bowl games each year, would be in the mix,” Heeke said. “We want to be a really tough game on schedules. We want to build a winning football program here, consistently winning football program, and build it the right way. That takes time. It takes really critical though and really clear decision-making, strategic decision-making of where we want to go.”

Heeke said that what Arizona’s football program needs at the moment is someone whose singular focus is on what they can do to help the program’s players improve, building it into a perennial power in the conference.

“Our job as administrators, and quite frankly as coaches, is to be caretakers, to be stewards of them, to help and grow, to help build the program, to help other players feel so passionately about Arizona. That’s what it’s about,” Heeke said. “You’ve gotta get people that have that kind of mentality. That’s really what drives them, maybe more than some other things.

“This is a great job. It can be a great job for someone. And we’re going to find the right person.”

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