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Dave Heeke looking for ‘strength in numbers’ in rebuilding Arizona football

(Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The Arizona Wildcats made headlines last week for their dismissal of head coach Kevin Sumlin following a lopsided defeat to the Arizona State Sun Devils.

Sumlin ended his tenure with the program with a 9-20 record over three seasons in Tucson.

Plain and simple, things took a big turn downward with Sumlin at the helm. Arizona athletic director Dave Heeke wasted little time following what would end up being the final game of the Wildcats’ season, adding the price of letting him remain as head coach outweighed the hefty buyout he is now due.

And although the move will set the program back financially, current and former players alike have poured in their thoughts about who should become the Wildcats’ next leader.

“I’ve talked to numerous former players of ours individually. I know it’s documented that we had a Zoom call with nearly 100 players [Thursday]. … Sometimes really difficult times, where we see ourselves right now, bring people together,” Heeke said via Zoom on Friday. “We have a passionate group. … I’ve talked to people from the ’60s all the way up to the last few years and as I mentioned our current players.

“We’re getting perspective of what they felt when they were here, what they’ve seen through the years and where they think we are today. It’s been a good exchange of information. I value their input. They’ve heard from me very clearly about what I think we need and I’ve heard from them. I think there’s alignment.”

While Heeke didn’t go as far as naming potential candidates, the AD did explain the criteria he wants to follow.

“Someone who will embrace what has made Arizona football great. That’s passion, that’s toughness, that is believing in our history and our tradition and our past,” Heeke said. “It’s a little bit different of a place, you really have to believe in it here.”

The job isn’t just weighted on the head coach’s ability to win games, either. Heeke wants his selection to not only have a solid supporting cast to begin building the program back up, he wants to maintain a successful team for the long term. It’s something the Wildcats have lacked as of late.

“Where our program is today, I believe we need a strong leader who can assemble a group of staff that can help a head coach be very successful here,” Heeke said. “Assistant coaches have so much contact with our student-athletes, our players, on a daily basis.

“Obviously, they need to be great recruiters, but they need to be great teachers, coaches, mentors. I’m looking for someone that has that concept of building an overall program.”