Dave Heeke out as Arizona athletic director, Mike Candrea named interim AD

Jan 22, 2024, 5:43 PM | Updated: 8:10 pm

Arizona Wildcats athletic director Dave Heeke...

Arizona Wildcats athletic director Dave Heeke speaks during a press conference to introduce Brent Brennan as new head football coach at Arizona Stadium on January 17, 2024 in Tucson, Arizona. (Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)

(Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)

The University of Arizona announced vice president and director of athletics Dave Heeke’s tenure will come to an end after seven years on Feb. 2.

Former longtime head softball coach Mike Candrea was named the interim AD, pending approval from the Arizona Board of Regents.

“It has been my honor and privilege to have served the University of Arizona for the last seven years,” Heeke said Monday in a press release. “I want to thank president (Robert C.) Robbins, our talented coaches, devoted staff and loyal supporters for their partnership on this journey. Most importantly, I want to thank our student-athletes who committed to our standard of excellence by setting all-time academic records and competing for championships. I am very proud of the work we have accomplished together! Bear Down! Go Cats!”

The university named its next head football coach only a week before announcing Heeke’s departure, replacing Jedd Fisch with Brent Brennan. Heeke attended Brennan’s introduction.

An audit on Arizona athletics will be released within a week or so that contributes to the timing of this announcement, according to Jason Scheer of 247Sports. Financial and operational mismanagement, the loss of donors and mishandling of Fisch’s contract lead to the decision, reported Brett McMurphy of the Action Network.

The university has come under scrutiny over a $240 million budget shortfall, which led to the resignation of the school’s chief financial officer. Heeke announced earlier this month the situation would not lead to cutting any sports programs but there would be hiring freezes and construction pauses in the recovery plan.

“I want to thank Dave for his outstanding efforts in leading our athletics program through a period of significant change,” Robbins said. “He helped get our men’s and women’s basketball programs and our football program on a strong trajectory, oversaw the success of several of our sports teams and greatly enhanced the student-athlete experience. Dave always displayed the highest integrity, and I am appreciative of his partnership and dedication. On behalf of all Wildcats, I wish Dave and Liz and their family all the best in the years to come.”

Heeke was hired in February 2017 after he was the AD at Central Michigan University. He oversaw the transition in the men’s basketball program from head coach Sean Miller to Tommy Lloyd in the wake of NCAA violations and corruption investigations.

On the football field, he hired both Kevin Sumlin and Fisch before turning to Brennan, with Fisch turning the program around in three years before leaving for the Washington opening this month.

The athletic department found new leadership on the diamond, as well. Candrea retired in 2021, and the athletic department promoted Caitlin Lowe as his replacement. The Wildcats made the Women’s College World Series in 2022. Heeke also hired former Arizona Diamondbacks manager Chip Hale to lead the baseball program after Jay Johnson left for LSU in 2021.

The women’s basketball team under Adia Barnes has reached three straight NCAA Tournaments and a national title game.

Candrea takes over after retiring as the winningest head coach in NCAA softball history with 1,674 wins — although he is now second to Carol Hutchins. He led the program for 36 seasons and won eight national championships.

“Every Wildcat knows the history of Mike Candrea and what he means to our university and community, and I am grateful for Mike’s willingness to step into the interim role,” Robbins said. “I am confident Mike and Dave will ensure a smooth transition as we immediately begin a national search for a new director of athletics. With our transition to the Big 12, 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.”

Both the University of Arizona and Arizona State University are searching for a new athletic director after ASU’s Ray Anderson stepped down in November. Jim Rund is the interim AD in Tempe.

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