Arizona interim athletic director Mike Candrea says job is to be a ‘Band-Aid’
Feb 8, 2024, 7:39 AM | Updated: Feb 9, 2024, 9:45 am
(Photo by Darin Wallentine/Getty Images)
A little more than two weeks ago, Mike Candrea just finished a round of golf when the phone rang.
University of Arizona president Dr. Robert Robbins was calling the former legendary softball coach to ask him if he would take on the interim athletic director role.
“I was in my home in Tucson and had just played a round of golf and was enjoying retirement and all the nice things that come with it,” Candrea said Wednesday afternoon at his introductory press conference at McKale Center. “I was honored when Dr. Robbins called me up and said would I step in and try to keep the ship afloat. And truthfully that’s kind of my job right now.”
Keeping the “ship afloat” is exactly what Candrea is tasked with amidst a multitude of financial challenges for the university.
On Jan. 22, the university fired former athletic director Dave Heeke after he spent seven years at the helm. Arizona hired Heeke, who spent 11 years at Central Michigan, to replace Greg Byrne in 2017.
However, Arizona has recently faced immense pressure over financial issues, mainly a projected $240 million budget shortfall, which resulted in the resignation of the school’s chief financial officer.
The school has also faced criticism over a $55 million loan that was distributed to the athletic department from the university during the pandemic.
The interim AD role is a much different task than what Candrea is used to. He began his press conference by saying he wished “we we’re talking about a game we just won,” but Candrea comes into the role with a firm understanding of culture, something that he mentioned several times on Wednesday.
“I think one of my strengths is building a culture,” Candrea said. “And I think the athletic director has to be able to build a culture.”
Candrea led Arizona’s softball program from 1986-2021 and helped the Wildcats to 1,674 wins, eight national championships and 11 conference titles. He then worked in an advisory role in the athletics department under Heeke for two years since his retirement.
“I’m a Band-Aid right now,” Candrea said. “Right now I’m taking life day after day. Whatever this place needs I’m here, because I love this place. But I think moving forward, I’m sure when the time comes, that they’re going to be looking nationwide for someone that can come in here and bring in a talent level that needs to be in this chair, because there are some challenging moments moving forward.”
Candrea will be tasked with overseeing 22 different sports and all of the financial challenges that come with having that many varsity programs. In the Big 12, 17 sports are the average per school.
“I’m hoping that we don’t get to that point for a lot of different reasons,” Candrea said. “But I can’t say that that’s not going to be something that will be looked at.”
Candrea emphasized he doesn’t think cutting sports is the answer to solving the department’s financial shortcomings.
“Just because 17 is the number in the Big 12 does not necessarily mean that that’s the right number at the University of Arizona.”
The 68-year-old said “when you get in tough situations like this, you have to rely on your people,” but he also stressed the need for a collective effort moving forward to solve the issue of revenues and expenses not aligning.
“When I got on the job we had just hired six new head coaches,” Candrea said. “Well, that takes money. We have done a lot of good things to get our football program where it belongs, I think our basketball program is in good shape. And I look around the department, we have some very good coaches that are doing great jobs. But there’s a price to pay that is different than it was 10 years ago, five years ago.”
Candrea added that while he hasn’t been involved in extension talks with head basketball coach Tommy Lloyd, who has a deal through 2027, it is a “high priority.”
The former softball coach also talked about how he brings a different approach to the role and wants to use a different model. He was asked if that meant more direct funding from the university’s general operation toward the athletic department.
“I would not want to speculate on it at this moment and have you run with it, but yeah, it’s got to be different,” Candrea said. “I’ve always felt like the athletic department is the front door of the university and it’s kind of a marketing arm for the university to bring in students.”
While Candrea said he doesn’t have any idea of how long he will work as the interim athletic director, his love for the university is what ultimately led him to taking on the responsibility.
“I’m very excited,” Candrea said. “This is a place that I put a lot of blood, sweat and tears in and I love this community. I love this university. And when I was asked to step in and plug a hole for a small period of time, or whenever it may be, there was no doubt in my mind that I would love to do it.”