Among other key attributes of a good athletic director, the University of Arizona was looking for a track record of staying put for awhile in their search for a new AD to replace Greg Byrne, who left six weeks ago to take a similar position at Alabama.
Byrne lasted just seven years in Tucson before being lured to a more prominent program with a bigger budget. His predecessor, Jim Livengood, was in the Arizona job for 15 years before leaving to take the AD job at UNLV.
Arizona would like to see another commitment like the one Livengood gave them. And their new hire appears to fit that bill.
Dave Heeke was just named the new vice president for athletics after spending 11 years as the athletic director at Central Michigan University and 15 years before that at Pac-12 opponent Oregon, departing the Ducks’ program as the senior associate athletics director/chief of staff. Evidently, Oregon has as many job title variations as the color combinations in their uniforms.
Heeke made his way to the top of a stack of 65 nominations and candidates the selection committee has been poring over since Byrne announced his plans to leave in mid-January.
To bridge the gap, senior associate AD Erika Barnes has been serving as interim AD. The former softball player at Arizona let it be known that she had no interest in vying for the job.
Fund-raising and facilities improvements are the other key components that Arizona highlighted in its search criteria. Byrne oversaw major renovation work, but there is still more to be undertaken.
Byrne helped secure funding for numerous major facilities upgrades that included renovations to Arizona Stadium and McKale Center and a lease deal that enabled the baseball team to move to Hi Corbett Field, a city-owned stadium that is used for MLB spring training games. Before coming to Tucson, he oversaw upgrades to the athletic programs during 2-plus years at Mississippi State, including breaking ground on a $12 million practice facility for men’s and women’s basketball.
He was 38 years old when Arizona hired him and was considered one of the rising young stars in the game.
Heeke has spent nearly three decades in athletic department administration and brings to Arizona extensive experience in all aspects of the position and has been heavily involved in facilities planning and funding. He has a strong reputation nationally among athletic directors and a solid background in the Pac-12.
At CMU, he coordinated a private campaign for $22 million in renovations to the basketball arena and fitness center. He also oversaw the planning and design of a $6 million lacrosse and soccer stadium and another $10 million in renovations for other facilities that included baseball, gymnastics, and softball.
Central Michigan President George E. Ross validated Heeke’s accomplishments with the Chippewas’ program: “Dave has moved CMU’s athletic program significantly forward in his 11 years here. He spoke during his interviews of creating a championship culture, and he’s achieved that.”
The other all-important key ingredient of a successful athletic director is an ability to find and hire good coaches – and remove them when it doesn’t work out as planned. Heeke has hired 16 head coaches in various sports, and made difficult changes when necessary.
That experience with coaching changes may come in handy in the coming year or two since Arizona’s football coach, Rich Rodriguez, is going to be on the hot seat next year after a couple of disappointing seasons.
Former Oregon head football coach Mike Bellotti, who has known Heeke for nearly 30 years, says Arizona has made a good choice.
“It will be great for Arizona and the Pac-12,” Bellotti offered in addressing Heeke’s hire. “He’s a wonderful person with a wonderful family, and he has the right outlook on life to be very successful at Arizona.”
Even Byrne has pitched in with words of praise for his successor:
“Dave Heeke is an outstanding hire for the University of Arizona. His vast experience working with student-athletes, coaches, staff, fans, and university communities at CMU and in the Pac-12 makes Dave the perfect selection.”