Dave Heeke’s first coaching hire at University of Arizona won’t be the easiest personnel decision he will make during his tenure in Tucson. He has to find someone to replace a sports icon.
Rick DeMont has announced he will be hanging up his whistle after 30 years with the school’s swimming program.
Heeke, who was named in late February to replace Greg Byrne as the Arizona athletic director, reluctantly accepted DeMont’s resignation, saying “We know this was a tough decision for him, but one he felt he needed to make. His contribution to our program can be seen throughout the record books, and his knowledge and aptitude will certainly be missed.”
A press release on Monday confirmed the news, but also noted the 61-year-old DeMont will continue on with the program until a successor can be found.
DeMont turned down the offer of a two-year extension to his contract, explaining that “I decided that now is the right time to move on. I’ve given everything I have to Arizona swimming and diving and I’m looking forward to spending some time with my family and pursuing other passions.”
Even before the Tucson community recognized his contributions to the Wildcat program, DeMont was a high-profile college athlete who became a part of history by participating at the 1972 Munich Olympics. That was the year that Arab terrorists interrupted the Games in a raid that killed 11 Israeli athletes. It was also the year that Mark Spitz made his splash on the international scene, winning seven gold medals.
But DeMont made news of his own when the gold medal he won in the 400-meter freestyle was stripped from him amid allegations of the use of a banned substance, ephedrine, that was discovered in a post-race urine test. It took him 12 years to clear his name and show that the U.S. Olympic Committee had erred in its decision.
His star began to rise as far back as high school when he was named World Swimmer of the Year. DeMont spent two years at University of Washington and then finished out his college career at UofA. An eight-time All-American at Arizona, he set the world record in the 1,500-meter and 400 freestyle events.
He is a member of both the International Swimming Hall of Fame and the Arizona Sports Hall of Fame.
In 1987 he joined the Arizona staff and helped build the program into a national power, becoming a shining jewel in the school’s sports offerings. The program finished in the national top 10 for 14 straight years.
But perhaps his biggest contribution came in 2014 when he served as the anchor for a program undergoing turmoil at the top.
In February of 2011, Frank Busch, a six-time NCAA Coach of the Year who had led the swimming & diving program for 22 years, stepped away from the program to accept a position as National Team Director for USA Swimming. His son, Augie, who had been on staff for eight years, followed his father out the door three months later when he was hired by the University of Houston to take over that school’s women’s program.
Erik Hansen was hired away from University of Wisconsin to begin restructuring the Arizona program. He lasted until midway through his third season before resigning. And then DeMont stepped to the forefront.
DeMont took over on an interim basis and then was handed the reins just before the final regular-season meet of the 2013-14 school year. By his second full season in charge, DeMont had pulled in the No. 3 recruiting class in the country. But last season, the women’s team managed just a fourth-place finish at the Pac-12 Championships, and the men settled for fifth place.
Now, the coaching carousel takes another spin. And Heeke gets his first test at hiring head coaches.