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Heeke hopes to bring a ‘culture of excellence’ to UA

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Carmen Valencia | The Daily Wildcat

Dave Heeke was introduced as the new athletic director March 2 at Lowell-Stevens football facility. Heeke served as athletic director at Central Michigan University for 11 years prior to accepting the position at Arizona.

In his first few months on the job, new Arizona athletic director Dave Heeke called the transition to Tucson a “fast and furious” process. The former Central Michigan athletic director comes to Arizona with high praise and already feels right at home in the Old Pueblo.

“It is a world-class university with incredible people around it,” he said. “There is an energy and a pulse about it that is really exciting, and I have felt it since the day I walked on campus. The longer I am here, I feel it even more.”

Heeke has quickly immersed himself in Wildcat culture. The East Lansing native said he has taken the time to interact with Arizona students, fans and donors in order to understand what makes the university so distinctive.

“It is about being out there and trying to connect with them,” he said.

As a result, Heeke said he has been able to further develop his vision for Arizona and plans to bring a winning culture to the university.

“I think that our program should strive for excellence every day in everything that we do,” he said. “It’s all about creating a culture of excellence.”

Heeke’s philosophy formed at Central Michigan and has followed him to the desert. He sees it as something that will work if everyone from top to bottom buys into it. The expectation created is that those associated with the Arizona brand will be striving for a “championship” way of life in all aspects.

RELATED: Arizona hires Central Michigan athletic director Dave Heeke to same position

“People around the athletic world can identify with that term [championship] very quickly, that it means excellence,” Heeke said. “It is a championship culture that we will chase and strive for every day at all levels.”

Heeke envisions Arizona as a place where the campus and outside community members work together to improve the university, with athletics at the forefront of that effort.

If there is a someone who can achieve this ideal at the UA, Heeke is that person.

During his 11-year run at Central Michigan, Heeke’s athletic department twice earned the prestigious Cartwright Award, which honors a Mid-American Conference’s achievements in academics, athletics and citizenship.

Also, Central Michigan’s football program reached a bowl game in eight of Heeke’s 11 years, and the men’s basketball program won four MAC division championships.

In June of 2013, Heeke was also one of only 11 athletic directors to be appointed to the NCAA Division I Athletic Director Advisory Group. The role has given him time to study and help address some of the needs of student-athletes across university campuses, an experience which should benefit the UA.

A former two-sport athlete at Albion College, Heeke understands the demanding life of a student-athlete. That’s why he plans to make a special effort to give student-athletes at Arizona the best collegiate experience possible by equipping them with the necessary tools to be successful on and off the field.

“I want their experience to be transformational; I want it to be incredible,” he said. “I want our program to serve their needs.”

For Heeke, that effort begins with academics. He plans for the Ginny L. Clements Academic Center to be the cornerstone for all student-athletes at UA pursuing their educations.

“Our number-one priority is every student-athlete that comes through our doors will graduate with a meaningful degree,” Heeke said.

Given that three men’s basketball players recently left the UA to the play professionally without obtaining their degrees, that statement may be a bit of a reach. Heeke did admit as much though and noted that such athletes will still be “better served because of our goal and our focus on being engaged academically while they are here.”

RELATED: Dave Heeke introduced as athletic director

While Heeke said he aims to aid in the growth of student-athletes’ academic journeys, he remains just as committed to empowering them on the field.

Heeke said to help guide student-athletes to success, it is imperative for Arizona to have a coaching staff who can create an environment for their athletes to thrive in.

“Nobody has a greater impact on a student-athlete’s life here more than those coaches,” he said. “They recruit them, they train, motivate and are around them on a daily basis. They help define [an athlete’s] experience athletically both here and beyond.”

A lot of what Heeke will be judged for will be the on-field success of Arizona’s sports programs and he said he’s confident that the current set of coaches at UA has what it takes to reach a championship level.

“Not that anything is wrong or broken, but it’s about how we take that next step for those programs,” he said.

However, one of the more challenging aspects Heeke will have to address in the athletic department has nothing to do with winning or losing. Instead, it deals with a larger, more critical issue that each university faces: The monitoring of sexual assaults in sports programs.

Heeke assures everyone in the Wildcat community that Arizona is a safe place for all students.

“Our program is based on integrity, on honesty and doing the right thing,” he said. “Our staff, our coaches are well-versed in the appropriate activities and how to go about their lives in an appropriate manner, and that is an important fundamental principle of our program and this university.”

Heeke said he has spent every day since he first accepted the job in February learning how to best lead the Arizona program and build the culture of excellence he envisions.

Following an 18-year stint in the Oregon athletic department and his 11-year run at Central Michigan, Heeke seems to be in it for the long haul at Arizona, so it may take a while before the full extent of his plans come to fruition.

But Heeke isn’t ready to look that far ahead, at least not yet. For now, he’s just focused on the present.

“I hope we bring value and what we do on a daily basis brings value going forward,” he said. “I know we will work really hard and do it the right way.”

Fans will need to trust the process as they wait for Heeke’s ambition to pay off. 


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