Arizona athletic director Dave Heeke held a press conference over Zoom on Friday, Dec. 18, to discuss Arizona football’s ongoing head coaching search following last week’s termination of Kevin Sumlin.
Heeke told the media that he met with Sumlin on Saturday, Dec. 12, and notified him that the program needed to go in a different direction. He then spoke directly with the coaching staff and the rest of the team to determine the next steps in rebuilding the football program.
“When I met with the coaching staff and the team, I reinforced that this decision to terminate coach Sumlin was not based on what happened last Friday night, or at that time last night,” Heeke said when referring to the 70-7 loss to Arizona State on Dec. 11. “Obviously that was a very difficult situation. It's not where we wanted to be but it was really a holistic view of our program, and the future direction of it.”
Heeke also confirmed that the athletic department has already been in contact with “numerous” candidates but have not made a final decision and have not made any official job offers yet.
Here are some highlights from the rest of Friday’s virtual press conference.
Heeke on the timing of the decision to fire Sumlin: “Some might ask, ‘why would we do that. Why would we make the decision to change now? Why would we face ourselves with that contractually obligated buyout?’ I'd say, quite frankly, we could not afford not to do that. We had to move forward. The importance of, as I said for our financial recovery, the importance that our football program is to our stakeholders, quite frankly a failure to act would have resulted in significant compounding of our financial outlook.”
Heeke on where the money to buyout Sumlin’s contract is coming from: “the buyout comes from no student fees and no university generated dollars. It will be completely absorbed by the athletic budget and the revenues that we generate. It will be in our financial budget this fiscal year… At the same time, yes, we've had great losses because we don't have ticket sales. Some of our donations have been impacted. But that's all part of the financial plan going forward, and one that we feel very competent in.”
Heeke on what he is looking for in a new head coach: “First we need someone who's committed to the mission and the purpose of the University of Arizona and Arizona athletics department. We need someone who is committed to an athlete's total success, our C.A.T.S. program.
We need someone who embodies the incredible ‘Bear Down’ spirit. That is what this program is all about. We need someone with great integrity, great character. Someone who cares deeply about their players, someone who is passionate about this job, about this university, about this athletic program, about this community, about the state and that they look at this as an incredible opportunity. We need a program builder, someone who can attract great assistant coaches around them, to help our young men help our football program move forward.
We need someone who really can bring together and build on the bones of U of A football and the history of the great tradition and history of our program. The real fundamental principles that build Arizona football that have been built it in the past.”
Heeke on what he learned from the alumni meeting held this past week: “I've talked to numerous former players of ours, individually. I know it's been documented that we had a Zoom call with nearly 100 players yesterday. So again, we’ve stayed very much in contact with our former players… I've talked to people from the 60s, all the way up to the last few years and as I mentioned our current players. Getting a perspective of what they felt while they were here, what they've seen through the years and where they think we are today. So it's been a good exchange of information. I value their input. They've heard from me very clearly about what I think we need. And I've heard from them and I think there's alignment.”
Heeke on if the new coach needs to have any ties to Arizona: “I think it's critical that a person understands our values and that they understand our history, they understand our tradition. I believe there are people that can develop a plan, incorporate an assistant coaching group, assist a coaches group, have a philosophy that is similar to those that have been here before, that have seen success. So, I believe that's important. So yes, there needs to be some recognition of the power that exists here and tapping into that power of our past that will be important going forward.”
Heeke on if the athletic department is using a search firm: We have a search firm that we're working with and they'll help guide us through some of the processes. A search firm, again, let me be clear, the search firm does not select the new head football coach. The search firm does not force people to be involved in the process… The next head football coach is hired by us, not by a search firm. Sometimes I think that gets twisted in the wrong direction. The search term is part of the process, they are not the process, nor do they dictate it.”
Heeke on if they need to be patient with the rebuilding process of this football program: “We’re invested in doing it the right way and building the program. I think it's about, you know, the steps, the vision. That's what needs to be prioritized and maybe that can happen faster. Maybe it takes a little longer but let's be focused on the outcomes of that process that we believe in. We believe in the things that we have to do across the board. Multiple things have to be integrated to have a successful program. Stay true to that process and that plan and we'll get there. Sure, we all hope it happens fast. But again, we're not going to sacrifice time… Patience is a hard thing to have in this day and age but I do think it will take some time. We've got to be committed to that time.”
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