Tucson’s movers and shakers in sports include a University of Arizona athletic director and coaches for basketball, swimming and softball.
James Fred “Pop” McKale was athletic director at the UA from 1915-57, and coached football, basketball and baseball.
Lute Olson was head coach of UA basketball for 25 years and led Arizona to four NCAA Final Four appearances and a national championship in 1997.
UA coach Frank Busch‘s swimmers won 49 NCAA individual titles, 31 NCAA relay titles and both the men’s and women’s NCAA team championships in 2008.
As UA women’s softball coach, Mike Candrea has led his teams to eight Women’s College World Series titles.
James Fred McKale
James Fred McKale (1887-1967) was born in Lansing, Mich., graduated from high school there, and earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and history at Albion College (Mich.) in 1910. He taught history and coached at Tucson High from 1911 to 1914, when by “popular acclaim” he joined the UA faculty.
McKale was appointed athletic director in 1915, and according to the Pima County Sports Hall of Fame, “ ... coached every major sport and made Arizona’s athletic program the finest in the Southwest, leading teams in football for 17 years and in baseball for 35 years.”
Tradition says McKale is responsible for UA’s longstanding nickname and its most recognizable slogan. In 1914, after a particularly hard-fought football game, McKale began to call his teams “wildcats.” And in 1926, a star football player’s dying words to coach McKale following an automobile accident were supposedly, “Tell the team to bear down.”
McKale acquired a nickname himself when former students and athletes stopped by after returning from World War II to chat with “Pop” McKale.
The UA campus honors “The Grand Old Man of Arizona Sports” with two buildings — Bear Down Gym and McKale Center, UA’s home basketball venue.
Lute Olson (1934-) was born Robert Luther Olson in Mayville, N.D., to Norwegian-American parents.
He attended high school in Grand Forks, leading his team to the state basketball championship. He then attended Augsburg College in Minneapolis, playing three sports. Following graduation, he coached high school basketball in Minnesota and California. He then moved into the college ranks at Long Beach City College (Calif.), followed by a year at Long Beach State and nine years at the University of Iowa. He came to the UA in 1983.
Under Olson, Arizona quickly rose to national prominence. Olson’s teams won 11 Pac-10 championships and had 20 consecutive 20-win seasons. Olson was named Pac-10 Coach of the Year seven times and national Coach of the Year twice, in 1988 and 1990.
Olson was known for player development, as many of his players went on to impressive careers in the NBA. The UA has been dubbed “Point Guard U” because of the several players who have excelled at that position, including current assistant coach Damon Stoudamire.
With his 46 NCAA tournament wins, including the 1997 title, Olson is regarded as one of the greatest coaches in college basketball history.
Frank Busch (1951-) was born in Edgewood, Ky., and received a Bachelor of Science degree in education from Loyola University in Chicago.
He coached community programs for six years in northern Kentucky, and coached swimming at the University of Cincinnati for nine years before coming to the UA in 1989.
Busch transformed Arizona swimming and diving into one of the nation’s most powerful programs. He was named Coach of the Year six times by the NCAA, 11 times by the Pac-10, and once each by United States Swimming and the United States Olympic Committee.
He was a coach for the U.S. Olympic teams in 2004 and 2008.
Busch spent 22 years at the UA before leaving to become national team director of USA Swimming in 2011.
Mike Candrea (1955-) was born in New Orleans. He earned an associate degree at Central Arizona College in 1975, a bachelor’s at Arizona State in 1978, and a master’s at ASU in 1980.
Candrea began his softball coaching career at Central Arizona in 1981. His teams won the National Junior College World Series his last two years, and he moved on to the UA in 1986.
Under Candrea, the Arizona women’s softball team became one of the top programs in the NCAA.
His teams have won 1,343 games, along with nine Pac-10 conference titles.
As a coach, he has led 50 All-Americans and four national players of the year. Candrea was also named Pac-10 Coach of the Year on 10 occasions.
Candrea, who is about to start his 29th year as head Wildcat, coached the U.S. Olympic softball team to a gold medal in 2004 and a silver in 2008.