For the first time, Arizona's athletic department has a chief operating officer. 

Derek van der Merwe was named assistant vice president and the department's chief operating officer in a press release issued Tuesday. He will assist athletic director Dave Heeke in the running of day-to-day operations and serve on Heeke's senior executive team.

Van der Merwe's hiring the is the latest step in the department's reorganization under Heeke, who replaced Greg Byrne 15 months ago. 

Van der Merwe comes from Austin Peay, where he he serves as the school's vice president for advancement, communication and strategic initiatives. Prior to that, he served 18 months as the school's athletic director. Van der Merwe and Heeke worked together at Central Michigan, with Heeke serving as athletic director and van der Merwe as COO. Both are CMU grads.

"I am thrilled that Derek has agreed to join our team at Arizona and I am confident that he will have an significant impact on our organization," Heeke said. "Derek has a profound understanding of what makes organizations successful and he has experience in all aspects of college athletics. His addition will result in immediate dividends for all of us."

The son of a South African minister and a missionary, van der Merwe was born in Polokwane, South Africa during Apartheid, a time of forced racial segregation. His father spoke out against the practice, and the family eventually moved to Holly, Michigan. Van der Merwe joined his high school's football team as a senior, then walked on at Central Michigan. He was given an athletic scholarship after his freshman year, and rose to become a captain.

After college, van der Merwe served as CMU's academic advisor before working his way to deputy athletic director and COO. 

"I am humbled by Dave's belief in me as this is an incredible opportunity to be a part of an athletics department and university on the rise," van der Merwe said in a news release. "I cannot wait to join the Arizona Athletics family and do my part to elevate our student-athletes, coaches and staff to even greater heights."