The Arizona Wildcats have found their next athletic director, announcing the hiring of Central Michigan's Dave Heeke.
Heeke replaces Greg Byrne, who is scheduled to start at Alabama this week. He comes to Arizona after 11 years as CMU's athletic director, and before that he spent 18 years in the Pac-12 as part of Oregon's athletic department, finishing his tenure there as senior associate athletics director/chief of staff.
“I couldn’t be more excited to be part of the Arizona Athletics family," Heeke said in a statement. "It is truly an honor to be named the new Vice President for Athletics and have the opportunity to return to the prestigious Pac-12 Conference...
Heeke has no Arizona ties, but connects to two of the most popular names in Wildcats sports history. Heeke and former ADs "Pop" McKale and Cedric Dempsey are all graduates of Albion College in Michigan.
Dempsey, along with former UA deputy athletic director Kathleen "Rocky" LaRose, was hired shortly after Byrne's departure in January to help UA president Ann Weaver Hart in the search for a new athletic director.
According to the UA's press release, Dempsey and LaRose communicated with as many as 65 candidates for the job. At various points the Wildcats were thought to be considering a host people for the job, including TCU's Chris del Conte, South Florida's Mark Harlan, Houston's Hunter Yurachek and Kansas State's John Currie.
Since Byrne's departure, senior associate athletic director Erika Barnes had assumed the position in an interim capacity, but Barnes did not pursue the full-time position.
Going forward, LaRose will oversee the department's transition to the new athletic director.
The hiring of Heeke received a stamp of approval from Byrne, who said in Arizona's press release that Heeke was an "outstanding hire."
"His vast experience working with student-athletes, coaches, staff, fans and university communities at CMU and in the Pac-12 makes Dave the perfect selection," Byrne said.
Heeke called Arizona one of the "premiere athletic departments in the country.
"Arizona has developed a storied history and tradition and I’m looking forward to being a part of the next chapter in Tucson. I can’t wait to Bear Down."
At Central Michigan, Heeke spearheaded fundraising for $22 million in renovations to CMU's basketball arena and fitness center. He also oversaw the planning and design of a $6 million lacrosse and soccer stadium, as well as $10 million in renovations for other facilities, including baseball, gymnastics and softball.
Hart cited Heeke's experience and his "sustained level of accomplishment" as reasons for his hiring.
"Dave is a perfect match for our Wildcat family," Hart said.
Byrne often talked about the need for some changes around Arizona's athletic department, including renovations at Arizona Stadium and UA softball's Hillenbrand Stadium and for the modernization of Drachman Stadium (track) and the Hillenbrand Aquatic Center (swimming).
UA football coach Rich Rodriguez has long pushed for an indoor practice facility, too. Rodriguez's future will be one to watch with a new athletic director in tow, as the UA coach was hired by Byrne and the Wildcats are coming off a troubling 3-9 season.
Click on the attached stories for more about Arizona's search.