A Fans’ Perspective on Mike Candrea’s Career with Arizona Softball

Mike Candrea speaks with reporters before the Arizona Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony at the Scottsdale Plaza Resort in Scottsdale, Ariz. on November 1, 2018.Z6i2445
Mike Candrea speaks with reporters before the Arizona Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony at the Scottsdale Plaza Resort in Scottsdale, Ariz. on November 1, 2018.Z6i2445 /

A marvelous 36-year career is officially over for former Arizona Softball head coach Mike Candrea, and we recap his run in Tucson from a fans’ perspective. 

In 1985, Mike Candrea was then a young man, a former baseball player (2nd baseman), coach, and Physical Education Professor from Central Arizona College that humbly accepted the position at the University of Arizona to become the next head coach of Arizona Softball. His first season was in 1986 and 36 years later here are some of his top achievements.

WCWS Wins:  62, 1st in NCAA

WCWS Appearances:  24, 1st in NCAA

All-Time Wins:  1,674, 1st in NCAA

WCWS Championships:  8, 1st in NCAA by the same coach

2004 Olympic Team USA Head Coach:  Gold Medal

2008 Olympic Team USA Head Coach: Silver Medal

Arizona Wildcats
Arizona Wildcats /

Arizona Wildcats

Far beyond the statistics and numbers, most importantly Mike was an influencer, a role model, a leader, and a mentor of student-athletes. He has touched countless lives and contributed to making people’s lives better from the players and support staff within the Arizona Softball program, Athletics Department, the University of Arizona, and even fans. I don’t know one Arizona Softball fan that does not have respect for Mike Candrea.

Candrea inherited a nearly broken Softball program, and over time, he built a program that became a force to be reckoned with. He built a model program for others to emulate across the nation.

At the Women’s College World Series just days ago, many respected coaches such as Patrick Murphy (Alabama), Lonni Alameda (Florida State), and Patty Gasso (Oklahoma) all acknowledged Mike’s superb contributions to Softball both at the NCAA and International level, praising his efforts and leadership.

Mike was a tremendous recruiter and at the same time a caring recruiter. He wanted to win championships, however, he placed the needs and life development ahead of championships, and his training model featured structure, discipline, a strong work ethic, teamwork, and togetherness.

Coach Candrea didn’t let his team off easy at practice either. He insisted on high standards and would pound hundreds of balls to his players, always ensuring multiple repetitions were taken by each player.

One thing I always knew about his teams is that they would be fundamentally sound and strong defensively every season. His teams were at the tip of the spear and routinely led the NCAA in the highest fielding percentage.

Additionally, he ensured his teams were sound with softball IQ, instilling in his players the pride of Arizona Softball and understanding what it  meant to be a Wildcat, embodying the Bear Down spirit. His teams in the field were always up to speed on the situation of the game, the strategy, what’s the next play, and if I get the ball, where am I going with it? He instilled that level of attention to detail.

Coach reminds me of some of my old PE teachers and coaches that I had and knew in high school. Mike is one of the last coaches that come from the old school. I never met him, but would be honored to have the opportunity someday. I am excited that he is staying on staff as an advisor.

His training videos, many of which are on YouTube, have helped tens of thousands of coaches and players across the country to learn and grow. I have watched them and learned by his instruction. Lovie Jung and Leah O’Brien-Amico, both former Wildcats, were some of the demonstrators in the instructional videos, and if you haven’t seen them, you might want to take a look.

A fans’ perspective on the impact of Mike Candrea and Arizona Softball…

I have followed Arizona Softball for a good number of years now, sometimes from afar. And even upon my return to Tucson after being gone for 25 years working and traveling in my career, I have made it a point to get myself to as many Softball games as possible.

Over the year, I have always looked forward to not only watching the games in person, but to watch Coach conduct infield warm-ups, hitting balls, and seeing his systems in action.

From the onset, it was apparent Candrea operated a system his players were all 100 percent confident in and knew what was expected of them. He trained and molded his players to learn, know, and follow the Arizona way, a formula he was responsible for creating.

I routinely arrive at the ballpark early to watch pre-game warm-ups, and I look forward to seeing the finely oiled machine that’s called Arizona Softball. If I am not at my seat when Centerfield by John Fogerty plays, the staple tune that plays when Arizona takes the field for pre-game warm-ups, then I consider myself late.

I also admire the fact that he put his players through “The Program” training and allowed them to get a small taste of Navy Seal training, adding even more structure and discipline to the forefront.

I am grateful that I was able to attend many games at the old Hillenbrand Stadium and at the new  Hillenbrand Stadium with Mike Candrea as the Head Coach, and I am excited for Caitlin Lowe to take over as I believe she will be excellent as the next Head Coach. She is a Warrior on many levels, and I have full confidence Coach Lowe will carry on the Tradition of Arizona Softball.

I believe even in retirement, Mike will be a strong voice and advocate for Softball. Mike has now joined the ranks of other former legendary UofA coaches such as Dick Tomey, Lute Olson, Jerry Kindall, Fred Snowden, etc.

Here is a quote on Candrea from Arizona Wildcat Hall of Famer Lovie Jung. Jung of course played at the University of Arizona and as a member of Team USA in the 2000s winning gold. When asked what life lessons she learned from Coach Candrea here was her reply…

"“Too many to count but one of the biggest ones which you will hear out of every one of his athletes’ mouths is to balance, to balance school, going to practice, games, social life, you have to have a balance, you can’t have more love for one aspect of that balance or else you will be out of balance. Have good people around you. I was able to strive to become an Arizona player, as well as an Olympian and Firefighter because I kept my circle and the village of people that support me small.”"

Lovie also told me that there were times that coach didn’t want to end practice saying, one more (as in one more repetition) and that one more turned into another hour of practice but that is an example of coaches drive to instill the highest level of work ethics into his players, striving for excellence. I’ve learned his favorite bat was known as his Fungo.

Bear Down Mike, thanks for the memories and a job superbly executed. You not only made your players proud but you made the best fans in the country proud also. Good luck on your transition into retirement as well as your new adventures as you take on new roles while your life journey continues.

In closing, here is a very recent quote from Mike Candrea.

"“It’s not often that you get to do something that you love to do and then surround yourself with people that you never want to see leave. Every Student-Athlete that I have ever been a part of at Arizona is a life-long relationship and as a coach, that’s what you hope. I realized in my career your really only the gatekeeper at the end of the day. I’ve tried to do things the right way and I hope that I have had some impact and influence on the kids that I have coached.” – Mike Candrea"

On Arizona Softball. light. More