A New Dawn In Tucson: Spring changes give Arizona Athletics fresh start

A virtually new coaching staff has the Arizona Athletics fanbase looking forward to what hopefully turns into a promising future.

It has been a busy year for Arizona Athletics as school President Dr. Robert Robbins and Athletics Director Dave Heeke have had to replace virtually the entire athletic department.

The first domino to fall was one to be expected as the Arizona Football team went winless for the first time in school history, and Kevin Sumlin saw his record in Tucson fall to 9-20.

However, as we all saw Heeke and Dr. Robbins initially appeared to seem clueless in the hiring process, dragging their feet in the hiring process before settling on a less than stellar hire of Jedd Fisch. That sentiment has changed in recent months of course.

Then came the drama with the basketball program, and the continual cycle of whether Sean Miller will return or not. Miller was eventually dismissed following the season.

However, Heeke and Robbins once again seemingly made the whole ordeal a lot more difficult than it should have been, as they already decided to terminate Miller while letting him finish out the season. As a result, they fell behind other programs also in the market for new head coaches.

While in this case, they hired the coach that was seemingly destined to follow up after Miller, the whole process seemed much more tedious than necessary and made the duo look once again like they had no idea what was going on.

As for women’s basketball, maybe Adia Barnes only leveraged Baylor for a pay raise, but either way, Heeke was forced to payout back-to-back raises to Barnes to ensure she stayed in Tucson. And to be fair to Coach Barnes, she deserves every last penny of each raise she received, especially when you consider the magic created in turning the Women’s Basketball program into a championship contender.

Then came the end of the spring seasons, which saw another pair of influential coaches find their way to the SEC, while an absolute legend announced his retirement. Following the soccer season in the spring, we saw Tony Amato jump ship to Florida to take the helm of the Gators, which at least made some sense in him being from Florida originally.

However, it was the other departure to the SEC that hurt. Days after their abrupt end at the College World Series, head baseball coach Jay Johnson bolted from Tucson to Baton Rouge, becoming the next coach of the LSU Tigers.

Not only that, but the Wildcats also let Associate Head Coach Nate Yeskie bolt to College Station, joining Texas A&M in a lateral move in the SEC to become the Aggies’ next pitching coach for more money.

For a program said to be among the class in the West, it still seems troubling that at what can seemingly be considered a destination program, is so easy to leave without much hesitation.

The final departure was a bit more expected, though maybe the hardest to take in the retirement of Mike Candrea. It seems crazy to me that a softball coach could be as iconic as a legendary basketball coach like Lute Olson or football coach in Dick Tomey, but Candrea may be the best of the trio.

The softball program also saw the most seamless coaching transition of the bunch, and most of that credit goes to Candrea, as he had Caitlin Lowe in the wings, developing her as a coach to take over when the time was right. One also has to think Candrea also had a significant hand in the transition to Lowe as well as it was executed with such class and grace.

A newly hired staff of Coaches brings promise, fresh ideas, and new hope for Arizona Athletics.

Led by coach Jedd Fisch and Arizona Football, the mood has significantly changed the thoughts and opinions among fans regarding the program as a whole.

Fisch has also used his deep connections throughout the sports world for good, having coaches like Sean McVay, Steve Kerr, and Pete Carroll speak to the team for the We Educate Wednesday’s. He has brought in more attention to the Wildcats, which is a good thing for a program that is not only coming off a disastrous 2020 season but a ruinous era under Sumlin.

Well, coming off a spring game that showed promise, expectations are still likely to be a bit low for the Arizona Football program in 2021, though there is some optimism. With as close as the Wildcats played a handful of teams the past couple of seasons, the Wildcats could send a bit of a shock through the Pac-12, much like Dave Rubio’s Volleyball program did in 2020.

Tommy Lloyd comes to Tucson taking the reigns of the men’s basketball program, and he walks into what may likely be a perfect fit. His experience has been getting the most out of international prospects, and currently, the Wildcats’ roster seems primed to take another step forward in the 2021-22 season that should lead them back to the NCAA Tournament (barring any additional punishment from the NCAA).

Caitlin Lowe will likely continue to keep the same messaging and traditions as Candrea did, trying to keep building on the momentum of yet another run to the Women’s College World Series. Learning under Candrea in the capacity she has the past few years, she could be primed to keeping the program in the upper echelon of College Softball.

In tapping into the professional ranks for a second time, Arizona tabbed Becca Moros formerly an assistant coach of Gotham FC, to secure yet another seemingly strong hire by Heeke. To bring in a coach who has experience with the U.S. Women’s National program, as well as knowing just what it takes to reach and stay at the professional level, she will provide a strong boost to a program that’s getting used to making the NCAA Tournament as they look to take the next step forward.

Next Steps May Take Time

While Heeke and Robbins may very well have gone 4-4 on head coach hiring decisions in 2021, each program will take time for them to truly reach their peak as each respective coach puts their stamps on the programs. Needless to say each of the four new coaches could very well have been the best possible choices available, while also being the right selections for the Wildcats. As always, Bear Down, Arizona!