Due to the fact that an athletic director is a vital position within any university staff, there is automatic pressure for Arizona to hire a competent replacement for the recently departed Jim Livengood. However, as the Wildcats athletic program heads into the final weeks of the decade, the pressure to make the right AD hire is abnormally high.
While there are numerous reasons why this hire is so important for UA, I will focus on just two: the NACDA Director's Cup (formally the Sears Cup) and the football program.
For those who do not know, the Director's Cup is an annual competition that takes into consideration an athletic department's overall performance. The winner of this prize can boast that it has the best athletic program in the country, and given the amount of attention that college athletics receives and the amount of money involved, this is no small deal.
Arizona's new athletic director will face the challenge of restoring the Wildcats success in the Director's Cup competition, as UA has steadily declined throughout this decade.
From 2000 to 2003 Arizona found itself in the Top-10 of the Director's Cup final standings, finishing 8th, 5th, and 9th respectively. Among Pac-10 schools, the Wildcats finished 3rd each year. In addition, despite Arizona State's impressive performances, UA finished ahead of its archrival each year.
As impressive as the first three years of the decade were for Arizona in this competition, things have changed recently. From 2007 to 2009 the Wildcats have ended the seasons ranked 24th, 27th, and 24th, respectively.
While those numbers indicate a solid but not great athletic department, when compared to the rest of the Pac-10, UA is struggling. From 2007 to 2009 Arizona has placed 6th, 8th, and 8th among teams from its own conference in the final Cup standings. But even more painful for Wildcat fans is the fact that the Sun Devils have finished well ahead of Arizona each of the past three years.
While the athletic department as a whole has not been improving over the past few years, the same cannot be said about the football program.
After the dreadful hire of John Mackovic, Livengood redeemed himself with the hire of Mike Stoops. After winning just six games in his first two seasons, Stoops has led the Wildcats to 16 victories and two bowl games in the last two seasons. In fact, the past two seasons mark the first time since 1993-94 that Arizona has won at least eight games in back to back seasons.
Despite the success of UA football over the past couple of seasons, there is even more anticipation about the future. The Wildcats return a significant amount of talent next season and should be one of the favorites to win the Pac-10.
UA's success in football is vital to the success of the entire athletic department because football is the department's biggest moneymaker. Success on the gridiron translates into more money for basketball, swimming, baseball, and every other sport.
It is due to finances that the continuation of the football program's success is so vital for the new AD.
Success in college football does not come without complications. As UA continues to improve, its coaches become the targets of other colleges. Mark Stoops has already accepted a position with Florida State and Sonny Dykes has been rumored to be on other school's list of potential head coaches. Of course, head coach Mike Stoops will also be courted by other schools if the Wildcats continue to win.
Retaining a quality coaching staff is paramount to a football program's sustained success. Ensuring that Stoops and his assistant coaches are taken care of financially is critical for that retention.
Demonstrating to the football coaches, players, recruits, boosters, and fans that he or she is serious about sustained football success at Arizona should be job number one for the new AD. Nothing will show his or her commitment to the football program more than the actualization of the stadium expansion.
Fundraising is needed to make this expansion a reality and the buck stops at the desk of the AD. Given the state of the economy, this fundraising will not be easy but it must get done. The Pac-10 is a very competitive league and Arizona cannot afford to fall behind on facilities at the same time that it is pulling ahead on the field.
The Wildcat athletic department is at a pivotal point in its history. Whether UA continues its recent slide in overall performance, or rides the back of its resurrected football program to increased national respect, will be determined by the competency of the new AD.