Q&A: Heeke discusses decision to leave CMU for Arizona
Leading the Central Michigan University Athletics Department for the past 11 years has been a "true honor" for outgoing Athletics Director Dave Heeke.
The university announced Heeke's exit from CMU on Feb. 25. As he looks ahead to his next chapter at the University of Arizona — which recruited him to be its new director of athletics — Central Michigan Life spoke with the man who strived to build a "championship culture" at CMU to reflect on his career and the future of his department.
Why did you take the position in Arizona?
It was a tremendous opportunity to go to a major conference program that has a lot of challenges there that align with my skills. I wasn’t looking to leave (CMU) at all. A big part of my heart and soul will always be here. I’m from Michigan, my three sons grew up here (and) we’re connected to the community in a deep way, so it was a big decision for us.
What are some opportunities you see at Arizona and how do you plan to tackle them?
They’re anxious to look at some significant facility improvement. That’s something through my career (at CMU) and previously when I was at the University of Oregon that I was really involved in. Enhancement of infrastructure and facilities is critical to all of higher education. Those are the laboratories for our students and it’s important that we invest in those.
(Arizona) is on a growth curve. They want to make an impact in the PAC 12 conference and be at the very top. It’s an exciting challenge to formulate a strategy and a vision on how we can get there.
What will you be doing here at CMU until your first day at Arizona (April 1)?
I’m trying to wrap things up here and make a good transition for Marcy Weston who will be serving as interim director. I want to get as many things as I can in place for her so she can be successful before a full-time director is hired. I want to make sure everything is in order and in a good place as our winter sports are finishing up the seasons. We’re already in the budget planning for next year, so there are a lot of pieces that are out there that I’ll keep moving along for the next couple of weeks.
Do you feel like you’re leaving the athletics program in a good position?
With the collective efforts of the (staff), it’s been a really good 11 years. We constantly are trying to build and grow. We want to have programs of integrity and built around student athletes and their experiences. We’ve been able to build the brand significantly at a national level. We’ve had a lot of success in sports and in the classroom. This wasn’t a broken program when I arrived, and it was my responsibility to maintain and grow it.
I feel really good about what we’ve been able to accomplish, and it isn’t because of me. Our success comes from a strong administration here that’s committed to students.
What were some goals you had coming into CMU? Do you feel like you’ve accomplished them?
The broad goal at that time was to enhance and increase fundraising, to continue the success we’ve had in competition and address some facility needs. We primarily wanted to improve our old basketball facility for the whole university and make an events center that we could have concerts, graduation and all kinds of activities in there, including sporting events.
What were some of the challenges you’ve faced during your time here?
I think the biggest thing here and at the level we compete in in the Mid-American Conference is a resource challenge. We need to ask how we’re able to provide programs for not only for our student athletes, but also for the entire university and our alumni to be proud of. We have to be very good stewards of the resources we have and we have to figure out how to use those the best without short-changing the experience.
How do you recommend schools in smaller conferences like the MAC prioritize their assets while complying with NCAA Division 1 standards?
You have to step back and have a clear understanding of what your goal is. For (CMU Athletics), it’s for the best interest of our student athletes. We don’t want to invest in resources that don’t help us on game day, or on Monday morning when students are going to class. The good thing about this program is that we’ve been able to be broad-based and have success across the board.
With all the staff changes happening lately, is searching for replacements a normal occurrence for the athletics department?
Definitely. People in these programs are well-known. They've been trained well, they've had great experiences and they prove themselves. Doing that (at CMU) is a natural way for some other places to go "hey, they do a good job at Central Michigan, which doesn't have a whole lot. Let's pull that person over here." It's like anyone else in their careers able to move themselves up the career ladder. We have to be creative in how to be ready to replace people and bring in quality people to fill those gaps.
What does “championship culture” mean to you?
Excellence in everything we do all the time. That’s athletically, academically, personal development of our student athletes and in how we conduct ourselves so that people can be proud of our program. We’re a culture of excellence in everything we do. We may not win a national or conference championship every year, but we want to strive to be that great.