Sunday, April 14, 2024

Arizona hires Missouri AD Desireé Reed-Francois to same position amid Big 12 transition, financial turbulence

Arizona has hired Missouri’s Desireé Reed-Francois as its next athletic director, the school announced on Monday. Reed-Francois, who was the first female to serve as an athletic director at a public institution in the SEC, just wrapped up her third season with the Tigers. She’ll also be the first female full-time athletic director in Arizona’s history. She’ll begin her tenure as Wildcats athletic director on March 3. 

Reed-Francois is stepping into a very turbulent time for Arizona as it faces an uncertain future fraught with change and financial consternation. Former athletic director Dave Heeke was relieved of his duties in January following reports that the University of Arizona is facing a $177 million budget deficit due to a slew of monetary miscalculations by the school. In response, Arizona issued a hiring freeze with restrictions on travel and purchasing. University president Robert Robbins has also discussed the potential of cutting some of Arizona’s athletic programs to save on money in the margins. 

Amid that backdrop, former football coach Jedd Fisch — who, in 2023, led the Wildcats to their first 10-win season since 2014 — departed to fill the vacant head-coaching position at Washington. Heeke hired former San Jose State coach Brent Brennan five days before his tenure as athletic director ended. 

Brennan signed a five-year deal with the Wildcats, handcuffing Reed-Francois to a football coach she didn’t choose for the first crucial years of her tenure. In addition, Arizona is set to join the Big 12 in 2024, further burdening Arizona’s travel and logistical budgets. 

Reed-Francois is up to the challenge

Arizona poaching a sitting SEC athletic director with all the turmoil swirling is an impressive feat, and Reed-Francois certainly has the credentials to turn things around. She made the decision to stick with Missouri football coach Eli Drinkwitz despite losing seasons in each of his first three years as head football coach. That decision paid off in droves as the Tigers went 11-2 in 2023 with a Cotton Bowl win over Ohio State while Drinkwitz was named SEC Coach of the Year. 

Reed-Francois also hired basketball coach Dennis Gates in 2022, and he immediately led Missouri — which hadn’t won more than 20 games since 2013-14 — to the second round of the NCAA Tournament and a 25-10 record. 

Most importantly, especially given Arizona’s current issues, Missouri saw financial growth under Reed-Francois. The athletics department generated record revenue in each of the past two years, reaching $141,558,287 for the 2022-23 fiscal year, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. With Missouri’s emergent success in football, it wouldn’t be surprising to see that number grow again — another feather in the cap for Reed-Francois, who leaves Missouri in a good place as she looks to right the ship for Arizona. 

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