University of Arizona hires new athletic director

By Zachary Ziegler/AZPM and Associated Press
Published: Monday, February 19, 2024 - 1:33pm
Updated: Wednesday, March 20, 2024 - 1:10pm

Screen showing woman with dark hair
Anthony Remedios/Cronkite News
Desireé Reed-Francois was announced as University of Arizona's news athletic director on Monday, Feb. 19, 2024.

The University of Arizona has hired former Missouri athletic director Desireé Reed-Francois to guide the athletics department through financial difficulties prior to the school's move to the Big 12.

She replaces Dave Heeke, who was fired after seven years last month, and will become the first woman to hold the full-time AD job at Arizona when she takes the reigns on March 3. Heeke remains on the university's payroll through March 2025.

"Desireé Reed-Francois no doubt is the right person to lead Arizona Athletics at this critical junction in our history," UA President Robert Robbins said in a video to students, staff and faculty. "I'm thrilled to welcome her, and we are deeply appreciative that she will join our community."

Reed-Francois is a graduate of UA's James E. Rogers College of Law, and was previously the athletic director at the University of Missouri and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Terms of Reed-Francois' contract were not disclosed by the university, but the Arizona Daily Star reports she will receive a five-year deal, starting at $1 million annually and escalating to $1.25 million by the fifth year.

“We are absolutely thrilled to welcome Desireé to the University of Arizona family, and we could not be more excited about the leadership experience and outstanding credentials she brings,” University President Robert C. Robbins said in a statement. “Respected nationally for her commitment to student-athletes, Desireé has a history of success everywhere she’s served and is exactly the right person we need to modernize our athletics operations and usher in an ongoing culture of success in all aspects of athletics."

People pose for photo
Anthony Remedios/Cronkite News
Desireé Reed-Francois was announced as University of Arizona's news athletic director on Monday, Feb. 19, 2024.

Robbins stressed Reed-Francois' acumen with finances and fundraising multiple times during his video message.

"Desireé also knows how to lead a modern athletics department efficiently and effectively, balancing budgets and increasing philanthropic support along the way. And importantly, she is respected nationally for her passion and commitments to supporting student athletes," he said.

Robbins mentioned that Reed-Francois secured the largest gift in the history of University of Missouri Athletics.

Reed-Francois spent the past three years as Missouri's AD, helping stabilize a department that had operated at a deficit for five years. She previously served as UNLV's athletic director from 2017-17 and had previous leadership positions at Virginia Tech, Cincinnati and Tennessee.

Reed-Francois takes over an athletics department that borrowed more than $80 million from the university in recent years. The school has its own financial issues following a $240 million miscalculation of projected cash on hand.

The financial difficulties, in part, led football coach Jedd Fisch to leave for Washington after resurrecting the program. He was replaced by former San Jose State coach Brent Brennan, hired by Heeke shortly before he was relieved of duties.

“There are very few institutions that would entice me to leave an SEC athletics department with strong momentum,” Reed-Francois said. “The University of Arizona has tremendous potential and is an institution — and an athletics program — on the rise, and I want to be a part of shaping that future."

More stories from KJZZ

Education Arts + Entertainment