In deciding to fire Kevin Sumlin on Saturday, Arizona Wildcats athletic director Dave Heeke knew it was going to place another huge financial burden on the school’s already strained budget. But not as much as opting not to make a change could have potentially had.
“We could not afford not to do that,” Heeke said Friday, via a Zoom press conference to discuss the search for a new football coach. “We had to move forward. Quite frankly, a failure to act would have resulted in significant compounding of our financial outlook and would have had real serious consequences moving forward.”
Sumlin went 9-20 in three seasons with Arizona, losing his final 12 games including the 70-7 home beatdown at the hands of ASU on Dec. 11. Heeke said that result was not the deciding factor in making a change.
“Obviously that was a very difficult situation, it’s not where we wanted to be,” Heeke said of the ASU loss, noting that the firing decision was the result of “really a holistic view of our program.”
Sumlin is due to receive about $7.5 million as a buyout for the remainder of his contract, though Heeke indicated that “conversations have begun between both parties regarding where that will land and what the ultimate outcomes will be.” Whatever the final severance cost is, Heeke said that will be included in the 2020-21 fiscal year expenditures.
Heeke said Arizona expects to have a $45 million deficit from this fiscal year due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. That number could have been smaller if it didn’t include having to pay a buyout, but he believes that was a necessary investment to make in order to be able to thrive financially after the pandemic is over.
“The financial plan that we have includes the need for our fans, our ticket buyers, our stakeholders, our donors, our community to have a belief and a faith in our football program and the future direction of our football program,” Heeke said. “It’s critical to the future of our athletic department.”
Heeke said all the money to cover the transition to a new coach will come within the athletic budget, and not from student fees or university funding.
“Our decision to incur additional expense with this buyout wasn’t easy,” he said. “But it was made with the need to emerge out of this financial challenging year with a strong recovery plan, a strong purpose that ensures future financial success of Arizona Athletics.”