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Mike Candrea talks earning the A, the change in athletes’ expectations, Dick Tomey and more on Adia Barnes’ podcast

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COLLEGE SOFTBALL: APR 15 UCLA at Arizona Photo by Jacob Snow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Adia Barnes debuted her podcast Made for It: The Adia Barnes Podcast last week when she interviewed men’s basketball coach Sean Miller. This week, she was back with an extended discussion with legendary softball coach Mike Candrea.

The two touched on topics ranging from how student-athletes have changed over the years to how the late Dick Tomey put Candrea on the hot seat during one visit to Washington. Barnes’ skill as an interviewer and Candrea’s openness were both on point as they spent over 45 minutes discussing the history of Arizona Softball, Candrea’s career, challenges he’s faced and friends he’s made.

The full interview is available here, but below is a transcript of a few of the highlights.

Candrea on the importance of developing culture in today’s college sports and how that has changed his coaching style: “And those kids were a little bit different back then. They were very...if you look down today, very competitive....worked extremely hard. They didn’t really care whether they liked someone or not, but when they got on the field if they were a good player, they loved them to death. And today I spend all my time trying to develop a culture... and try to get (them) to feel good about one another. So it has definitely changed the way I approach my coaching. And I think I was a lot tougher when I first started because there was a little bit of a fear factor. Today you have to kind of find a way to push the right buttons and make them believe like it’s their idea that you want change.”

Candrea on what it takes to make that change in coaching style: “Well, for me, it’s just convincing myself that there really needs to be a change. You know, when you’ve had success and you feel like you’re doing the right thing, and providing the right atmosphere for kids to get better and compete, then it’s awfully hard for you to say, ‘Well, God, I’ve got to change because maybe I’m not connecting with these kids.’”

Candrea on why he started the earning the A tradition: “Back a few years ago, I decided, well, we give these kids so much stuff and maybe that’s part of the the issue is that they expect it. And I grew up not expecting anything and whatever I got, I was lucky to have.... So I decided number one, I don’t think these kids really have bought into the tradition. In fact, the tradition at one time was scaring kids, which really frightened me.... They were just, ‘We want to do our own thing. We don’t want to be matched up against Jennie Finch.’ And because the expectations were (so high) it was kind of swallowing them up. And I had to kind of go back and say, all right, how can we get them to understand really what the core principles are? And what are the things that we want? We talked about character, we talked about discipline, we talked about being a good teammate, but what does that really look like? And how do I get them to understand that that’s important. And so we put them all in blank uniforms, and they had to earn the A.”

Candrea on what’s non-negotiable to be an Arizona softball player: “Well, I think skill sets got to be a non-negotiable for me. The game that we play, if you don’t have the skill set at the DI level, we can make it better but we’re always going to be falling short. The other non-negotiable is I’ve got to be able to trust you. And trust not just on the field, but off the field. My dad a long time ago, he said, ‘Mike, if the kid’s keeping you up at night, then get rid of them.’ And when I was a young coach, it was hard for me to do that because I thought I could change anyone. And now I set the expectations, and I’m very hard on that. And if you don’t want to be a part of this family, then I don’t need you. And none of us need you. And the other thing for me, in today’s world is, I need someone that’s going to be a good teammate. Because if you’re not going to be a good leader, then you better be a good follower. And we had a hard time with that for a while. We didn’t have good leadership. And then we didn’t have kids that wanted to follow kids that were trying to lead.”

Candrea on why your best players have to also be your leaders: “I don’t feel like you can lead unless you’re good. That’s my thing. Yeah, that’s a problem that we had. Yeah, we had kids that weren’t producing that were trying to lead and everyone would go, ‘Eh.’”

Candrea on why it took a little while to get his current stellar group of seniors to the level of success they’re capable of: “Dejah Mulipola, and (Malia) Martinez, (Jessie) Harper, (Reyna) Carranco, (Alyssa) Palomino. I mean, those kids are special. And I knew when I recruited them that they were good, because they played on a good team. They played and competed for national championships, and it was just a matter of time whether this group is going to make their impact. And it took a while because, believe it or not, I thought there was some times when we had some interference and I probably should have followed my gut and pulled the plug and I didn’t. I tried to fix someone.”

Candrea on letting recruits and their parents know what to expect: “I’m very upfront and honest in the recruiting process. I mean, when I got mom and dad in a room, man, I fill it up. And I just say this is how I’m going to be. And I’m going to be the first one there to kick you (in the ass) when you need a kick (in the ass) and I’m going to be the first one there to hug you. But I tell you one thing right now, if you’re looking for a friend, go buy a dog because I’m not going to be your friend. I’m going to be demanding. And if that’s not what you want, then don’t come to Arizona. And ....that took me a while to be able to do that.”

Candrea on coaches being accused of abusive behavior, including Nebraska’s Rhonda Revelle, who was just cleared of those charges after an investigation: “In today’s world, I’m looking at right now a good friend of mine (at) Nebraska that’s in a world of hurt because verbal abuse. Well, I know her better than that. She’s a quality human being and a quality coach and that’s the difference in today’s world.”

Candrea on keeping relationships with his former players: “One of the things I’ve tried to do, Adia, every morning I open up my planner. I’ve got every kid’s birthday that I’ve ever coached, and I try not to miss a birthday.”

Candrea on what he chose not to do with his career: “I didn’t follow the money all the time. That was the biggest thing, because if I were to follow the money, I’d be coaching the Chinese National Team or I’d be at LSU or I’d be at Alabama.”

Candrea on Dick Tomey and his road trip with Arizona Football: “Dick Tomey, miss him dearly. But he was a guy that would just spend all the time in the world. And a lot of times, it wasn’t about X’s and O’s. It was just about dealing with people. Dick was just so good at bringing his groups together. And I’ll never forget, I was at Washington. I traveled with the team. Dick and I had become pretty good friends and so I wanted to go there and watch his pregame. The night before and Homer Smith was coaching the offense—and Homer was a brilliant mind—and Duane Akina. And so in one room you’ve got Homer Smith. He’s like General Patton and he’s got chairs all over the place and very strategic. And then the next room you got Duane Akina throwing things against the wall. And then you got Dick. So we all get together after they’re done with their breakouts. And Dick comes in and he’s talking about who’s going to carry the flag tomorrow. Well, I’m in the back. The place was packed. I’m in the back and I’m sitting on a table like this and I’m listening to him. And he all of a sudden he goes, ‘How many of us think that we can beat Washington tomorrow?’ And they all raise their hand and I’m in the back. I got my arms crossed. He goes, ‘Candrea! You don’t think we can win?’ And I go, ‘Sir! Yes, sir!’”