If Erika Barnes didn’t know before, she knows now.
She has spent the past several weeks as the Arizona Wildcats’ interim athletic director. She has sat in the big chair. She has made final-word executive decisions. She has been in the spotlight of an endless parade of meet-and-greets and public responsibilities.
Yeah, Barnes, thinks now. That could work.
On the day when Arizona introduced new athletic director Dave Heeke to the local media, Barnes spoke with AllSportsTucson.com about her long-term plans after she relinquishes her interim athletic director tag on April 1.
“I think this has strengthened the fact that I do want to be an athletic director some day,” Barnes said. “Yeah. It’s safe to say I got the bug.”
Barnes likely will get her chance.
Maybe someday at Arizona. Maybe it will have to be somewhere else.
That her time wasn’t right now, right here, speaks only to something that can’t be rushed — time.
“She has been a student-athlete; she has been in administration for a number of years; she has been in the development aspect; she has business administration in her background; she has worked at the conference level that past three years. She has everything you need on a resume,” said former Arizona administrator Rocky LaRose, who led this job search along with former UA athletic director Cedric Dempsey.
“She just needs a little more years under her wings. She is a rising star.”
Barnes, an Arizona softball player from 1998 to 2001, returned to the university in 2005, working in marketing, development, major-gift fundraising and other facets of the department. She serves on the Pac-12 Council and other conference-level committees. She is the school’s NCAA-designated Senior Woman Administrator.
“There wasn’t an issue or responsibility that I wasn’t aware of,” Barnes said of being interim athletic director after the mid-January departure of Greg Byrne to Alabama.
“That was really nice, that there were no surprises, no secrets. The media part, the public figure part, that was probably the biggest difference. We made sure our messaging was really centralized through Greg. Carrying that on was probably the biggest difference I would say, and I had a lot of fun.”
That was the initial advice from LaRose, who also served as interim athletic director in the time between Jim Livengood and Byrne.
“I told her to enjoy the ride, because it is an incredible experience,” LaRose said.
“It is the experience of a lifetime, especially for those who played on the field at Arizona. To do this is magical, to be a part of something that is bigger than you. I told her to enjoy the ride and take it all in. Have fun along the way.”
Barnes, like Heeke, was a student-athlete in college. Barnes, like Heeke, is in the midst of a career-climbing run at one school. Heeke spent 18 years at Oregon before becoming athletic director at Central Michigan in December 2005.
“I really like his career path,” Barnes said.
“He’s been very selective. He’s essentially been in two places in his long career. I see my path being similar to his experience at Oregon, getting a lot of experience in different areas of the department along the way, under different leadership regimes, with different coaches and personnel to work with. I think that part is really neat.
“He was at Oregon for 18 years. I am 12 years here. I’m excited about the future.”
LaRose said the Arizona search committee considered Barnes — as well as many dozens of other candidates — before choosing Heeke.
“We let her come to her own conclusions about what she wanted, but certainly we had discussions every step of the way,” LaRose said.
“The one thing she has now that she didn’t have a few months ago is that she has actually wore the hat of an athletic director. That is something you need to take it to the next level. It is going to be fun watching her grow in this business.”
Until Heeke is on the job full time, Barnes still will be very visible, such as speaking to an alumni group in Phoenix on Friday night, when Heeke will be throw out the first pitch before Arizona’s softball game vs. Texas at Hillenbrand Stadium.
“I’ll be phasing back to my previous role, however Dave sees fit,” Barnes said. “I’m just really excited to help him make this transition as seamless as possible.”