If you think Mike Candrea is consumed with the thought of Arizona not returning to the Women’s College World Series since 2010, think of what he went through in 2004 to keep it all in perspective.
That’s when his wife Sue Candrea died from complications from a brain aneurysm. She was with Mike Candrea and the U.S. Olympic team at an airport in Stevens Point, Wis., when she became ill. She never recovered after undergoing surgery at a local hospital.
You might believe Candrea, 63, has sleepless nights with the Super Regional with Ole Miss starting Friday at Hillenbrand Stadium because he is anxious to finally return to Oklahoma City. You should think about the time Candrea had some restless moments trying to comfort his team after the sudden passing of Julie Reitan, the Wildcats’ spiritual leader, in 1997 from hypoglycemia.
When asked at Thursday’s press conference if he is nervous facing Ole Miss this weekend because of the eight-year drought from the WCWS, Candrea said, “No … to be honest with you, I’m not that type of person.”
“I’ve never lived in the past, and I don’t live in the future … I live today,” he added. “To be honest with you, I’ve been through a lot in my life that’s kind of kept this game in perspective.
“That’s the only way I’m going to live my life. It’s not life threatening. I’m going to do my job and I’m going to do it to the best of my ability, and we’re going to go out there and play a game. We’re there to win. We’re always there to win.”
Mike Candrea on Arizona players wanting to get him to the Women’s College World Series: “Not having been there for a while, it would be nice to get back, but I don’t want to get too caught up in that.” pic.twitter.com/OafQRTgnjP
Some may think that is coachspeak from Candrea — saying things he might think the media and fans want to hear. How can an eight-time champion not be consumed by being unable to go to Oklahoma City for so long to win another title?
It is not hard to fathom Candrea honestly meaning what he says. That’s his persona. That’s his character. That’s his background.
“The biggest thing is reality is reality,” Arizona senior pitching ace Taylor McQuillin said when asked if what we see in Candrea in public is what she and her teammates get from him in private.
“That’s what you’re going to get. Coach is going to come out. He’s going to be honest. He’s going to treat everybody a little bit differently because their personalities are different, but that’s one of the things I love about him. Sometimes he can get a little rough on me but I like that in a coach.”
Candrea and his players had to know the questions would come this week about the prolonged absence from WCWS with the Super Regionals signaling only two wins away from finally reaching Oklahoma City again. McQuillin was 13 and just finished the seventh grade when the Wildcats made their last trip there.
Arizona as a whole is akin to shortcomings. The football team has never played in the Rose Bowl as the Pac-10 or Pac-12 champion. The basketball team is in an 18-year drought from going back to the Final Four. This after reaching the Final Four four times in a 13-year span with a title in 1997 and an appearance in the championship game in 2001.
A lot is made of Sean Miller reaching three Elite Eights with Arizona but not being able to get over the hump to the Final Four.
What is refreshing about Candrea’s approach in the line of questioning this week is he has not bit back. He has answered the questions. He has remained firm in his resolve and has showed candor realizing the reporter must ask those questions.
Arizona coach Mike Candrea understandably doesn't think anything of coaching against an SEC team (conference had 13 teams in postseason) facing Ole Miss in the Super Regional and he doesn't want to give too much away on his thoughts of the Rebels. pic.twitter.com/Wvhi3vnGEj
There is not a “next question” or “no comment” in him.
McQuillin commented that Candrea’s upfront and genuine style is what sold her on Arizona coming out of Mission Viejo (Calif.) High School in 2015.
“He straight up said, ‘I’m not a car salesman. I’m not going to sell you to come to this school. You’re going to have to want to come here and you’re going to have to want to win for Arizona,'” McQuillin said.
A coach can’t be more frank than that.
A coach can’t be more candid than Candrea.
Fun Fact for this weeks NCAA Softball Super Regionals:
There are 2 coaches that have coached at their current university for 25 years or more:
Patty Gasso (25) OU
Mike Candrea (34) U of A
The loss in the 2008 Olympic gold medal game to Japan was considered a major setback for Candrea especially with the sport not returning to the Olympics (softball has since been reinstated and will return to the 2020 Games).
After coaching through the difficulties following the loss of Reitan and his first wife Sue, Candrea (who remarried in 2006 to the former Tina Tilton) responded to the on-the-field setback against Japan by saying, “Softball is a game of failure. Anyone who is successful has been through failure.”
Candrea said something similar Thursday after the topic of the WCWS drought was brought up. The Wildcats are 0 for 7 in the Super Regional round since 2010.
That is in the past.
Friday at Hillenbrand is another day.
“I have disappointments, but if you coach for 40 years you’re going to have many of those,” he said. “Sometimes you learn about yourself in the tough moments.”
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.