Arizona softball coach Mike Candrea retires after 36-year run with Wildcats

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OKLAHOMA CITY — Former Arizona third baseman Toni Mascarenas played on four teams that advanced to the Women's College World Series, including the 2001 national championship team.

Her fondest memory from those Oklahoma City trips was head coach Mike Candrea taking the team to McDonalds between games.

“He just kind of kept it light. He was just like, ‘Hey, we won. Let's go get some Big Macs,’ ” Mascarenas said. “So if we went one time to get Big Macs, if we won the next game, guess where we went? We were going right back to get Big Macs.”

Candrea, whose Wildcats were eliminated from the Women's College World Series on Saturday, announced his retirement Monday afternoon after 36 years with Arizona.

He is considered by many as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, college softball coach of all time. He’s No. 1 on the all-time wins list (1,674) in the NCAA and has eight national championships and 24 WCWS appearances.

After the 4-3 loss to Florida State on Saturday, Candrea was asked if he’ll be back, but he made no announcement about whether he would retire.

“Right now, I just feel bad for these kids, and we've just busted our butts to try to keep playing,” he said.

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Candrea's legendary status will remain solidified in WCWS history. So will his close relationships with his players.

Former Arizona player and color commentator Jenny Dalton-Hill's favorite WCWS memory is when Candrea kept his promise to the players that they could shave his head if they won the title.

Dalton-Hill also recalls the trip to Oklahoma City in 1994 when Candrea took the team to play miniature golf. The year before, Candrea was "all-business" during the trip, she said.

“We've seen coach evolve from a man who was reliant upon wins and losses and national championships, to a man who really valued the players in his program,” Dalton-Hill said.

“And one of the things that he says that I know rings true, because I've lived it, is that you are coached by him for four years, but he stays in your life forever."

Arizona coach Mike Candrea stands in the pitcher's circle ahead of Saturday's 4-3 loss to Florida State.
Arizona coach Mike Candrea stands in the pitcher's circle ahead of Saturday's 4-3 loss to Florida State.

After Saturday's loss, Candrea put things in perspective.

“No one died today. But it feels life-threatening when you're going through it,” Candrea said. “Every athlete that I've ever been a part of at Arizona, it's a lifelong relationship, and as a coach, that's what you hope.

"I hope that I treat them well. I hope I treat them like my daughter. And I hope that I can continue to be a part of their life, because it is all about when you spend this much time together, it's awfully hard not to be that way.”

'Face of softball'

At Wednesday's press conference before the WCWS began, Alabama head coach Patrick Murphy called Candrea the “gold standard.” Oklahoma head coach Patty Gasso said Candrea’s “been the face of softball for a long, long time.”

When it was Candrea’s turn, he spoke about his life outside of winning, about how he wants to look back not just on the success of his teams, but on the relationships he’s kept strong and lives he’s improved.

"We all love to win championships. But at the end of the day, I want to make sure that I'm growing these young ladies so that they know how to be successful later on in life, because softball will come to an end," he said.

"And so I cherish my relationships with them. Not just for the four years that I coach them, but for a lifetime.”

Said Dalton-Hill: “You don't always get to end your season on a win or a high note; I was lucky enough to do it three times and my senior year. But when your last game is a loss, you want somebody there that's going to make sure that you're okay. And coach Candrea has always been there for that.

"He's there for your wedding. He's there when you have kids. He's there if you just want to chat. I would agree with Patrick Murphy, he’s the gold standard in every way. And whenever I coach, I want to coach like him.”

Follow Caleb McCourry on Twitter @CalebMac21

This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Arizona softball coach Mike Candrea retires after women's CWS