Mike Candrea considered leaving his cleats in the third-base coaching box.
Five of his Team USA softball players had done something similar, placing their game shoes at home plate, signifying retirement.
Candrea had been thinking about it for a long time. He didn’t make the symbolic gesture, but he decided: He has coached his last game for USA Softball.
“I think it’s time for someone else to have an opportunity,” Candrea said Monday morning from his office in McKale Center, back on the job as the University of Arizona’s softball coach.
“It’s time to settle down a little bit and have a life, but it’s been great. It’s been a true honor and a blessing, and I enjoyed every moment of it. I don’t regret any of it.”
Speaking of regrets, if that last game – a 3-1 loss to Japan last week in the gold medal game – is going to haunt him, he isn’t showing it.
“Obviously, I’m disappointed, but not disappointed in the preparation or the approach that we took,” Candrea said.
“If you sit around wondering, ‘What if, what if, what if,’ then it kind of hurts you. But I haven’t really got to that point. I felt we did everything we could. We just got beat on the wrong day.”
And that’s that.
Time to take a deep breath and move on.
The past eight years have been a blur for Candrea, who has captained two red-white-and-blue ships, each with championship-or-bust expectations.
Through all that pressure, it would be hard to find someone who has done better on the field.
In the past eight years:
Candrea won three NCAA titles at UA (2001, 2006, 2007), and he guided the United States to an Olympic gold medal in 2004 and the silver this summer. He also won two world championships.
The once-in-a-lifetime experiences have been off the charts.
The international travel. Chatting with the president of the United States at practice. Getting a chance to take a Blackhawk helicopter tour of Mount Rushmore.
The U.S. team visited 40 states during this summer’s pre-Olympic tour.
“You miss being in one place for an extended time, being home just three days a month. That’s a tough life,” he said.
“I’m looking forward to being in Tucson and being home, and slowing down some stuff. Life is so damn short. I sit back and wonder, ‘Where did the last eight years go?’ ”
What’s next? His affiliation with USA Softball isn’t ending completely.
He has a 10-day trip next month to do clinics in London and in Pisa, Italy – European areas where the sport needs to grow to regain favor with the International Olympic Committee.
The IOC will vote next year on whether or not to put softball back on the program for the 2016 Summer Games. Softball is out for 2012.
“I will still be working with USA in some capacity,” Candrea said. “I just don’t know what that will be.”
He can focus almost all his attention on Arizona, although he doesn’t put a timetable on how much longer he wants to coach.
Candrea, who turns 53 on Friday, once said he couldn’t envision coaching past 50.
“I don’t have anything where I say, ‘I need to do this,’ ” Candrea said. “I love my life. And I enjoy what I’m doing right now.
“The good part is that you get to a point in your career when you don’t have to do it. I mean, that’s kind of a nice feeling. On the other hand, there’s still a passion to help young kids, and as long as I can continue to enjoy that, I will keep doing it.”
Candrea says if he stays a long time in college athletics, he would be interested in administration.
Athletic director Mike Candrea? Hmmm . . . other coaches have made that jump.
“I like managing people,” Candrea said.
“I think some new opportunities will arrive, and I will take them as they come,” he added. “Right now, I’m just happy to be in the United States.”
The rest of us are happy he still has his UA cleats.
For more on the interview with Mike Candrea, go to www.tucsoncitizen.com/blog