After 6½ years as Arizona’s director of athletics, Greg Byrne will be named to a similar position at the University of Alabama, possibly as soon as Monday.
Jeff Stevens, a prominent UA donor and the co-namesake of the Lowell-Stevens Football Facility, confirmed Byrne’s departure to the Star late Sunday.
Byrne is expected to be replaced on an interim basis by Erika Barnes, the UA’s senior associate athletic director and a former Arizona softball player.
Byrne, 45, will replace Alabama athletic director Bill Battle, 74, who has undergone treatment for multiple myeloma cancer for two years. The school announced Battle’s retirement late Sunday, after word broke that Byrne was headed to Tuscaloosa.
Arizona made an effort to retain Byrne, Stevens said, but the athletic director chose to return to the Southeastern Conference. Byrne served as Mississippi State’s athletic director from 2008-10.
“Greg was offered similar money at Arizona,” Stevens said. “But at the end of the day he chose to go to Alabama.”
Byrne makes about $700,000 per year at Arizona. He recently received a $500,000 bonus for staying at the UA through 2016.
Byrne, the son of a former athletic director at Nebraska, Oregon and Texas A&M, was hired by Arizona in March 2010, replacing Jim Livengood. Byrne told the Star that an athletic director is fortunate if he can endure 10 years on the job “because of inherent political issues that arise.”
Byrne did not respond to a request for an interview Sunday night.
At Arizona, Byrne began with an athletic department budget of about $45 million. In the 2015-16 fiscal year, the U.S. Department of Education reported that Arizona’s athletic budget reached $85 million.
Alabama’s numbers dwarf that of the UA. Alabama reported football revenues of $103 million in the 2015 season, according to USA Today; Arizona had football revenues of $23 million in the same period.
During his time in Tucson, Byrne fired football coach Mike Stoops and hired Rich Rodriguez. He also hired baseball coach Jay Johnson from Nevada, moved the school’s baseball operation to Hi Corbett Field and oversaw both the opening of the Lowell-Stevens Football Facility and a $30 million renovation of McKale Center.
Byrne’s use of Twitter and email — his “Wildcat Wednesdays” dispatches are sent to UA fans weekly — put him ahead of the times in the older, often-stodgy world of athletic directors. He became, outside of basketball coach Sean Miller, the most recognizable member of the university.
Byrne’s biggest accomplishment may have been the hire he didn’t have to make. The AD successfully negotiated an extension with Miller after the coach interviewed at Maryland in 2011. The commitment, which included a vow to improve Arizona’s facilities and allow Miller’s team to take charter flights, cemented a bond between the two men.
Byrne did not pursue vacant athletic directorships at USC, Texas and Florida over the past year, but may have been eyeing the Alabama job. Sports Business Journal reported that he first met with Alabama officials four months ago.
Byrne flew to Tuscaloosa on Saturday, according to a report from Sports Business Journal late Sunday. There he received the blessing of Alabama football coach Nick Saban.
Because he is leaving voluntarily, Byrne will not collect on more than $2 million of an unnamed donor’s stock retention bonus established to keep him, Rodriguez and Miller in Tucson.
Byrne was scheduled to collect his portion of the retention bonus in 2020.
Byrne left his position as athletic director at Mississippi State after 2½ seasons to move to Tucson. He previously worked in fundraising roles at Kentucky, Oregon State and Oregon. Byrne grew up in Eugene, Oregon, while his father, Bill, was the Ducks’ athletic director.
The UA could turn to a pair of familiar faces to replace Byrne. TCU's Chris Del Conte and South Florida’s Mark Harlan both rose through the ranks under Livengood at the UA.
Harlan, who holds two degrees from the UA, is in his third season as South Florida’s athletic director after serving as an assistant AD at UCLA. Del Conte, a former senior associate AD at Arizona, is in his eighth year at TCU.
Stevens said Sunday that he expects Arizona to be a destination job.
“People are going to say ‘Oh, my God, the ship is sinking,”’ said Stevens, who made his fortune in the oil business. “But the bottom line is that this is a great job and we’ll find someone who wants to be here and makes a difference.”