UA ATHLETICS

Arizona athletics: AD the only life for the Byrnes

2012-07-08T00:00:00Z 2014-07-08T15:37:03Z Arizona athletics: AD the only life for the ByrnesPatrick Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
July 08, 2012 12:00 am  • 

The familiar voice on the other line didn't offer advice.

He rarely did, explicitly.

As Greg Byrne spoke, the man simply listened.

The Arizona Wildcats athletic director knew he wanted Rich Rodriguez for his football coaching vacancy. But he could wait another week and interview any coach whose regular season had ended.

Do that, though, and he risked another school pouncing on his candidate.

It was a big decision, and Byrne was struggling. More than anyone else on campus, football coaches can get athletic directors praised, promoted or fired. Sometimes all three.

The voice on the other line turned his question back on Byrne: Why did you fire Mike Stoops during the season?

Both men knew the answer: to get ahead of the marketplace.

"Well," the man on the phone said, "that just answered your question."

Bill Byrne, Greg's father and and a longtime athletic director, always knew the right thing to say.

Greg offered Rodriguez the job the next day.

"Born to do this"

Bill, 67, retired six months later and signed for his first library card since college.

He ended a 10-year stint at Texas A&M that began after 10 years at Nebraska and eight as the boss at Oregon.

Friends come and go, Bill joked, but enemies accumulate. In college sports, a decade is a century.

Greg, 40, sat in the crowd at the May announcement and thought back to his dad's introduction at Oregon 28 years ago.

"Basically, my whole life," Byrne said. "It was almost surreal."

Greg wanted to be an athletic director because of his dad.

In third grade at Flying Hills Elementary outside San Diego, he wrote a report that said athletic directors "talk on the phone and go to lunch every day," and that it sounded fun.

"He never wanted to be anything else," his mom, Marilyn, said. "We all feel our yearnings, and those yearnings change as we age, most of the time.

"For him, his yearnings never changed."

As a boy, Greg painted parking space bumpers for Ducks donors in the Oregon summer sun. He lugged sod when the UO remade its old baseball field into a softball complex.

Like his sons Nick, 17, and Davis, 14, do today, Greg chatted up athletic department honchos at parties his parents threw on football weekends.

"You can't beat experience," Bill said. "Whether you live it directly or vicariously, you're bound to pick up things.

"He's been through hiring processes before. He's been through the termination of staff. He's been through the fundraising and planning a campaign. He was very much part of it."

At all of Greg's stops - the Fiesta Bowl, Oregon, Oregon State, Kentucky, the corporate world, Mississippi State and the UA - he never worked for his father.

"He's certainly his own man and has made remarkably good decisions," Bill said. "He grew up in this business. It's all he's ever known."

Regina Byrne, Greg's wife, said both Bill and Greg make it look effortless.

"They were born to do this," she said.

Best of mom and dad

Greg taunts his mom both during and after card games, keeping scorecards as proof of after-dinner victories on family vacations to Alaska.

"Competitive mode," Regina said. "It makes me crazy."

About 15 years ago, Marilyn - a doctor and voracious reader about leadership - gave Bill and Greg a test of their management strengths.

Competitiveness ranked near the top of both lists.

"If you don't want to win," Bill said, "you shouldn't be in this business."

The two go about it differently, said Marilyn, 67, who met Bill when they were students at Idaho State. They have two sons, Greg and Bill Jr., 43, a Visa employee in the Bay Area.

Her husband sees the world from a thinking perspective, she said.

Greg, like his mother, looks at the world first through a feeling prism.

"He has the ability to have difficult, challenging conversations and doesn't beat around the bush about them," Greg said of his dad. "I know he's highly ethical. And he cares about people.

"And my mom's the same way. Those attributes, I've tried to to emulate."

Greg is as much Marilyn as he is Bill.

"To say I don't see Bill in Greg is to completely dismiss who Greg is," Marilyn said. "He took the best from both of us."

Bill admires his son's communication skills and instincts.

"He understands culture," Bill said. "I give full credit to his mother on that. He's listened to her.

"And I listened to her, too, frankly."

"Just natural"

It will be strange for the BCS's first concurrent father-son director tandem not to see each other's names on alphabetical rolls at conventions. Or to joke about being known as the other's dad, or son.

"We never took it for granted," Greg said.

Bill's contract at Texas A&M ran for another year, but he was ready to retire.

Bill joked that Greg was lobbying his parents to move to Tucson. Here, they could watch the next generation of Byrnes consider taking up the family business.

Like Greg before them, Nick and Davis are already engrossed in the lifestyle.

"The last thing you want to do is try to push them one way or another," Bill said. "But I enjoy talking with them about it."

Twenty-eight years after the first Byrne began to run an athletic department, another might not be far away.

"When you grow up around it and have an interest in it, I think it's just natural," Regina said. "Sometimes you're a product of your environment."

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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