Quietly, about two weeks ago, an intermediary reached out to Arizona Wildcats athletic director Greg Byrne to see if he was interested in the Tennessee Volunteers job.
He said no.
Byrne just finished his first full fiscal year in Tucson. His first school year produced a bowl game and an Elite Eight appearance, but also fundraising pushes and construction plans.
Five days ago, the Star sat down with Byrne, 39, to discuss his impressions of his first year, and his thoughts for the future.
In the wide-ranging interview, Byrne addressed the future of the UA football program, his reflections on men's basketball coach Sean Miller's Maryland discussions and his suspicion that Bowl Championship Series teams could splinter into a new division.
Here's Part I of the conversation:
Is there something that was the biggest surprise in your first school year - or fiscal year - here?
A: I was really pleased with the passion of our fan base and really felt like they continued and accelerated their support of our university.
And then I was surprised at some of the condition of our facilities.
A: I knew that we were gonna have to do some work to Arizona Stadium. When I got here, that certainly was true.
I think we made some really good improvements to our basketball infrastructure … . At the same time, too, we also have to say, "What are our next steps?"
If we want to be one of the premier basketball programs in the country … we have to continue to make sure we reinvest in our success moving forward.
Is that clearing out McKale Center to give basketball more space? Or is that creating a new facility?
A: We haven't decided on that for sure yet. Obviously we'll have a new (UA) president; whoever that is has to feel comfortable with what we do. And (interim UA president) Dr. (Eugene) Sander, too.
That could be where we do a complete renovation of McKale - or at some point we build a new arena.
How would you describe the public reaction to the possibility of putting one downtown?
A: Well, I know downtown has been a topic with a wide variety of opinions.
And I know that that concept has worked at other institutions - the University of Kentucky, the University of Louisville.
I, by no means, am convinced that's the right thing for us. But I think part of your responsibility as the athletics director is to say, "What are our options?"
We have some people that were excited at the prospect when it came out. We had other people say, "Absolutely not, you can't do that."
Which is probably what I expected.
Is it redundant to say it's downtown, or could it be theoretically anywhere?
A: Any time you build a new facility, you have to keep all your options open.
Was your perception of what the Arizona job was before you came here pretty accurate?
A: I've known (former UA athletic director) Jim (Livengood) a long time and really like Jim, and Jim did a lot of great things for the U of A.
I've known (former UA athletic director) Ced (Dempsey) even longer. … I said it the day I got hired, that Arizona was always up on this pedestal, and we'd slipped some.
We have so many advantages here - we have incredible weather, we have a great university, we have a passionate fan base.
We're in a community where, other than the Tucson Padres, for a lot of the year we're the only game in town. That's not the case across this league. So let's take advantage of that.
Is there something you'd categorize as a disappointment after a year?
A: I think (outgoing president) Dr. (Robert) Shelton's done a great job as our university president in very challenging times.
I understand why he was ready to go do something else (Shelton is leaving to become executive director of the Fiesta Bowl); at the same time, too, I really liked working for him and wish I would have had a longer opportunity to do so.
What'd you learn from the Sean Miller-to-Maryland episode? What was the experience like?
A: I don't know how much I learned that I didn't already know. Things got reinforced. Coach Miller and I sat down the Monday after the Connecticut game (in the Elite Eight) and talked about a lot of things - "Here's where our priorities for investing are." Facilities. Travel. Salaries. You name it. Academics. Clients.
A: Absolutely. And to Coach Miller's credit, I thought he was extremely transparent with me what his wishes and desires were moving forward. Then everything happened, and again throughout the entire process he was entirely transparent with me. I knew where he was all the time. We talked a lot. And it certainly reinforced the passion our fan base has for Arizona basketball.
What were you doing during those 48 hours?
A: I was in the office most of the time. I believe so strongly in Coach Miller as a coach, how he handles his program. I've told him this - he's 42, I'll be 40 in a couple months. I hope I don't have to work with another men's basketball coach the rest of my career. … I think he's phenomenal. I wanted to continue to work with him.
When he talked about how ... in 40 of his 42 years he's lived in the East. It was, understandably so, our fans are biased toward Arizona. As they should be. And I am too. And the reality is Maryland's also a good job.
The Pac-12 average will be $21.5 million (per school, eventually) from the new media deal (not counting the Pac-12 Network). You operate around $55 million per year.
A: This year alone, our costs have gone up $2.5 million - our travel increasing, our room and board increasing, by our insurance increase. We're not going to offer one new service to a student-athlete or benefit to a coach or staff - we are doing some of that - but we're adding one new position in compliance.
A: Have you read the news (about Oregon, Ohio State, etc)?
It is conceivable the media deal saved a sport on campus? Multiple sports?
A: That's a possibility, yes. Could have been. We knew we were not gonna be able to get institutional help outside our tuition waivers.
At some point, if your expenses exceed your revenue, I knew I wouldn't be able to go to Dr. Shelton and say, "We fell $4 million short: could you help us out?"
You were in the black at the end of the fiscal year?
A: Yes. We think we're worth investing in. If you look at the return on the amount of exposure it gives the university … . Does our budget need to be subsidized 50 percent? No. But I think the tuition waivers we get are a good investment by our university, our system, for us to be as strong as we possibly can.
What else, facilities-wise, is on your list?
A: The next steps for Hillenbrand (Stadium). Our tennis courts are at the bottom of the league. A lot of schools invest in golf practice areas. The track needs a lot of work.
Where's baseball going to play next year?
A: Good question. What do you think?
Is it possible you can play in Hi Corbett?
What's the benefit of that?
A: It's a place where there's a lot of baseball history. It's a very good facility that doesn't have an anchor tenant right now. It has a clubhouse for the team. It has some shade. It has good parking, restrooms and concessions, and I don't think it would be that hard to brand it as an Arizona facility. And could we consider selling beer for half a game?
There are presidents - Peter Likins did not like the idea of beer sales at collegiate sporting events. Is that, in your opinion, mitigated by the fact it's off campus? Is it made worse by the fact someone's going to have to drive, if they live near campus?
A: If we were to do that, we would not sell for nine innings. And we'd be very stringent with our management of that.
Then would you have a stadium on campus that's strictly a practice facility?
A: I've got some other ideas. Not ready to show my cards yet.
It's adjacent to your football facility. Does your football facility need to grow further?
A: I think we need some more grass space. That wouldn't take all of it.
This is the first in a three-day series featuring University of Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne reflecting on his first year here and his expectations of what's to come.