New AD is learning ropes fast

2010-03-28T00:00:00Z 2014-07-08T15:53:09Z New AD is learning ropes fastPatrick Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
March 28, 2010 12:00 am  • 

Hours after Greg Byrne was hired as Mississippi State's athletic director, he went to dinner, ordered a glass of wine and was asked for his driver's license.

Two years later, at 38, Byrne took another job. The Star caught up with the Wildcats' new athletic director at the end of a whirlwind week:

Q: You mentioned Wednesday that you didn't pursue Arizona; it pursued you. How close did you come to not taking the job? Tell me about your thought process in looking at the job.

A: It was a very challenging decision, because of the great admiration I have for the University of Arizona and its athletic program, and balancing that with what we were working on at Mississippi State and what was ahead, and the people that were good to me and my family.

Q: When you took over at MSU, you had some controversy with the baseball situation. (Byrne hired Kentucky's John Cohen, drawing the ire of outgoing coach Ron Polk). How did it shape the way you served as athletic director?

A: I don't think anybody saw that, coming in the manner that that took place. My public comments have been few on it, and I'm gonna probably keep it that way. I knew going into the job that we were going to make decisions we thought were best for the university, the student-athletes and our fans. Sometimes those conflict in what you do, but if you keep those three things in mind as you're making those decisions, you're going to be on solid ground. We felt we were getting the right coach in John Cohen.

Q: Did your age and the fact you weren't an SEC guy - you worked at Kentucky, though - contribute to the controversy?

A: I didn't sense that from our fans.

Q: How do you balance the MSU and UA jobs in the next month?

A: I need to make sure I'm paying attention to the responsibilities at Mississippi State. At night, I'll be making phone calls and talking to staff and getting to know some of the supporters. I'll be touching base with (UA president) Dr. (Robert) Shelton as time allows, too.

Q: On first blush, what do you think is the UA's greatest asset? Its largest detriment?

A: Its greatest strength is the fact that it has a very rich tradition. It has won national championships in multiple sports. It has an incredible fan base that's very supportive of the university. It's in a community that's easy to recruit student-athletes to, and also you can recruit within the state of Arizona, California and Texas, as well as other parts of the Southwest. Those are all very positive strengths. It's a very nice place to live.

Q: And detriments?

A: Obviously you don't have L.A. in your backyard like other schools do, but the positives outweigh any challenges.

Q: Did you look at the master construction plan (for UA athletic facilities)? Do you like the concept of one, even though it was designed by someone else?

A: I had a brief opportunity to. From what I've seen, I'm very impressed. Any master plan is gonna be a breathing, living document. It doesn't matter who's in the athletic director's chair or the other people involved. It will continue to be refined, updated and improved as time goes on.

Q: Why should folks be passionate about the Arizona Stadium project?

A: Because there's a great community support for the University of Arizona and the football program. In order to have long-term continued success, you need to continue to make improvements, both on the field and in the support around it. If you aren't looking at what those next steps are, you're going to get passed by everyone you're competing against. ... It's an integral part of the ability to have long-term success.

Q: Are stadium naming rights on the table? Naming rights for the (end-zone) structure itself?

A: It's way too early to have those type of conversations.

Q: As a fundraiser, is being able to offer naming rights important?

A: Naming rights are a key component for the ability to raise capital.

Q: I know you and (senior associate athletic directors Kathleen "Rocky" LaRose and John Perrin) looked at the UA's financial books on Wednesday afternoon. What did you find?

A: I saw a budget and program that's on very solid ground and, at the same time, too, like any organization, we're going to have to continue to grow to meet the demands that are in the future.

Q: Southern Arizona's corporate presence is not as large as most schools (UA's) size. What does that mean for a fundraiser?

A: College athletics is different than the professional ranks, where you see a lot of more corporate-owned boxes. That's just a reality across the board in college athletics. That's not necessarily a University of Arizona issue or a Mississippi State issue or Idaho issue. … (College money comes) from the ticket-buying side and donation side, from the families and small businesses.

Q: At MSU, you had (NCAA Academic Progress Rate) language written into coaches' contracts, right? Why? Do you plan on doing that here? Can you start immediately?

A: It's too early to tell on that. Why we did that is we wanted to make sure coaches understood the ramifications of APR. It wasn't something that was going away, and it needs to be paid attention to.

One way to get someone to pay attention is to have financial gains or losses based on different performance levels. If you don't pay attention to it, your kids won't graduate. Long term, if it gets challenging enough, you can be banned from postseason and have even further sanctions.

Q: Did every coach have that language?

A: Everybody that had multiyear contracts. There were certain marks in contracts that were bonuses based on certain levels of APR. There was protection for the university if your APR got to low enough levels that you were banned from the postseason.

Q: What kind of protection?

A: They could eventually be terminated for cause.

Q: You called Mike Stoops and Sean Miller on Monday. Why? What did you tell them? Why did you want to reach out so quickly?

A: It was an introductory call ... to tell them how excited I was to work with them. It was a very informal and relaxed conversation.

Q: You took the MSU logos off your Twitter page.

A: I've gone neutral on that.

Q: Why do you like using Twitter? How can you police what your employees and students do on it?

A: The positives are that you can get information out quickly and you can keep your message in people's minds on a regular basis. There's a lot of competition out there for the entertainment dollar. It's critical for you to have as many people engaged as you possibly can with your program. ... It's efficient and doesn't take a lot of time or money.

The challenges are, obviously, you have free rein to say whatever's on your mind. If you're not responsible with that, it can be embarrassing to an individual or to the school.

Q: Are you surprised by some fans' reaction to your Arizona State degree? Didn't you transfer to ASU from Oregon?

A: I think it was something that a few folks had concerns with, but by the e-mails and letters I've already received from a lot of Arizona fans, I believe it will be short-lived. I followed (wife) Regina and an opportunity she had to move to Arizona. I didn't really have a choice. I either had to break up with my then-girlfriend, who's now my wife, or I didn't go to school or I went to private school, and I couldn't afford to do that.

Q: And you were married on graduation day.

A: We got married on graduation weekend. I was working full time at the Ritz-Carlton. I was not that engaged at the school.

Q: A few getting-to-know-you questions. Favorite bands or musicians?

A: A wide variety. Anything from Brad Paisley; we saw him in concert. I like opera, (Luciano) Pavarotti. Led Zeppelin, some of the Grateful Dead. Big fan of Mercy Me. Willie (Nelson), Waylon (Jennings) and Johnny Cash.

Q: What are you reading?

A: I have an Amazon Kindle, and I just got done reading a Joe Pike novel. I like John Grisham. That was easy because he's a Mississippi State alum. He has a real passion for college baseball. I like Michael Connelly, who wrote "The Poet" and murder mysteries. I enjoy murder mysteries.

Q: Are sons Nick and Davis into sports?

A: They're eaten up with it. Our oldest son played football and basketball this year and will go to any sporting event he can with me. Our youngest, he's a very young seventh-grader and so he runs cross country.

Q: Are they cut from same cloth as you were as a kid, asking about being athletic directors?

A: Both of them have talked about it. I certainly won't push them into it. You know, we don't hunt, we don't fish. I do like to play golf. Neither boy has taken much of a liking to that. We go to ball games. We support our teams.

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

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