ARIZONA ATHLETICS

New Arizona boss not afraid to show where loyalties are

A real burning desire
2010-03-25T00:00:00Z 2014-07-08T15:53:22Z New Arizona boss not afraid to show where loyalties arePatrick Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
March 25, 2010 12:00 am  • 

Exactly one week before Greg Byrne was introduced as the Arizona Wildcats' new athletic director Wednesday, he and wife Regina took a last-minute flight to Tucson.

At the UA, only president Robert Shelton knew the two were in town March 17. Even then, the couple spoke to him for only a few minutes.

Byrne, the Mississippi State athletic director, rented a car and booked a room at the Hilton Garden Inn near the airport. Not exactly the Ritz-Carlton.

"It was clean," Regina Byrne said, "and he likes the Hilton points.

"That's how impromptu the trip was. We needed to be here - to touch, smell."

They drove around the Foothills, had dinner at Blanco and sneaked over to campus, briefly, after dark. By the time the Byrnes flew home to Starkville, Miss., the next day, they were convinced they could raise their two sons in Tucson.

Nicknamed "The Ninja" for a stealthy football coaching search in 2008, Byrne couldn't have made his unofficial visit any other way.

That energy, his fundraising skills and a strong academic history led the Wildcats to tap Byrne, 38, for an exclusive club.

The son of Texas A&M athletic director Bill Byrne, Greg is the ninth full-time athletic director in school history, and the sixth since "Pop" McKale began in 1914.

"This was a university that I had up on a pedestal as one of the top programs," he said Wednesday. "Not only in the Pac-10, but nationally."

Byrne will begin May 1. He replaces Jim Livengood, whose almost 16-year run ended in December. Livengood took the vacant UNLV job after he was told his contract would not be renewed this summer.

Senior associate athletic director Kathleen "Rocky" LaRose served as the interim boss. LaRose said Wednesday she "certainly had interest" in the full-time position, and spoke to Shelton about it.

Byrne's parents, mother-in-law and his Phoenix-area family members attended the Wednesday news conference at McKale Center. Byrne spelled out the four tenets of his administration: to graduate students, follow NCAA rules, to act "first-class" in representing the UA and to "make sure we have fiscal integrity" in the department.

"If we do those four things right," he said, "then we have an opportunity for a fifth thing, and that's to compete for championships."

The Arizona Board of Regents must approve Byrne's $390,000 salary - plus incentives.

One of Byrne's priorities will be to raise at least $40 million - nearly half the $85.7 tab - of the Arizona Stadium renovation project by spring 2011.

Byrne, who has held athletic fundraising jobs at Oregon, Oregon State, Kentucky and MSU, said he likes the challenge. At Oregon State, he helped raise a $12.5 million gift for the naming rights to once-ratty Reser Stadium.

"People don't give to people; people give to the school," he said. "But people give to the school when there's people there they feel comfortable with and that they trust."

The new Wildcats boss pledged his loyalty, despite some fans' displeasure with the fact he graduated from Arizona State in 1994.

An Oregon student, he transferred to ASU to follow Regina, whom he met while the two worked at Sam's Club. She had moved to Phoenix.

Byrne didn't walk at graduation - he got married instead. Regina Byrne said there's "no connection" between her husband and ASU.

Byrne stressed that early in his remarks, giving a "Bear Down" cheer.

"You will never have to doubt where my loyalties are," he said.

UA WILDCATs ADs

• Orin Kates: 1904-1912

• Raymond Leamore Quigley: 1912-1913

• J.F. "Pop" McKale: 1914-1957

• Joseph Picard: 1957-1958

• M.R. "Dick" Clausen: 1958-1972

• David H. Strack: 1972-1982

• Billy Joe Varney: July-September 1982 (interim)

• Cedric W. Dempsey: 1982-1993

• Jim Livengood: 1994-2009

• Rocky LaRose: January-April 2010 (interim)

• Greg Byrne: May 2010

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

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