Roll, Tide, Roll. Cry, Cats, Cry.
The Alabama Crimson Tide rolled into Tucson and persuaded University of Arizona Director of Athletics Greg Byrne to leave the desert and return to the South, where he had been an AD at Mississippi State prior to taking the Arizona job almost seven years ago.
Actually, Byrne reportedly made the trip to Tuscaloosa on Saturday to seal the deal in a meeting with Alabama officials and football coach, Nick Saban.
But the result is the same: Arizona will now begin a search for a new athletic director. According to Greg Hansen at the Arizona Daily Star, senior associate AD Erika Barnes is expected to step into the role while the school tries to find a replacement for her boss.
The motivation for the move isn’t clear yet, since Byrne hasn’t addressed the press.
Hansen reports that Arizona made an effort to retain the 45-year-old rising star in the college game and that Byrne will be making about the same money, $700,000 base salary, at Alabama. And one of the reasons Byrne took the job in Tucson was to be closer to family and life-long friends; he’s an Arizona State graduate and grew up in the Pac-10 Conference since his father was the AD at Oregon and Byrne himself worked in the Oregon State athletic department.
However, the lure of working for the premier football program in the country probably won out. Part of that lure undoubtedly has to do with the fact that he will have more money to work with in promoting the Tide football program. Alabama reportedly has football revenues of $103 million, about five times what Byrne was working with in Tucson.
And it’s almost a certainty that Byrne won’t be faced with the risky task of having to replace a high-profile head football coach – at least not until Saban retires some day.
Byrne will also be expected to improve ‘Bama’s performance in sports programs across the board. Last season, the school finished 36th in the Leerfield Directors’ Cup competition, which awards points earned by winning NCAA championships in the various sports offered. Last season, the Arizona program, under Byrne, came in at No. 25.
And, while sports performance is one key to keeping his job, fund-raising is always at the top of the list of priorities for ADs.
At Mississippi State he oversaw upgrades to the athletic programs during his 2+ years as AD, including breaking ground on a $12 million practice facility for men’s and women’s basketball. At Arizona, he helped secure funding for numerous major facilities upgrades that included renovations to Arizona Stadium and McKale Center and a lease deal that enabled the baseball team to move to Hi Corbett Field, a City-owned stadium that is used for MLB spring training games.
And now he will be putting that fund-raising ability to work for the Alabama programs.
His predecessor, Bill Battle, is expected to step away from the job when his contract expires in March. That will give Byrne a chance to acclimate to his new home and campus.
Maybe, by the time he officially moves into Battle’s office, Arizona will have found someone to occupy his old office.
(Photo: Arizona Athletics)