Even as a Sun Devil, new Arizona AD appreciated Lute Olsonby Anthony Gimino on Mar. 24, 2010, under Sports
New Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne shares something with almost all Wildcats fans. Even though he attended Arizona State, he appreciates Lute Olson and the basketball program.
One of the first things Byrne did Wednesday at his introductory press conference at McKale Center was acknowledge the presence of Olson, standing in the back of the room.
“I looked up to him for a lot of years as a young fan,” said the 38-year-old Byrnes. “I was a basketball player that he certainly didn’t know who I was because of my ability. It’s great to be around him today.”
Byrne said he remembers attending the Pac-10 tournament, when it was held in McKale during the 1987-88 season. His father, Bill Byrne, was the athletic director at Oregon at the time.
“Steve Kerr would throw in a 3-pointer and the whole crowd would yell out, ‘Steeeeve Kerrrrr,’” Byrne said. “I remember getting to meet Sean Elliott when I was a high school basketball player and how thrilled I was at that opportunity.”
Olson, who retired because of health reasons just before the 2008-09 season, said it’s not unusual to hear how the basketball program has impacted people, even those from rival schools.
“I hear that from Washington, Washington State, pretty much up and down (the Pac-10) and nationally, people who have followed the program,” Olson said.
“I think the basketball program through the years has been a good selling point for the university. I still run into students who come and say, ‘The reason I came here was because of you and the basketball program.’
“You don’t realize those things are out there. That’s the far-reaching success of good athletic programs. Just like with the swimming program and the softball program. We, without a doubt, have the best ‘Olympic sports’ coaching staff in the country. There is no one who even comes close, in my opinion.”
And now Byrne, whose dad knew Olson from Pac-10 meetings, is in charge of it all.
Olson approves, which still means something.
The Hall of Fame coach cited Byrne’s experience within the Oregon and Oregon State athletic departments.
“I think that it is important that we get somebody who is familiar with this conference,” Olson said. “And with his experience as a fund-raiser, I think that is critical. I think there is a lot of work to be done in that area.”