Getting to know Greg Byrne: Five highlights from new AD’s press conferenceby Anthony Gimino on Mar. 24, 2010, under Sports
To borrow a phrase from former Arizona athletic director Jim Livengood, the new guy just “won the press conference.”
To borrow another phrase, new athletic director Greg Byrne sure seems to be having a “great Wildcat day.”
But those are phrases from the old era. This is a new era.
Byrne, who has been the athletic director at Mississippi State for the past two years, was introduced as the new athletic director at Arizona on Wednesday, wearing an “A” pin on his lapel, accompanied by family and providing a general roadmap of who he is and where he wants the department to go.
Here are some of the highlights:
Byrne, the fund-raiser
Byrne has a strong background in fund-raising, serving key roles in that area at Kentucky and Oregon State. Explaining his approach in that area, Byrne said:
“I’m very genuine in my approach to people. I’m not going to try to fool you. I am going to be very honest. Regina (his wife) and I have life-long friendships from every place we have been. I guarantee you, you are going to see a lot of good supporters from other schools where we have been who are going to be coming to our games as our guests because they are friends.
“Telling our staff and the donors and such the other day in Starkville (that we were leaving), that was the most challenging thing I have ever done in my life. When people see you being real, and that you genuinely care about them and their interests , I think that goes a long way for you.
“People don’t give to people. They give to the school. But people give to the school when there are people that they feel comfortable with and they trust. One thing the university fan base will know is that when we tell you something, we’re going to do it and we’re going to be honest with you.” …
Byrne said he will soon devote a couple of days to just making calls and getting to know people.
“I love raising money. I really enjoy it and I have enjoyed building those relationships,” he said.
Byrne helped with the donation at Oregon State that changed the football stadium name to Reser Stadium.” Could naming rights for Arizona Stadium be on the table? He said it’s too early to say.
Byrne, the young guy
He is 38 years old, and he was the youngest athletic director in the country when he was hired at Mississippi State two years ago. Asked if that ever became an issue for him in Starkville, he began his reply with an anecdote.
“The night I got named athletic director at Mississippi State, I was 36 years old, and we go out and have a celebration dinner,” he said. “I am not a big drinker whatsoever, but I had a glass of wine to celebrate. I got carded.
“The good thing is I’m 38 now and I’m told I still look very young.”
Turning more serious, he related a story from billionaire Warren Buffett.
“He once had an MBA student ask, ‘Hey, I’m young, I can’t get people to take me serious.’ He said, ‘If you prove yourself to people at a young age — to somebody who is a lot older than you — they are going to go a lot further for you than they would for somebody their own age because of their belief in trying to mentor you and help you grow.’
“I have found that to be 100 percent true.”
Byrne, the legacy athletic director
He is following in the footsteps of his father, Bill Byrne, who has been the athletic director at Oregon, Nebraska and, currently, Texas A&M.
“I had a passion for it from early on,” Byrne said. “We would be sitting around the dinner table, talking about contracts and scheduling and coaching and Nike and all these different things. It was just dinner conversation.
“I remember I started reading the NCAA News in the eighth grade. And if you ever have insomnia, that’s a great cure for it. … To be around this industry where people have such passion, and these kids have such passion, it’s invigorating every day.”
Byrne, committed to academics
Arizona’s numbers in the NCAA’s Academic Progress Report have risen, but this has been a problem area for the athletic department, at one point losing three scholarships in football.
Byrne said an emphasis with the coaches, establishing relationships with the deans of every school on campus and a class attendance policy helped the Mississippi State athletic department post a 2.99 grade-point average last fall.
“We also did a class attendance policy where if a kid missed a certain number of classes, they weren’t playing,” Byrne said. “If you want to get a kid’s attention quicker than anything else, just sit the down. All of a sudden when that started taking place, GPAs started to rise.
“We had a 2.99 GPA in the fall as an athletic department. We tried everything we could to get to a 3.0, but it wasn’t there, so we didn’t report it as a 3.0.”
Byrne, the social media user
Byrne said, yes, he will change the theme of his Twitter page, which still has a Mississippi State background. Byrne, who also had a weekly blog on the Mississippi State athletics site, says he will continue to tweet.
“That is a great way to communicate, to get your message out there for a very efficient price — often free. Between Facebook and Twitter, I think it is a way that the younger generation is absolutely communicating, and we need to make sure we are on the forefront of that.
“I will communicate regularly through my Twitter page to our fan base.”
There have been cases of college athletes posting inappropriate comments on their personal pages, sometimes facing suspensions because of that. Did Byrne give his student-athletes guidelines or rules about social media at Mississippi State?
“I don’t think anybody has their arms around that completely,” he said.
“We had our compliance office following every one of our student-athletes, and if they said something inappropriate, it was addressed immediately. It could be a learning opportunity for them, because they need to understand that everyone is watching them. …
“As soon as sign that scholarship, get on a roster of a team, you’re viewed differently.”
More from the TucsonCitizen.com Sports Network:
Lute on The Streak: I just look forward to the next one
Wildcat Sports Report: Who cares what school Greg Byrne attended?