Arizona’s new athletic director will be Greg Byrne, an Arizona State graduate who has been the athletic director at Mississippi State for the past two years.
Byrne will replace Jim Livengood, who accepted the athletics director position at UNLV in December because his contract was not going to be renewed at the end of this academic year.
“It’s no exaggeration to say that he is one of the rising stars in athletics around the nation,” University of Arizona president Robert Shelton said in a press conference this morning.
The hiring is pending approval of the Arizona Board of Regents, with a tentative start date of May 1. Shelton said one of his advisers through the search process has been former UA athletic director Cedric Dempsey, who also served as the NCAA president for nearly nine years.
Shelton said Byrne’s base salary will be $390,000, with incentives for academic and athletic achievement. Livengood annual salary was $372,000.
Shelton called the pool of potential candidates “a broad, deep field. I was pleased with the number of candidates who came to my attention. … We focused very quickly on Greg as a young up-and-coming person who has the right values, I think, to fit into the University of Arizona.”
Shelton said he had conversations with five potential candidates, but added that Byrne was the only one with which he had next-level discussions and said, “I really want you to come.”
Byrne, 38, released a statement this morning:
“As we have discussed many times, intercollegiate athletics is a very emotional industry. It is why all of us are so invested in this business, whether it is as administrators, coaches, student-athletes, or fans. We all have strong feelings about what happens here. My emotions today range from the highest highs to the lowest lows. While I am excited about a new opportunity, I am heartbroken to be leaving a lot of friends. …
“One of the absolute truths in college athletics is that you can not dictate the times and places in which opportunities present themselves. As I have done in the past, I review those opportunities from a myriad of different viewpoints. Center-most in those items I consider is the affect a professional decision would have on my family. There is little question that this decision is a good one for my family. It places us back in a part of the country with which we are familiar, one that returns us near family and life-long friends. But this decision was more than just family. My new position offers many of the same challenges we faced here at Mississippi State. We will attack those challenges in the same way we did here.
“It is important for me to convey to you that I did not pursue this opportunity. In fact, my initial reaction was to discourage any future interest. It took several conversations, and much prayer on my part, but their overwhelming interest was apparent as time moved along. The combination of a professional challenge and a personal commitment to my family made this position very attractive to me.”
Byrne also has worked in athletics at the University of Oregon, Oregon State and Kentucky. His father, Bill Byrne, was the athletic director at Oregon from 1984-92 and is the current athletic director at Texas A&M. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Arizona State in 1994 and a master’s degree from Mississippi State in 2009.
Kathleeen “Rocky” LaRose is serving as Arizona’s interim athletic director. Byrne is expected to meet with the Tucson media on Wednesday morning at 10 a.m.
Byrne will be taking over an Arizona athletic department that had $51,822,629 in revenues and $51,627,538 in expenses in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2009. Mississippi State in that time period had revenues of $36,536,152 and expenses of $36,467,532.
Byrne’s big hiring at Mississippi State was football coach Dan Mullen, plucked off the staff of Urban Meyer at Florida after the 2008 season after MSU coach Sylvester Croom was forced out. Mullen, who was widely viewed as one of the top assistants in the country, went 5-7 in his first season.
Mullen told the Jackson Clarion Ledger: “I will forever be grateful to Greg Byrne for giving me the opportunity to fulfill a lifelong dream, and while I’m saddened by his departure, I understand and respect his decision for his family. Greg made a huge difference at Mississippi State, and we will continue to build a football program upon his vision for what Bulldog athletics should be – relentlessly competing for championships.” Other MSU coaches commented, too, at the Clarion Ledger.
Chris Low, the SEC blogger at ESPN.com writes that Byrne will be missed at Mississippi State.
At Mississippi State, Byrne maintained a weekly-updated blog on the athletic department’s official site, and he also has a Twitter account.