Arizona athletics director thrives
Arizona lost one athletic director recently, but it doesn’t look like it will lose another one.
Last week, Texas appointed a committee to search for a replacement for athletics director DeLoss Dodds, who will retire next year.
Earlier this month, deputy director of athletics Kathleen “Rocky” LaRose, the acting director of athletics from January to April of 2010, retired, but UA Director of Athletics Greg Byrne doesn’t consider himself a candidate for the Texas athletics director position, because of his father’s position as athletic director at a rival school.
“My dad was AD at Texas A&M. I’m guessing they won’t have me on their radar screen,” Byrne said.
Since 1958, except for two acting athletics directors, every AD at the UA has served for at least nine years when Byrne was hired in 2010. From 1957 to 1958, Joseph Picard was athletics director, but before him, J.F. “Pop” McKale served from 1914-1957.
Byrne said the reason for the long tenures is the appeal of the school and location.
Ryan Revock/ The Daily Wildcat UA Athletics Director Greg Byrne shows off the stadium during a tour he led on Thursday, Aug. 1, 2013 in the Lowell-Stevens Football Facility.
“I think it’s a great program and university to be a part of and that the fans care about it here,” Byrne said. “Then on top of that, Tucson and Arizona’s a great place to live.”
Last year, the UA had the 23rd best athletic department, according to the Learfield Sports Directors’ Cup Division I rankings, up from 30th in 2010.
“Greg has come in and really gotten the staff to rally around his vision for the department,” said Steve Kozachik, associate athletics director for facilities and capital projects.
Byrne said he doesn’t necessarily think he has an advantage over athletic directors with different backgrounds, like boosters who become ADs.
“Well, I think we all have our own unique skills,” Byrne said.
Byrne works with 450 student-athletes, the coaches, athletic department staff, fans, the media, UA President Ann Weaver Hart, sits on her shared governance committee, works with the faculty, the NCAA, Pac-12, marketing partners, agents, community organizations, businesses and governmental agencies.
“It’s, as you can imagine, all over the yard, literally for 11 months of the year, it’s normally seven days a week but that’s part of what I like about it,” Byrne said.
Arizona opened up a $72.3 million addition to Arizona Stadium, the Lowell-Stevens Football Facility, over the summer.
“I think Greg’s very connected to the social media and has done a great job of raising money, bricks and mortar,” said UA softball head coach Mike Candrea. “Raising money is what’s important at this stage of the game right now, that’s what it’s all about, so I think he’s done a great job for the era that he’s in.”
After serving as director of athletics at Mississippi State, Byrne said the biggest difference in leading an athletic department in the Pac-12 Conference versus the highly regarded Southeastern Conference is the communities.
“In the SEC, they are very small college towns for the most part, minus Nashville and probably Lexington and Knoxville. But most of them are pretty small communities and so the universities in that conference are very much like what it is in Tucson for us or Eugene or Corvallis where it’s the only game in town and it’s the focus 365 days of the year … I enjoy being in the college town and that type of environment,” Byrne said.
Byrne said he loves three things most about the job: the relationship with student-athletes, the athletic department members and the fans, watching the competitions and watching student-athletes grow and mature from freshmen to college graduates.
“There is so many different entities that you’re dealing with and working with on a daily basis that you need to have a broad understanding of all those things to be able to do the best job that you possibly can,” Byrne said.
Byrne is well-known for promoting the athletic department through social media, particularly Twitter.
“I think it’s one of the tools that we’ve used to try and promote our department, engage our fanbase, encourage them to be involved,” Byrne said. “It’s so important to control your message and what you’re doing and social media is a great way to do that and I really like the interaction I’m able to find with our fans and our students through Twitter especially. That’s my favorite one.”
Byrne said he attends at least one home competition every year for each sport and attends all the football games and most of the men’s basketball games.
He is a familiar sight at tailgates, where he interacts with fans.
“We couldn’t ask for anything better, he’s great with people, he gets out there and mixes with people a lot but I think the big thing right now is I think he has a vision of what we need here,” Candrea said.
—Follow James Kelley @JamesKelley520