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Byrne's firing of Stoops means its AD's time to shine

Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne has pulled all the perfect media tricks.

He’s been open and honest, calling for boosters to report any wrongdoings or NCAA violations.

He’s played the PR game with Twitter and Facebook, giving away prizes by interacting with fans, all the while getting personal. He’s traveled the state — from Phoenix to Payson to little towns in between — to show that he’s here for Wildcat fans.

Beginning a weekly written release called Wildcat Wednesdays, Byrne has also shed light on the undercarriage of intercollegiate athletics for the public. He sent that release out the wrong day this week to announce that Arizona football head coach Mike Stoops had been fired on Monday.

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He’s supposed to do all those things. And he should.

But the jury is still out.

Here’s where we get to see if former UA President Robert Shelton was correct when he hired Byrne on March 22, 2010, and called him one of the “rising stars” in the business. In the next three months, we’ll find out if this young-gun athletic director is for real as he faces his first major hiring at Arizona.

People are a little too quick to throw out praise for canning Stoops, and it’s drinking the Byrne Kool-Aid too early.

“I’d like to congratulate Greg on the decisiveness of this decision,” said UA President Eugene Sander on Monday night.

Oh, Eugene, firing Stoops was easy.

He hasn’t won a game against a Football Bowl Subdivision team in nearly a year, and he lost to a team in Oregon State that couldn’t even defeat Sacramento State this season. You could also cite the overused and oversimplified theory that “Stoops wasn’t Byrne’s guy” as a reason to move to a new era.

Byrne refuted that mentality on Monday.

“I like Mike a lot,” Byrne said. “Mike and I get along very well. It was not an easy decision whatsoever.”

I believe it, but the harder part for Byrne lies ahead.

Not that I don’t think he’s capable of making a solid hire. Byrne has hardly stalled on the north end zone project at Arizona Stadium, and the new video board was just an appetizer of what’s to come. Finding a coach who can take advantage of that, however, will be key.

Byrne’s reputation of rebuilding a Mississippi State football program that has thrived following Byrne’s departure is a welcome sign of things to come, and luck has much to do with making the right hire, as well. Just look at Byrne’s predecessor, Jim Livengood, and his hiring of head basketball coach Sean Miller as proof.

When all is said and done, however, Byrne’s next move — not his past at Mississippi State or his overseeing of the north end zone — could catapult his own history forward. It can also bring it crashing down.

The pressure cooker is now turned on. Will Greg burn like Stoops?

— Kevin Zimmerman is the sports editor. He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu.


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UA COVID-19 Test Tracker

Daily (12/4)
744 14 1.9%
Total (8/2)
64,794 1,040 1.6%
Includes tests since August 2, 2021
Data from https://covid19.arizona.edu/updates
Updated December 5, 2021