Michael Eckhardt from Tucson, AZ: My News Page
Michael Eckhardt, of Tucson, Arizona, is a U of A alumnus and an avid follower of the Wildcats. Today, he analyzes the impact of the sudden transfer of seven-year Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne to SEC school Alabama.
Gauging the Impact of Greg Byrne’s Arizona Legacy
While Greg Byrne might have accepted the athletic director role at the University of Alabama, his impact on U of A sports will continue to be felt for a very long time.
While athletic directors across the country have a reputation for being stodgy and elusive, Byrne embraced social media to the fullest. Barely two years into the job, Byrne announced the hiring of former Michigan football coach Rich Rodriguez on Twitter, posting a picture with the newly-hired coach. While Rodriguez had a disappointing tenure in Michigan and was coming off a stint as a CBS football analyst when he was hired, he has proven Byrne’s intuition correct, earning a 36-29 overall record and three bowl wins since 2012.
Another person he hired, baseball head coach Jay Johnson, made it to the College World Series in his first year, placing second to eventual champion Coastal Carolina. It was the first College World Series appearance for Arizona since 2012, when they won the championship. The Wildcats baseball team moved benefitted from greater crowd support after Byrne and the coaching staff decided to move games to Hi Corbett Field, southeast of the U of A campus. They now have the third largest average crowd in the western U.S. and the 21st largest in the country. Under Johnson, they are again poised to make another series of runs to the NCAA College World Series.
However, the biggest success of Byrne’s career in Arizona was the successful negotiation of men’s basketball coach Sean Miller’s extension in 2011. Under coach Miller, the Wildcats have posted a total of 204 wins and 63 losses, with a school-record 34 wins in 2014-15 and making the NCAA tournament six times. This season, the Wildcats have one of the tallest frontlines in college basketball with Lauri Markkanen and Dusan Ristic both standing at seven feet. As of mid-January, the Wildcats have a 5-0 conference record and an 11-2 non-conference record that includes a win over #12 Michigan State in the Armed Forces Classic.
To be honest, AD Byrne’s departure came as a surprise; he was already building a house in Tucson, and two of his kids are already enrolled at the U of A campus. However, his success couldn’t go on unnoticed forever. When Alabama started looking for a replacement for retiring AD Billy Battle, who has been fighting multiple myeloma, Byrne was at the top of their wishlist – an outstanding negotiator, an excellent fundraiser, a communicator who’s in touch with the times, and a person who will stick with their people no matter what.
Apparently, Alabama football head coach Nick Saban has already signified his approval of Byrne’s hire. When one of the greatest coaches in modern college football likes your body of work, you must have done something right. And so we wish Greg Byrne nothing but success in his move to Alabama (and hopefully he pulls off a regular Alabama-Arizona football game while he’s at it!).