TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) - Greg Byrne will take over a flourishing Alabama athletic department with a dominant football program and a men’s basketball team that appears to be on the rise.
A big challenge facing the Crimson Tide’s newly hired athletic director is to sustain and build upon that success, and avoid the kind of overconfidence or complacency that can lead to a fall-off.
“It can happy to anybody if you’re not having that vision for the future,” Byrne said Thursday. “While things are going extremely well here right now, and we want them to continue in the future, you always have to look ahead and say, ‘What are those next steps?’”
The Arizona athletic director and former Mississippi State AD was formally introduced Thursday and will officially start his new job as the retiring Bill Battle’s successor on March 1.
He’s the first outsider hired to run Alabama’s athletic program since the 1990s. Battle, who is retiring after four years in Tuscaloosa, and the late Mal Moore both played under coach Bear Bryant.
The 45-year-old Byrne inherits a department where Nick Saban has led the football team to four national championships in eight years and Avery Johnson has brought in considerable talent and the former NBA champion is a big name in basketball circles.
Saban was busy recruiting and couldn’t attend Byrne’s news conference. The new AD obviously cleared the hurdle of impressing him with a visit of several hours Saturday at Nick and Terry Saban’s house.
“We talked about a lot of things about Alabama football, the University of Alabama, Alabama athletics,” Byrne said. “I asked him a lot of questions and was able to get some great insight. When we got done, I felt - I certainly can’t speak for him - but I felt that the meeting couldn’t have gone any better and felt very comfortable about the fact that this would be a wonderful coach to work with.”
The football team’s success under Saban has helped the athletic department become flush with cash. The department turned a $30 million profit in the academic year ending June 30, 2015, according to data on the U.S. Department of Education’s website. Football generated $97 million in revenue.
Alabama has also won six national titles in other sports besides football since 2008.
The son of longtime college athletic director Bill Byrne, Byrne is known for his fundraising acumen. Arizona completed construction of the $72 million Lowell-Stevens Football Facility on his watch and finished the first phase of an $80 million renovation of the McKale Center, home to Arizona’s basketball program and athletic department.
Athletic success may make giving to Alabama an easier sell.
“The really historical ride that Alabama football has been on is incredible, and that engages people,” Byrne said. “Look at the growth in the university the last 10 years. I remember coming down here 15 years ago and seeing what it looked like then, which was great, and what it looks like now is even better.
“You can’t help but say that athletics and football in particular has been the engine that’s driving that train in many aspects. It’s incredible to have a chance to be part of that.”
The job does come with one potential challenge down the line: Replacing the 65-year-old Saban whenever the $7 million-a-year coach decides to retire. His bid to match Bryant’s record of six national titles and win his second straight fell just short with a loss to Clemson in the championship game on a last-second touchdown by the Tigers.
Byrne, who hired Dan Mullen at Mississippi State and Rich Rodriguez at Arizona, knows hiring Saban’s successor could become his biggest decision. Hiring Saban was a big part of Moore’s legacy as athletic director.
“When I was with coach Saban the other day, he looked to be in very good shape,” he said. “I hope he’s the football coach for a very long time. He’s one of the greatest ones ever. The fact that I get to work with him, I’m thrilled about it.
“When that time comes - and that time will come - I certainly hope that it’s nowhere near in the immediate future. I hope it’s many years down the road.”
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