- Associated Press - Sunday, October 1, 2017

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) - Hanging on the wall of Greg Byrne’s relatively new office at Alabama, along with the family photos, is a framed piece of construction paper and spiral notebook that foretold a successful career in college sports.

As an 8-year-old, Greg, the son of an athletic director, wrote a report on what he wanted to be when he grew up. Printed in magic marker on that construction paper: Athletic Directors and Assistant Athletic Directors by Greg Byrne.

He got an A.

On March 1, after stints as AD at Mississippi State and Arizona, the 45-year-old Byrne took over at Alabama and became Nick Saban’s boss.

In some ways, Byrne’s job is enviable. Thanks to Saban, Alabama football is the gold standard in college sports. The challenge for Byrne is finding ways to help Saban and the Crimson Tide stay ahead of the competition.

“What you have when you have a high-profile coach and an athletics director is you want to have a good partnership in working together,” Byrne said earlier this week. “How can we help support him as the head coach of our football program that we continue to be able to perform at a very high level. That’s what my focus has been.”

Before Byrne took the job, he and his wife, Regina, came to Tuscaloosa and visited Saban and his wife, Terry, at their home. Byrne and Saban did not know each other well, but they had mutual friends. That helped break the ice.

“We ended up spending two hours together and it was a great conversation,” Byrne said. “I wanted to make sure he was comfortable with me and I was comfortable, too. It couldn’t have gone better both for myself and for Regina as well.”

Byrne said Terry Saban - Miss Terry as she is known around here - has gone out of her way to make sure the Byrnes feel welcome and respected in Tuscaloosa.

University president Stuart Bell said he would not have hired any AD whom he thought would not get along with Nick Saban.

“Would you hire someone that you think would fail?” Bell said.

Saban said university officials had asked if he wanted to recommend someone for the job after previous AD Bill Battle announced his retirement last year. Instead, Saban gave the administration some qualities he felt the next AD should have.

No. 1, Saban said, was an individual with the confidence to avoid micromanaging.

“The good athletic directors I’ve been around have had a real sense of how to work with coaches. I respect our athletic director and the chain of command and he’s the boss and I’m going to do what he wants done,” Saban said. “But I also appreciate the fact that he’ll be helpful and work with us in terms of helping us be successful because ultimately he has to set the table for all of the athletic programs here.”

Battle was an old-school athletic director, a former Alabama football player and coach, who went on to a successful career in business before returning as AD in 2013. He kept a low profile during his four-year tenure.

Byrne, the son of former Oregon, Nebraska and Texas A&M; AD Bill Byrne, is from the new school of athletic directors: career administrators, savvy marketers and accessible to both media and fans. At Mississippi State and Arizona, Byrne was active on social media and visible at events.

“I may not wear a checkered red and blue coat to a game like I did at Arizona, but I take what I do very seriously. I really don’t take myself that seriously,” he said. “The only thing I’ve got figured out is I really don’t have it all figured out. I’ve learned a lot just watching coach Saban from a leadership standpoint.”

Byrne’s youthful exuberance and understanding of social media and technology helps check another one of Saban’s boxes: a plan to cultivate the next generation of Alabama fans.

Saban’s last point of emphasis was this: “I want Alabama to be good in everything, because there’s so much exposure now to all sports.”

Alabama’s athletic revenue for the 2015-16 season was $164 million, fourth most in the country, according to USA Today . Since 2011, the Crimson Tide has won national championships in softball, women’s gymnastics and golf. However, men’s basketball has not made the NCAA tournament since 2012. Women’s basketball hasn’t reached the NCAAs since 1999. The baseball team has won one SEC title since 1996.

Byrne said all the attention paid to football in Alabama is not an obstacle to overcome for other high-profile programs. He said Alabama is close to unveiling a comprehensive strategic plan that will set goals for the entire department, both on the field and off, for the next five years.

Byrne said he has been invited to take part in Saban’s lunch-time basketball games, but lingering back and foot problems ended his hoops career. Saban said not only does he have confidence in Byrne, he likes him.

“I mean,” Saban said, “I’m probably the one that’s not easy to like.”


Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP


More AP college football: https://collegefootball.ap.org and https://www.twitter.com/AP_Top25

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