By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Conventional wisdom held that at some point, another program would swoop in and take Greg Byrne away from Mississippi State.
That’s exactly what happened in March, when Arizona called, and Byrne answered.
So after barely two years after hiring Byrne as athletics director, MSU was in the market for one again. It was going to be hard to find a man of Byrne’s equal, but when Scott Stricklin was hired Thursday night, the school might actually have gone one better.
Stricklin better than Byrne? That’s yet to be determined, of course, but the two men share strikingly similar career paths. Most recently, both worked at Kentucky, and then each was MSU’s lead fundraiser before being promoted to AD.
Both have high energy, ambitious goals, great people skills, and a cogent plan to go with all that. But here is where Byrne and Stricklin differ, and where the latter could ultimately be considered an upgrade.
Stricklin will likely stick around a while.
Unlike Byrne, who was born and raised out West, Stricklin is a Jackson native, a graduate of MSU who’s married to a Starkville native – the former Ann Howell, daughter of MSU basketball great Bailey Howell.
Stricklin’s roots run deep here, as they say. Even while working at other schools, he always had his eye on returning to Mississippi State.
It seems natural that he stay at MSU for a while. When asked about that, he told reporters, “I learned in dealing with you guys for a lot of years that speculating is never a good thing. This is home. My wife grew up in Starkville, I grew up in Jackson, we’ve got all our family here.
“Whatever role family plays going forward, it’s going to say Mississippi State.”
What this athletic department needs right now, among other things, is stability. Many nice pieces are in place, like football coach Dan Mullen, veteran basketball coach Rick Stansbury, and baseball coach John Cohen. All three have a strong history of success, and one of Stricklin’s top priorities, I’m sure, is to do all he can to make sure they stay in Starkville for a while.
And even if they don’t, all the more important that Stricklin does. If you’re going to have a constant in an athletic department, you want it to be your athletics director or your football coach. When you have that, you have a foundation that won’t be shifting every couple of years.
Four years is the maximum length of a state employee contract under Mississippi law. If MSU is to keep moving forward in the merciless SEC, it needs to make sure Stricklin’s contract is always set for four years.
If he performs well, other schools will inevitably express interest and try to whisk him away to a place with more resources and richer tradition.
And this is no knock on Byrne, but with his ties to Starkville, MSU and the state of Mississippi, Stricklin’s going to be awfully hard to uproot.
Brad Locke (email@example.com) covers Mississippi State for the Daily Journal and blogs daily at NEMS360.com.