By The Assocated Press
STARKVILLE — Arizona has hired Mississippi State’s Greg Byrne as its athletic director.
“While I am excited about a new opportunity, I am heartbroken to be leaving a lot of friends,” Byrne said Monday in a statement released by Mississippi State. “Our job here is not done, but the pieces are in place to bring success to Mississippi State athletics.”
The 38-year-old Byrne, who graduated from Arizona State, was hired as Mississippi State’s athletic director in February 2008, succeeding Larry Templeton. His tenure at Mississippi State included the hiring of Florida assistant Dan Mullen as the football coach.
Jim Livengood left Arizona in December to become the AD at UNLV.
Byrne was hired as an assistant AD at Mississippi State in June 2006 from Kentucky, where he held a similar position.
His father, Bill Byrne, is athletic director at Texas A&M.
Byrne said he did not pursue the Arizona job.
“There is little question that this decision is a good one for my family,” Byrne said. “It places us back in a part of the country with which we are familiar, one that returns us near family and lifelong friends. But this decision was more than just family. My new position offers many of the same challenges we faced here at Mississippi State. We will attack those challenges in the same way we did here.”
Mississippi State president Mark Keenum said he offered Byrne a new financial package but was turned down.
Byrne faced an early challenge when he lured John Cohen from Kentucky back to Starkville as baseball coach. Cohen, an all-Southeastern Conference player at Mississippi State, replaced coaching great Ron Polk.
First Byrne had to tell his best friend and mentor, Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart, that he wanted to hire away Cohen. And once he did, he had to endure a very public and personal attack by Polk, who backed another candidate.
Polk threatened to take his name off the stadium, the school out of his will and to disband all the programs he’d helped to build until Byrne left or was fired.
Byrne got the job when Templeton was forced out after 20 years by school president Robert “Doc” Foglesong. Weeks after Byrne’s hiring, though, Foglesong abruptly resigned and many thought Templeton might make a play to get his job back, but Templeton supported Byrne’s hiring.
“I cannot say enough about what Greg has meant to our athletic program,” Keenum said. “I began working with Greg even before assuming the presidency at MSU, during the search for a new football coach, and our relationship has always been a close one. The strong foundation he laid has created tremendous momentum and excitement and given MSU fans much to cheer about, with the promise of greater things on the horizon.”
Greg Byrne statement:
It is with a very heavy heart that I communicate with you today. It is one I never imagined writing, but must be exchanged between friends. I am leaving Mississippi State in the near future for a Director of Athletics position at another institution.
As we have discussed many times, intercollegiate athletics is a very emotional industry. It is why all of us are so invested in this business, whether it is as administrators, coaches, student-athletes, or fans. We all have strong feelings about what happens here. My emotions today range from the highest highs to the lowest lows. While I am excited about a new opportunity, I am heartbroken to be leaving a lot of friends. Our job here is not done, but the pieces are in place to bring success to Mississippi State athletics. An aggressive athletic administrative team and a solid coaching staff will continue working hard for you. Much has been accomplished, and plans are underway to make an even bigger statement on this campus. I will observe your collective accomplishments from afar with much interest. I will always have a warm place in my heart for Mississippi State, and will cheer its athletic successes.
One of the absolute truths in college athletics is that you can not dictate the times and places in which opportunities present themselves. As I have done in the past, I review those opportunities from a myriad of different viewpoints. Center-most in those items I consider is the affect a professional decision would have on my family. There is little question that this decision is a good one for my family. It places us back in a part of the country with which we are familiar, one that returns us near family and life-long friends. But this decision was more than just family. My new position offers many of the same challenges we faced here at Mississippi State. We will attack those challenges in the same way we did here.
It is important for me to convey to you that I did not pursue this opportunity. In fact, my initial reaction was to discourage any future interest. It took several conversations, and much prayer on my part, but their overwhelming interest was apparent as time moved along. The combination of a professional challenge and a personal commitment to my family made this position very attractive to me.
It is difficult to leave Dr. Mark Keenum and his staff. I really believe the university is in great hands, and Dr. Keenum and I had a very solid working relationship. There are truly very few jobs for which I would leave Mississippi State. This just happened to be one of them.
In closing, on behalf of my wife Regina, and my boys Nick and Davis, I want to thank you for bringing us into your family. We will never forget you, nor the time we spent in Mississippi.