After two-plus years at the helm of the MSU athletic department, Greg Byrne is leaving to take the athletics director’s job at Arizona. MSU President Dr. Mark Keenum confirmed the rumors this morning via a statement. It reads in full:
“Greg Byrne has informed me that he will leave Mississippi State to accept the athletic director’s job at the University of Arizona. A Wednesday press conference has been scheduled in Tucson to make that announcement. Personally, I am saddened by this news because of the deep affection that Rhonda and I have for Greg and Regina. I am professionally disappointed because of my respect and appreciation for the outstanding job he has done here.
“I made every effort to convince Greg to remain in Starkville, including offering a generous package of financial incentives, but as he conveyed to me, his decision was driven by family considerations more than financial compensation. They have an opportunity to be in a place where they have roots and deep connections.
“I cannot say enough about what Greg has meant to our athletic program. 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.
“I am committed to building on that foundation by hiring an energetic and visionary leader to keep the momentum going. I am confident we will find that highly motivated, enthusiastic individual to lead our great Mississippi State University athletic program. The national search will begin immediately.”
In his time at MSU, Byrne made two big hires: football coach Dan Mullen and baseball coach John Cohen. Byrne has drawn praise from the fan base and others for getting the athletic program headed back in the right direction. The football team went 5-7 this past season and drummed rival Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl. The baseball squad, which finished last in the SEC in Cohen’s first season, is still young but had the nation’s eighth-ranked signing class in 2010, according to Baseball America.
Byrne has deep Pac-10 ties. He graduated from Arizona State, and he worked for Oregon and Oregon State. He was at Kentucky prior to arriving in Starkville in 2006 as MSU’s associate AD for development and external affairs.
• UPDATE: Here is the full statement from Byrne, which was sent to the media a few minutes ago.
“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.