Greg Byrne officially took over as the University of Alabama’s director of athletics on March 2, replacing Bill Battle. In nearly four weeks in his new post, Byrne, who came to Alabama from the University of Arizona, has has a chance to see virtually every Alabama team, either in competition or spring practice, as well as to familiarize himself with the UA staff, coaches and facilities. He took time this week to sit down with The Tuscaloosa News for a brief question-and-answer session in which he addressed several of those issues
Q: After three weeks on the job, what have been your initial observations at Alabama?
A: First of all, that hasn’t been nearly enough time to learn everything I need to learn about the University of Alabama. I’ve been glad to meet a lot of really good people. I’ve been extremely impressed with our coaches and staff. I have enjoyed the student-athletes that I have had an opportunity to meet, the fans and alumni that I have visited with. I’ve felt already the passion and pride that is here for the university.
Q: The basketball season has just concluded. What were your impressions of the men’s and women’s basketball teams in the time that you had to observe them?
A: Avery (Johnson) and I met today and talked about the future of the men’s program. He has a great vision of where he wants our program to go. I was really pleased with our run in the SEC Tournament, and with what I know about our incoming recruits. Coach (Kristy) Curry just finished in the Women’s NIT (Sunday), where they had a great run as well, and I will visit with her soon.
Coach Johnson has completed two years on his contract and we did review some areas of that. Obviously, whatever contractual obligations we have, we will discuss. That (a possible extension) is something we’ll continue to talk about. You always need to be aware of the marketplace.
Q: That leads to an inevitable follow-up. What is the ‘marketplace’ for Nick Saban?
A: I think Coach Saban is unique in that way. What Coach Saban has brought to the University of Alabama is immeasurable. I’ve enjoyed the chance to get to know him better and have been tremendously impressed with his organization and leadership in the areas I have seen so far. That’s not a big shocker to anyone, I’m sure. He’s fantastic, and I look forward to him being our football coach, and having a chance to work with him, for many years to come.
Q: Have you had a chance to discuss future football schedules?
A: We have already had some discussions about that. The model that we have used for the past several years (seven home games, four SEC games and an early-season game at a neutral site) has worked very well. I have not heard a lot of momentum for a nine-game SEC schedule, so we are proceeding forward as if that (eight-game league schedule) will stay the same.
We have neutral games through 2019, and now is the time when you look at 2020 and beyond. I do understand the interest in home-and-home series. You never say never, but I would reiterate that the neutral games have been very good for us in a number of areas.
Q: What has been your overall impression of the athletic facilities at UA?
A: Bryant-Denny Stadium is such an impressive venue, and I want to give credit to Mal Moore for that. I haven’t had the chance for a full look at every square foot of the stadium, all of the interior areas, but that is on my calendar.
The new baseball stadium, Sewell-Thomas Field … Wow. It is spectacular. Coleman Coliseum has its plusses and minuses, and we are continuing to look at that.
Our swimming facility is aging and that will be addressed, although I don’t have any specifics I can give you on that at this time. Our new dining hall (which will be adjacent to the north end of the football office facility in the Mal Moore Athletic Building) has already been announced by the board of trustees. I will say it is critical for us to have a vision for what our infrastructure needs are and to stay at the forefront nationally in that area.
Q: You had eight years of previous SEC experience at Kentucky and Mississippi State before going to Arizona in 2010. What differences do you see in the SEC since you’ve returned.
A: We’ve gone from one great commissioner (Mike Slive) to another great commissioner (Greg Sankey). I think that since I left, over half of the schools in the league have hired new ADs, and I look forward to meeting with everyone in Destin (at the SEC Spring Meetings) and working with them. Texas A&M and Missouri have joined the league.
Historically, the SEC schools have worked together well. We want to beat each other on the field, on the court or in the pool, but we’ve always continued to be aware of our common interests and I think that is still the case.
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or 205-722-0225.