Alabama AD Greg Byrne Q&A: The bar has always been high, you can compete at the highest level here

Cecil Hurt
The Tuscaloosa News
Alabama Athletics Director Greg Byrne congratulates Alabama Head Coach Nate Oats after Alabama defeated Auburn and celebrated the Tide's regular season SEC Championship Tuesday, March 2, 2021, in Coleman Coliseum. [Staff Photo/Gary Cosby Jr.]

Alabama athletics director Greg Byrne said Friday that he was enjoying being “part of a special time” as the Crimson Tide men’s basketball team progresses through the NCAA Tournament and told The Tuscaloosa News in a question-and-answer session that he would not be a candidate for the job of Pac-12 commissioner.

Here's what he had to say: 

Q: There has been a good deal of speculation that you would be a strong candidate to replace Larry Scott as the PAC-12 commissioner when that vacancy is filled. Can you address your interest in that, if any?

A: It’s certainly flattering to be mentioned for such a prestigious position. Regina (Byrne's wife) and I grew up in the Pac 12 footprint and have many friends and fond memories out there.  However, the University of Alabama has become our home and it is an honor to work here with our incredible student-athletes, coaches, staff, university and fans.  We have a lot of positive momentum across our department. This is where we hope to finish our career and do all we can to make a positive impact.  I will not be a candidate for the PAC-12 commissioner.

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Q: When you say “positive momentum,” that would include the current run by the men’s basketball team. How has that manifested itself over the past few weeks?

A: The reaction in Nashville (where Alabama won the SEC Tournament) was amazing. I honestly believe we would have filled up Bridgestone Arena with fans that Sunday if the circumstances had allowed it. We have had a number of fans in Indianapolis that would have been much greater except for the (coronavirus) restrictions.

I’ve felt the energy and it’s been very exciting, whether it was playing in Hinkle Arena or being part of the Sweet 16. It’s a tribute to the hard work that the players and staff have put in, the culture that has been developed. It’s something to enjoy now but it also lays a great foundation for the future.

Q: Have you talked with coach Nate Oats about those future plans?

A: Right now, he’s in the moment and we are focused on one game. We have an incredible opponent (UCLA) on Sunday. The good thing with Nate is that we talk all the time. There are ongoing conversations about our strengths and our ideas to improve the program. Those will obviously continue but we’re focused on Sunday night right now.

Q: Alabama has had great success, obviously, in football, winning the national championship, and basketball, winning the SEC. Does that in any way mitigate the financial impact of the pandemic?

A: The financial realities are still there. They are very real. We estimated that we would be short about $85 million and that estimate remains. Our success doesn’t offset all the tickets that we couldn’t sell, which would have been substantial. What it does do is it helps for people to stay engaged. That includes potential donors. 

Q: Does success in two high-profile sports raise the bar for other programs?

A: The bar has always been high. We have incredible coaches. But one of the things we constantly look at is how do we capitalize on success for more success, and that type of (football/basketball) success is contagious. So the message is, ‘Let’s make sure we are doing what we can, every day, within the rules and in a great academic environment.’ If we do, you see what can happen. You can compete at the highest level here. We are at a school with an incredible football history. That’s an advantage and it should be an advantage. Coach (Nick) Saban and I have talked about that. People see the history but they also see the possibility in every sport.”

Q: With high-profile basketball coaching vacancies opening every day, how important was it to come to a future agreement with coach Oats (on an extension, raise and hefty buyout), and does it help deal with potential inquiries?

A: Absolutely. When we hired Nate, we started him financially at the level we all thought was appropriate. I also told him that as we have success, we would continue to invest in the program and that’s what we did (with the extension.) If you tell (a coach) you are going to do something, you do it. I also think that Nate realizes that this is a special place and you can compete at the highest level here. He’s been great to work with from the first day.