June 14, 2009
Danny P Smith -
STARKVILLE -- Greg Byrne paused last week to reflect on his first year as Mississippi State Athletic Director and he pointed to one specific thing that impressed him most.
Since taking over the day-to-day operations of the Mississippi State athletic department on July 11, 2008, Byrne said it has been the people he works with who have made the transition a positive one.
Byrne knew it would be difficult to replace a man like Larry Templeton, but said his approach and ideas have been well received.
"Our coaches and our staff internally have been outstanding," Byrne said. "Anytime there is a change of leadership, there will be different management styles, different communication styles, and different expectations.
"Overall with the mast majority of people in our athletic department, I couldn''t have asked for them to be more supportive."
Byrne appreciates the fans for making he, his wife Regina, and sons Nick and Davis, feel at home and a part of the Bulldog family. He calls himself fortunate to be working at Mississippi State.
Ann Carr, who works closely with Byrne as Associate Athletic Director Senior Women''s Administrator, said he doesn''t play favorites and respects the players and coaches for all sports on campus.
"Coaches feel they can go and talk to him," Carr said. "He goes out to see the girls play and talks with them. I think that has been very rewarding for them. His passion for Mississippi State to see it excel is what they see and appreciate as well. He''s asking for all of us to participate and support each sport."
There has been major change within the athletic department, not only with the director''s chair, but also in the area of coaches.
Prior to taking over as athletic director, Byrne had to find a new baseball coach after Ron Polk announced his retirement during the 2008 season.
Byrne conducted a national search, but it ended with a former Mississippi State player when John Cohen was introduced as the coach on June 7, 2008.
The move was considered controversial by some, especially when Polk openly lobbied for his top assistant, Tommy Raffo, to be promoted to head coach.
Byrne insisted getting Cohen was the best thing for MSU and hoped everyone would get on board to support his decision.
Despite a losing season where the Mississippi State baseball team finished with a 25-29 record, Cohen felt the support of Byrne and knows he is trying to run the athletic department in an appropriate manner.
"I think he has great vision for where this athletic program should go," Cohen said. "Greg is a young guy with a lot of energy and he is going to come in a long line of outstanding athletic directors at Mississippi State.
"Larry Templeton did a remarkable job and I have so much respect for him. With Greg having the chance to have worked so closely with Larry and so closely with Mitch Barnhardt at Kentucky, he is absolutely ready for this challenge."
It wasn''t even six months later when Byrne was looking for another head coach for another high-profiled sport on campus.
After a 45-0 loss to Ole Miss on Nov. 28, 2008 to finish the season with a 4-8 record, Sylvester Croom resigned as head coach the next day after a meeting with Byrne.
It was less than a month when Byrne convinced Dan Mullen to resign as offensive coordinator at Florida to become the 32nd head coach at Mississippi State on Dec. 10.
"We''re excited to have someone with the track record that coach Mullen has being a part of national championships, a Heisman Trophy winner, a first pick overall in the draft, and typically known as being very innovative offensively," Byrne said. "We think we''re catching coach Mullen on his way up and we feel strongly about that.
"He''s done a very good job early on in building a staff, getting the kids on board, and raising the expectation level from a conditioning standpoint for our team. He''s done an magnificent job of marketing and promoting our program as much as any head coach I''ve been around."
Mullen was impressed with Byrne from the first moment they met.
As is the case with Cohen, Mullen sees the direction Byrne wants for MSU and wants to be a part of making it work.
"He''s a younger guy, but has been around for a long time," Mullen said. "He knows how to get things done and how to keep our program going in the direction we want it to go in, not just in football, but the entire athletic department. He does a great job of pulling everyone together and having everybody work to make it successful."
The hires of Mullen and Cohen got the most attention, but Byrne is just as proud to have Jenny Hazelwood leading the volleyball program.
Byrne is looking ahead to long-range plans for the upgrading of facilities and establishing a master plan for the athletic department with marketing being a high priority.
"At Mississippi State, we don''t want to do what everyone else is doing," Byrne said. "We have to be a little bit different and ahead of the curve.
"Mississippi State has always been a humble group of people, humility is a wonderful thing, but we don''t want the lack of success to come at the cost of humility. You need confidence. Quiet confidence is OK, but confidence is extremely important."
Byrne has been pleased with the status of the 2009 budget as it''s close to $40 million with university and foundation dollars. Last year, the final number was close to $36 million.
The Southeastern Conference distributed an average of $11.1 million this year as part of revenue sharing and Byrne looks forward to seeing what the payment will be next year with the new television contract.
The highlights on the field and court for Byrne and the Bulldogs were the men''s basketball team winning the SEC Tournament championship, the women''s basketball team making it to the NCAA Tournament, the golf team and softball squad participating in NCAA Regionals, and the track participants at nationals.
"There are a lot positive things going on and we believe many of our other teams are close to getting to postseason," Byrne said.