March 23, 2010 9:18:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- Greg Byrne''s impact as athletic director Mississippi State has visible reminders around campus and could have lasting effects in the future.
Typically two-year periods don''t produce the type of innovation and change that Byrne initiated before leaving behind his athletics renovation to become athlatic director at the University of Arizona, but he did just that with notable coaching hires and facility upgrades.
Since he was hired as Larry Templeton''s successor in February 2008 before officially taking over in June of that year, Byrne made it an effort to revamp the athletics department''s image and to establish championship standards in the Southeastern Conference.
His task wasn''t easy as he took over with the lowest operating budget in what''s widely considered the most competitive collegiate athletic conference in the country.
Byrne''s fundraising savvy, which saw him hold fundraising positions at the University of Oregon and Oregon State, proved to be his strongest quality as giving increased with immediate results on campus.
A $6 million high-definition video board was installed at Davis Wade Stadium and a $12 million basketball practice facility is expected to be completed this season. MSU will soon break ground on a $1.4 million track on campus and has plans to improve its golf training facility.
Also, custom banners were made for Davis Wade Stadium and Dudy Noble Field.
The facility enhancements were the most significant upgrades since 2002, when the $30 million expansion to Davis Wade added an upper deck and skyboxes to the east side of the stadium.
There''s more in the works as Byrne expressed his desire in February to expand Davis Wade and add revenue-generating areas at Dudy Noble Field. Byrne said he''d already had discussions with architects about expansions, but that those plans were still "years down the road."
"You always want to show progress to show people you are moving forward," Byrne said. "I think our fans have recognized that."
MSU president Dr. Mark Keenum is keen to hire a replacement who won''t miss a beat and continue on the progressive path Byrne has started.
"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.
"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."
Byrne came to MSU in 2006 as director of fundraising arm Bulldog Club after serving as associate athletic director at Kentucky with friend Mitch Barnhart, who is Kentucky''s athletic director.
Byrne''s first order of business upon taking over at MSU was finding a replacement for retired baseball coach Ron Polk. He opted not to hire Polk''s recommended replacement, Tommy Raffo, and instead lured MSU alum John Cohen back to Starkville from Kentucky.
After football coach Sylvester Croom finished his fourth losing season in five years with a 45-0 loss at Ole Miss in 2008, Byrne made another splash by hiring Florida offensive coordinator and offensive guru Dan Mullen.
In Mullen''s first season, the Bulldogs set five of the top eight attendance records at Davis Wade.
"He brought a tremendous vision for what direction he wanted the athletic department to go in," Mullen said in a meeting with media members Monday morning. "You look at all the sports and what he had done with bringing in the different coaches he hired and the motivation he had of promoting all of our athletic department and Mississippi State, it was tremendous. It''ll be tremendously missed, not just by the athletic department but by the entire university."
In Byrne''s move to Arizona, he''ll have a $52 million athletic budget to work with, roughly $12 million more than he had at MSU. Arizona president Robert Shelton told The Arizona Daily Star that he''d spoken to other candidates, but Byrne was the only one he''d had spoken to extendedly.
"He''s young," Shelton said. "It''s no exaggeration to say he''s one of the rising stars in athletics across the nation."