March 28, 2010 12:30:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- Until Friday, no one knew just how tough a decision Greg Byrne was faced with in his choice to leave Mississippi State for the University of Arizona.
In his first meeting with the media since announcing Monday that he''d end his two-year run as MSU''s athetic director, Byrne talked about much of what he''d released in a prepared statement earlier in the week.
But as the questions rained down about how hard it was for him to leave MSU after initiating a progressive atmosphere and change in the athletic department, Byrne shed tears and struggled with words to describe the last two years and how comfortable the Starkville community has made he and his family.
"I felt like people really bought in when we needed them to," Byrne said. "The last thing I want to do is disappoint the people here because they genuinely made Regina, my family and the boys and I feel so welcome. And I can promise you, we''ve taken a couple days off over the past couple of years to catch our breath, but we''ve given everything we have to Mississippi State, every single day. And I''ve watched the way the staff has bought in, and the coaches, and the fans. I so badly want to see that continue long term."
Byrne admitted he has the feeling of leaving with unfinished business, and as he recalled a friend''s story about that being the case until you retire.
The public opinion on Byrne''s Arizona movement has been mixed, but Byrne said he anticipated that but doesn''t blame people for being disappointed. In a way, it lets him know his efforts to re-vitalize MSU athletics is appreciated. However, the results of his tenure, in Byrne''s opinion, should be judged by the MSU fans and not himself.
"I''ve been really blown away by the support from the Mississippi State family after this," Byrne said. "It hasn''t all been positive, but the strength of this place is the people. That''s absolutely come out in response to all this."
In published reports this week, Byrne stated he initially wasn''t interested in the Arizona job and that he originally contacted Arizona officials to recommend someone else for the job. Byrne said he''d been in touch with former Arizona AD and NCAA executive director, Cedric Dempsey, who was involved with the search process for a new Arizona AD.
From there, another athletic director knew of that relationship and called and informed that the job was open.
Dempsey told Byrne "I''ve got to take two or three names to the president and you''re one of them."
Byrne continued to lobby for the candidate he originally recommended, until he found out the Arizona president wanted to talk to him.
From there, the pursuit continued before Byrne made the decision this past Thursday.
"It was hard telling people here because we love the people and have made lifelong friends here," Byrne said. "Regina and I really enjoyed living in Starkville. Regina was named ambassador of the year last year. She had bought into Starkville and done a lot of great things for the school system and with the United Way.
"It''s been a very emotional week, and to be honest, it''s been an emotional month trying to get through this and wrestle with the decision."
Moving forward, Mississippi State president Dr. Mark Keenum has hired Parker Executive Search of Atlanta to assist in the search for a new AD. PES has conducted AD searches for SEC schools Arkansas, LSU and Georgia.
Byrne said he will be on board at MSU until the last week of April, though what day he''ll leave for Arizona is still up in the air. As far as his day-to-day duties, he said he''ll handle MSU business in the day and Arizona duties in the evening.
As far as the man or woman in line to replace him, Byrne said he''s offered to help Keenum in any way possible.
Keenum would like to have a replacement before Byrne heads to Arizona and believes the job is extremely marketable.
"I think this a very enviable position within college athletics -- the director athletics at an SEC school with a lot of enthusiasm," Keenum said. "It will be very attractive. I think we have a great foundation thats been laid by the vision of Greg Byrne.
"We might choose someone like Greg, whose got a lot of credentials but hadn''t been an AD. We might find someone whose been an AD with extensive experience. I''m just anxious to work with the search committee and get going."
Keenum confirmed the general opinion that Byrne''s work has boosted the image of the athletics program and should make for a distinguished pool of applicants. He also said that the university will be "very competitive" in regard to salary.
Still, Byrne said there will be challenges for the incoming AD.
"Obviously, there''s a few schools that just have so many resources that you just think the challenges are different," Byrne said. "But the great majority of universities that participate in division one athletics, finances are always an issue. That''s going to continue here. It''s a blessing to be in the SEC financially, but it''s also a challenge because of who you''re competing against.
"(Mississippi State) Needs to continue to develop a facility master plan, tackling Davis Wade Stadium, Dudy Noble and The Hump. On top of that, just the improvements for every sport that''s needed. That''s something we''ve already made a lot of gains on, but at the same time that will have to continue."