AD Greg Byrne leading Wildcats to new heights
TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) The assignment at San Diego's Flying Hills Elementary School was standard question-and-answer fodder for fourth-grade students.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
The responses, mostly boilerplate for kids who had a hard time figuring out what to eat for lunch, much less plot their careers.
Doctor, astronaut, veterinarian, football player, baseball player.
Greg Byrne's answer was not quixotic or half-hearted. It was precise, practical, focused.
I want to be an athletic director.
For those who had been around Greg, watched the enthusiastic, inquisitive youngster follow his father around athletic fields and offices, his answer was predictable.
Of course he wants to be an athletic director.
''He just thought being an athletic director was a fun way to make money, to have as a career, even at a young age,'' said Bill Byrne, Greg's father. ''It was just a fun thing to do for him and he knew that's what he wanted to do for a living.''
Like a coach's son who wants to be a coach or a police officer's son who wants to become a cop, Greg Byrne followed the family tree into athletic directing.
Bill spent nearly 30 years as an athletic director at Oregon, Nebraska and Texas A&M before retiring in 2012.
Greg followed his father every step of the way, attending practices and games, learning the ropes from an inside view of college athletics, planting the early seeds for his career.
The institutional knowledge gleaned from those years helped lead Byrne to Oregon, Oregon State and Kentucky before he became Division I's youngest athletic director in 2008, when, at 36, he was named Mississippi State's AD.
Byrne became Arizona's athletic director in 2010 and has led the department to unprecedented heights.
Arizona's basketball team is on the rise after a few down years, coming within a few seconds of reaching the Final Four twice in the past three seasons under coach Sean Miller.
The football team won bowl games each of its first two seasons under Rich Rodriguez and is now on the precipice of greatness, ranked eighth and facing No. 3 Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship game on Friday, a potential College Football Playoff spot on the line.
Arizona's baseball team won the national title in 2012 and the school has continued to excel in Olympic sports.
The success on the field has been mirrored by an upgrade in facilities.
Arizona completed a $72 million renovation of its football stadium before the 2013 season and a $30 million renovation of McKale Center was finished before this basketball season. The baseball team moved off campus to Hi Corbett Field, a former minor league ballpark that has a much larger capacity, and the softball team's field was recently upgraded, along with several other facilities.
''The department is on a good trajectory and I feel good about where we are and what the future holds,'' Greg Byrne said. ''I wouldn't trade our lineup of coaches with anybody in the country and feel very fortunate for that.''
With a combination of smarts, determination and a straight-forward-but-personable disposition, Byrne is considered one of the young rising stars in college athletics. His name occasionally comes up when other large-scale programs have openings, but Byrne is dedicated to making Arizona one of the elite athletic programs in the country, combining a love for what he does with a no-detail-is-unimportant ethic.
''He's probably one of the hardest-working athletic directors in the country,'' Rodriguez said. ''I say that because everything's important to him. All ADs say that, but if there's a person who has an opportunity to buy a season ticket, he'll go see them. If there's a problem with any athlete in any sport, he will not hesitate to talk to them.''
From his earliest memories, Byrne was around college athletics.
He was a constant around the athletic department, serving as a batboy for the baseball team, fetching balls for John Elway or Troy Aikman during football games, painting walls in the basketball arena, laying sod for the baseball field.
Dinnertime discussions around the family table typically revolved around budgets, teams, current coaches and potential new ones.
Young Greg couldn't get enough of it, constantly asking questions, absorbing everything around him, even if he didn't always realize it.
Those experiences laid the foundation for what he has become today.
''Some of it was subconsciously taking in what you didn't realize you were taking in, but there are so many times today where there are decisions to make or things to do that I'll instinctively go back to something I watched or saw 30 years ago,'' Greg said. ''I've been really fortunate and blessed to have the opportunities that I've had and at the age that I've had them. I don't think there are many industries where I would have had the ability to do so.''
The job he has now is a perfect fit - and he knew it way back in fourth grade.