May 28, 2017

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) Greg Byrne has had an eventful first three months as Alabama's athletic director.

Byrne made a seemingly tough decision in firing a baseball coach after one season and a no-brainer, too: striking a new deal with football coach Nick Saban. In between, he has attended plenty of `Bama sporting events - and countless meetings - and squeezed in a few get-to-know-you rounds of golf with boosters and speaking engagements.

Byrne is preparing for his first Southeastern Conference spring meetings since taking over at Alabama on March 1. He already opted to make one coaching change in an otherwise flourishing athletic program.

He fired Greg Goff on Wednesday, taking the unusual step of getting rid of a coach after one dismal season in the baseball program's second campaign in a rebuilt stadium. Byrne said the decision was based on ''just a compilation of different issues.''

''We want to be good in whatever we do, and baseball's an important sport,'' Byrne said in a wide-ranging interview with The Associated Press. ''I've already told our coaches, if we're going to keep score, we might as well try to win.''

And for his part, might as well keep the coaches who win.

Alabama gave Saban a new deal worth at least $65 million over the next eight seasons. The deal doesn't guarantee Saban will continue to rebuff the annual overtures from NFL teams, but it certainly doesn't hurt.

''He's got a tremendous amount of energy, and we want him to be here for a long time,'' Byrne said.

Saban has repeatedly said he plans to end his coaching career at Alabama, where he has won four national titles in the last decade. Byrne demurs when asked if he has discussed with Saban any potential interest in a second crack at the NFL, where he spent two lackluster seasons with the Miami Dolphins.

''We've had a lot of discussions about a lot of different things and understandably I'd like to keep those between us,'' Byrne said. ''We feel strongly that he'll be able to finish his coaching career at the University of Alabama.''

Byrne was hired away from Arizona with a five-year deal worth $900,000 annually, plus $25,000 raises each year. He typically is in the office by 6 or 6:15 a.m., catching up on emails before a workout on the treadmill.

Byrne took over a department with six national titles since 2008 - not even counting football.

''Why I wanted to be at Alabama is that the expectations are very high, and that you have a chance to compete at the highest levels,'' Byrne said. ''I feel very fortunate to be a part of that. The passion of the Alabama fan base is a separator for us against our competition, so we need to use that as a strength.''

Byrne also discussed facilities, basketball coach Avery Johnson and the NCAA's football recruiting changes ahead of the SEC meetings in Destin, Florida:

- Byrne has heard concerns Saban raised about the December signing period and early visits, sure to be discussed in Destin.

''I'm always interested in what he has to say about those types of things, because I think he comes from a very global perspective of the game of football on the stances he takes,'' Byrne said. ''What he said makes perfect sense. If you move up the visits during the season, you already have your game to prepare for.

''That's going to be a new level of adjustment that we're all going to have to manage, and we'll manage it. But it still creates some complications that we'll have to deal with.''

- Johnson hasn't made the NCAA Tournament in his first two seasons but has brought in one of the Crimson Tide program's top recruiting classes. Byrne said they're ''working on'' a new contract for Johnson and that Alabama fans bring up basketball pretty quickly in conversations.

''What I've been told by a lot of good Alabama supporters is that there's as much interest in Alabama men's basketball right now as there has been in a long time,'' the AD said.

- Byrne said Alabama is reviewing facilities, including Coleman Coliseum, and deciding what will be the priorities. As for the possibility of building a new basketball arena, like rival Auburn: ''We're doing some very early preliminary looks at Coleman Coliseum and what the right direction is for that.''

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