Tuesday, May 8, 2012
Bill Byrne will be tough act to follow
By Edward Aschoff
Bill Byrne says he was tired.
So after nearly 10 years as Texas A&M's athletic director, he announced his retirement at a press conference Tuesday afternoon.
"It was time," Byrne said.
Byrne, 66, said his fatigue came from taking "a lot of pounding" in his job as Texas A&M's AD, but some will say he was pushed out.
Regardless, Byrne is stepping away less than two months before A&M officially moves to the SEC. While Byrne stacks hours of fishing and watching his grandsons play sports onto more hours of fishing, A&M official will be scrambling to find a replacement suited for helping the Aggies make the move to their new, more hostile home.
The move wasn't something Byrne, who will serve as a special adviser to A&M President R. Bowen Loftin until Aug. 31, was very keen on at first, but when it came down to picking the SEC or the Big 12, the Aggies went with the SEC and Byrne said all the right things.
"Those are decisions that are made above my pay grade," Byrne said when asked at his press conference if his voice was heard loud enough during SEC talks. "My dad was a soldier, my mom was an army nurse, you're taught to salute and carry on."
It appears associate athletic director John Thornton will serve as interim AD while the real search begins, but the person picked to succeed Byrne will have a tough act to follow.
Under Byrne's watch, A&M athletics won 17 national championships and 46 Big 12 championships, creating what he believed was a more confident, winning attitude in Aggieland.
"If you listened to what has happened over the last 10 years, our students, our coaches and all of you expect to win when the Aggies take the field," he said.
"That's been one of the best things that we've done here is change the culture. Texas A&M, whenever we take the field, your opponent better take their angles because we will be ready."
His successor will also have to stand much taller and do more in an area where Byrne never seemed to get it right: football. The sport Byrne knows the best, the one that brings in the most money and helps fund athletics just never got to where Byrne -- or most of Aggieland -- wanted it to.
During his tenure, the football team went through two head coaches -- Dennis Franchione and Mike Sherman -- comprising a 58-54 record. The Aggies won just one bowl game and finished a season ranked only once.
The 2011 season, in which A&M entered the season ranked No. 8, was "an absolute crusher" for Byrne after the Aggies went 7-6 and had a losing record in conference play for the second time in three years.
A&M's football program is walking into a meat grinder. Southern hospitality quickly dies on SEC fields and when football suffers.
Byrne put a lot of energy in non-revenue sports, but expect his successor to pay even more attention to the pig skin. Byrne raised funds to build McFerrin Athletic Center and Cox-McFerrin Basketball Center and to renovate Olsen Field, now the renovation of Kyle Field is in order. Expect that to be top priority moving forward and expect more resources to be put into the football program.
Byrne helped build some very strong parts to Texas A&M's athletic department, but it's time for the next person to go a step further.
The next person will be responsible for competing in a conference that prides itself on heavy support and lavish facilities. The next person will have to feed off of Byrne's past successes to make sure this school keeps up in the SEC in all sports. Being timid isn't an option in the land where some of the best ADs in the country reside.
It won't be about keeping up with Texas and Oklahoma. It'll be about keeping up with just about everyone.
Texas A&M is an attractive job for a good candidate and Byrne knows that. He just hopes that what he started is just the beginning for A&M.
"I expect us to continue to build champions at Texas A&M," he said.