Outgoing University of Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne was not the one who brought Sean Miller to Tucson in 2009 — that was former AD Jim Livengood — but the two have worked together since 2010 and formed a “great relationship” in the process.
And when Miller held his weekly press conference Monday, naturally the head coach was asked about Byrne’s departure, and this was his response:
“First of all, I’m happy for Greg and his family. There’s really two levels to him leaving. Number one, I have a hard time believing that any athletic director anywhere did a better job for a university than he did for us here at Arizona in the seven years that he was here. A lot of great things have happened in terms of his overall support, relationship, direction of the men’s basketball program I’m in charge of. I couldn’t imagine a better relationship, better leadership.
On a personal level, a friend’s leaving. A friend is moving from Tucson. His wife and Greg are great friends of my wife and myself. That usually doesn’t happen in a relationship between an athletic director and a coach, but in this case it did happen. We didn’t really know each other when Greg came from Mississippi State and obviously it’s kind of an empty feeling with him leaving only because how meaningful he was to our program, our university, and the friendship in addition. But I know he’ll go on to do great things at Alabama, they’re lucky to have him and I know that we’ll move in a positive direction and most important, get somebody here as our new athletic director who approaches things in a similar way and does a great job in their own right. I’m anxious to see that happen.”
Miller said Byrne’s most notable quality was his honesty.
“He’s somebody that’s incredibly candid and honest with a coach. Very transparent. He’s an incredible communicator, somebody that doesn’t let a lot of time go by. He has a great pulse and feel for (what’s) going on in your program. It’s not always smooth. There are always crisis moments, there are always tough moments in an athletic program of this stature, and he never wavers. He problem solves, he’s with you, and he loves to win. I think that all of us benefitted tremendously from his overall passion to improve, whether it be facilities, whether to give us the biggest advantage we could have in any recruiting situation, and he did it as really part of his everyday. He woke up everyday and with tremendous passion and energy to make Arizona the best place it could possibly be. His energy was effort and effort were unwatched. So I think that in an athletic director it’s almost like hiring a coach today. You have to burn the candle at both ends, fundraising, being comprehensive, it’s a difficult job for sure and it’s certainly to get a great person in that person, it’s amazing what it does for everybody.”
While Byrne was not the one that hired Miller, he did have a role of keeping Miller in Tucson. In 2011, Miller flirted with the idea of heading east to take the head coaching job at Maryland, but after 40 hours of thought Miller decided to remain at Arizona.
“He was a part of it,” Miller said of Byrne’s impact in that decision. “That seems like 20 years ago now, so long ago, but every coach you have a sense of comfort.”
Miller admired Byrne’s ability to renovate McKale Center at what he called a “very critical time.”
“I think if you walk into McKale right now…it looks like a brand new arena. It shines and the impact is for everybody. From a recruiting perspective, that is a big, big deal in why young people choose the place that they go to school. And in just in terms of the need. …Tucson isn’t blessed with a great location in some ways. We’re not easy to get to and some places that you need to get to, you can’t get to very easily but providing the ability in the recruiting aspect to be able to get to those places and back, there’s never been anything that’s ever been compromised with winning as the end result. If it impacted our ability to be better, then he was going to find a way to get that done for our program.”
Miller downplayed his potential role in determining the next athletic director, but said he’d be willing to give input if asked.
“I mean, I’m the basketball coach. I’m getting ready for USC and UCLA,” he said. “That’s number one. That’s my job. If asked, certainly I would love to have sense or feel for who they are and I’m confident that that will happen.
“I’m sure the process will be moving fast.”
In the meantime, Erika Hanson Barnes will serve as the school’s interim athletic director. She said Monday that she will officially start on Feb 1. and does not know how long it will take for UA to find a permanent replacement.
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