Arizona basketball coach Sean Miller lost more than his athletic director when Greg Byrne left the Wildcats to take over at Alabama. Miller made a point to say a friend is leaving.
“We didn’t really know each other when Greg came from Mississippi State,” Miller said. “It’s kind of an empty feeling with him leaving, because of how meaningful he was to our program, our university and then the friendship in addition to that.”
It’s a difficult time for Arizona, with Byrne leaving after almost seven years on the job. He arrived at Arizona about a year after former athletic director Jim Livengood hired Miller in what turned out to be his final major act.
“I’d have a hard time believing that an athletic director anywhere did a better job for a university than he did for us here at Arizona,” Miller said of Byrne.
“In the seven years that he was here, a lot of great things happened. And in terms of overall support, relationship, direction of the men’s basketball program, I couldn’t imagine a better relationship or better leadership.”
Miller has "an empty feeling" over the departure of Greg Byrne. pic.twitter.com/ZBTqzANJiy
Byrne’s central achievement at Arizona was the funding and construction of the Lowell-Stevens Football Facility/north end zone facelift — cost: $72 million — but the $30 million first phase of McKale Center renovations have been vital, Miller said.
Arizona, before the 2014-2015 season, replaced every seat in McKale Center, installed a new high-def scoreboard, replaced the court, improved the lighting, expanded the concession and restroom areas and carved out more space for men’s and women’s basketball locker rooms, lounges and video rooms.
Miller credited Byrne with changing McKale — which opened in 1973 — “at a very critical time.”
“You walk into McKale right now, it looks like a brand new arena. It shines,” Miller said.
“The impact is for everybody — television, for our fan base, for our team. From a recruiting perspective, that is a big, big deal on why young people choose the place where they go to school.”
Miller further credited Byrne with providing the resources to alleviate travel concerns on recruiting trips. Arizona, under Byrne, also made it routine to take chartered flights to games rather than fly commercial.
“There has never been anything that was ever compromised, with winning as the end result,” Miller said. “If it impacted our ability to get better, then he was going to find a way to get that done for our program.”
Miller further praised Byrne’s honest and communication skills.
“He woke up every day with a tremendous passion and energy to make Arizona the best place it would be possibly be,” Miller said. “His energy and his effort are unmatched.”
Miller is the centerpiece of the athletic department. No doubt. He’s in the middle of his season — so he’s a little busy and won’t be involved in the day-to-day effort to identify Byrne’s replacement, a search that has been initiated by university president Ann Weaver Hart.
But it is inconceivable that Miller won’t have an important stamp of approval when UA narrows the field of candidates.
“I’m the basketball coach. That’s my job,” Miller said. “If asked, certainly I would love to have a sense and feel for who they are, and I’m confident that will happen.”