For Greg Byrne, Alabama was always a dream destination.
“Yeah, I just admired the heck out of Alabama,” Byrne said Tuesday on his final weekly appearance on Sportsradio 1290.
“I remember as a kid watching college football and watching Coach (Bear) Bryant‘s teams, with Keith Jackson calling the games and Coach (Frank) Broyles doing the color — just those legendary games. Then, when I started going to that campus during my years in the SEC, it was like, man, this place is special.
“I have great admiration for it. Great admiration for the history of the program and what that represents. We love college towns, just like we love Tucson.”
Byrne, after nearly seven years on the job at the University of Alabama, was announced Monday as the next athletic director at Alabama, replacing retiring Bill Battle.
Before coming to Arizona, Byrne spent about eight years in the SEC, as an associate athletic director at Kentucky (2002-2005) before moving on to Mississippi State until 2010. Byrne was an associate athletic director in Starkville before a promotion to AD in 2008.
It’s only about a 90-minute drive between Mississippi State and the University of Alabama.
Byrne, 45, said he and wife, Regina, know the Tuscaloosa area well.
“Regina would go to Tuscaloosa because that’s where the nearest Target was. There wasn’t one in Starkville,” he said.
“I think my first Alabama football game was 15 years ago. It’s a very special place. When they called and wanted to talk seriously with me, that’s when I felt like I had to at least have a conversation with them. Sure enough, they decided I was the right guy.”
It helped that he hit it off with Alabama football coach Nick Saban last week. Saban and his wife had the Byrnes over to their house for about three hours during the day.
“They were outstanding,” Byrne said.
“You can tell spending time with him why he is as good as he is. It really was an honor to go spend time with him. I hope he’s the football coach there for a very long time. He’s still very driven in what he’s doing and he’s done an incredible job. It will be wonderful to get a chance to work with him.”
Saban, 65, has won four national titles in 10 years at Alabama. The Crimson Tide is the only program to have reached the College Football Playoff in each of the three years of its existence.
The Alabama men’s basketball program is considered to be on the rise with second-year head coach and NBA veteran Avery Johnson. The Tide is 10-6 this season and has the nation’s No. 5 recruiting class — two spots behind Arizona — according to the 247Sports Composite rankings.
“I’m really excited about Avery,” Byrne said.
“I have talked to him on the phone. Talked to a lot of friends of his who are friends of mine. He is really well-thought of. … There is an opportunity to perform at a high level there. I’m really pleased Avery is the coach and look forward to the chance to work with him.
“And the women’s coach. The women’s basketball team should have an opportunity there, too. The goal when you’re at the University of Alabama is to have a chance to compete in all the sports you’re in. The resources are there to allow that to happen.”
Byrne’s in-studio radio interview lasted nearly 30 minutes, cut off at the end because he was tearing up when talking about leaving Arizona.
“There are a lot of good things that have happened at Arizona. There are a lot of great things ahead. And that’s because of what everybody does collectively,” Byrne said.
“You go through this, and you hope it’s not something where people say, ‘Don’t let the door hit you on the way out’ We love Tucson. We love the U of A. We’re going to continue to come back here whenever we can.”