A Q&A With MSU AD Greg Byrne

Greg Byrne, who has been on his new job as Mississippi State's Athletic Director for about a month, talks about his first 30+ days on the job and the future of Mississippi State athletics.

You've been on the job for about a month. What's it been like?
"It's been a whirlwind. It has been non-stop. Our fan base, our coaches, our student-athletes have all been outstanding. They have been very excited. The letters, the calls, the emails of support has just been remarkable. I feel very blessed to be at Mississippi State and to be a part of the Mississippi State family.

"Our determination to make Mississippi State athletics the best it can be is our focus everyday. I have such a passion for what I do here. And I'm so fortunate that (my wife) Regina is so supportive. And that (my sons) Nick and Davis are also very supportive. What we do as a family is spend our family time around Mississippi State. And I can't think of a better way for our kids to grow up than to be in that environment on a daily basis."

I know you answer every email that you receive. Do you think it will get to the point where you can't personally answer all of them due to the demands of your job as an AD?
"I hope not because my goal is to answer every single email. What we will do is either myself or a member of my staff will respond to each one. And in our Thursday weekly (online report) we will address some of the things the emails mention. But the goal is still going to be to try and address all of them even though I may not get to all of them in the timely manner that I would like. Just from the baseball search, it probably took me over a month to answer all of the emails. I may have accidentally deleted an email, but I think I got to all of them."

Haven't you made some changes in the way the athletic department is doing things?
"Larry (Templeton) had his structure that he was very comfortable with and it worked very well for Mississippi State.

"But with a change in leadership, each leader has to be comfortable with how he operates the department. It's that way with any athletic department. Due to that, we've done some restructuring of the staff. What we are trying to do is have different areas report to different Associate Athletic Directors. It's pretty common for most football operations people in our league to be Assistant Athletic Directors. For Brad Pendergrass' hard work, we wanted to reward him with that. And, at the same time, we gave some people additional responsibilities. We did that so that when I'm not here decisions can be made and we can move on.

"We divided up our sports. I have football and men's and women's basketball reporting to me. Then we have all the other sports divided among other administrators in our building. That way, the coaches can get the individual attention on a daily basis that they deserve.

"Mike Nemeth, who is now Senior Associate Athletic Director, oversees baseball. Duncan McKenzie is a Senior Associate Athletic Director. And Ann Carr is also a Senior Associate Athletic Director. Bracky Brett has moved up from Assistant Athletic Director to Associate Athletic Director. Mike Richey also moved from Assistant Athletic Director to Associate Athletic Director. Those are the main changes that we have made."

So they have the ability to say yes or no to coaches?
"Yes, as does Dr. Boles and Scott Stricklin in their roles. Bringing in Scott was really big for us. We are very glad to have him."

What is Scott Stricklin's role?
"He is replacing me, although we are changing it a little bit. Mike Richey is Executive Director of the Bulldog Club. What we are trying to do with Scott is keep him free so that he doesn't get waded down with too much daily administrative work.

"Then, as we develop what our capital needs are and get that organized while working with the university, Scott will be very involved on a daily basis of developing all of our fund-raising efforts for those capital needs."

You mentioned that having coaches report directly to Senior Associate Athletic Directors allows them to have a personal contact in the Athletic Director's office. What are other benefits of having this layer of management?
"This will give these administrators an opportunity to have some experience doing that. Part of the reason I was able to tell Dr. Foglesong that I could handle this job was because I had managed sports in the past. They are getting that type experience in their new roles."

When will the football replay board start being built?
"We had a meeting about it last week. We are getting all the steel ordered, but they will be breaking ground in the next few days. The goal is to have it done by the middle of October, but construction projects don't always stay within the timeframe that you want."

Are there any concrete things you see happening with the baseball stadium within the next year or two?
"We are developing all of our facility needs so that we will clearly understand what each sport's needs are. Once we have done that, we are going to prioritize them, then we will begin to raise money for them by developing funding plans for each.

"(To answer your question) Dudy Noble Field is a great venue, a great college baseball stadium. But it is getting to the point where it will probably need some updating because it is starting to show its age."

There is still the old Mississippi State mentality in the minds of a lot of MSU fans. What I mean by that is they want to believe that we should have a good season this year, but they are just not sure. They still think there's a chance the bottom will fall out and we will be back to losing seasons like in the past. How are you going to be able to change that mentality?
"I think a lot of our fans truly believe we can win here and be very competitive within the rules. The old saying is, 'if you are going to keep score, you may as well try to win.' And our coaching staff wants to win. But, at the same time, there is a saying that says, 'in order to gain respect, you first have to respect yourself. And I think it is really important that we be very proud of all the great attributes that Mississippi State has to offer.

"One of the things that you hear Coach Croom, Coach Stansbury and a lot of other coaches talk about is that within a four-hour radius of our campus we have student-athletes who can come to Mississippi State and can absolutely allow us to compete in the Southeastern Conference and even compete for SEC championships. With the coaching staffs that we have, they are going to be very focused in keeping the best kids within that four-hour radius here and sprinkle in a few other kids outside of that area."

With a budget that is a fraction of most budgets in the SEC, how will MSU be able to do that?
"If we are going to be as strong as we can be at Mississippi State, we all have to roll up our sleeves and we all have to go to work. Things we have told our staff is that we are all season ticket sellers, we are all compliance people, we are all marketers, we are all maintenance. If we see a piece of trash on one of our facilities that is not someone else's job, that's your job to pick it up. All of us have to have some ownership in Mississippi State. That is the reality of Mississippi State.

"And we are very fortunate to work at Mississippi State. When it was announced in February that I was going to be the new athletic director, I had over 250 people approach me about coming to work here. Every one of them told me that they love Mississippi State and that they want to be a part of it. That's great. That's one of the great things about college athletics, the passion. But at the same time, we, as a department, should all remember that we are very fortunate to be in this environment that we are working in on a daily basis. That is very unique.

"Another thing, in the book Good to Great , which is a heck of a business book, the items they talk about in the book can almost be applied to any industry. In it, one of the things they talk about is relating your business to a bus. What you have to do to make your bus run as smoothly as possible, you have to get the right people on the bus, and you have to get the right people in the correct seats and have everybody go in the same direction. We have to have everybody at Mississippi State go in the same direction. If we are going to be as strong as we possibly can be, we can't have a divided fanbase.

"And if we have everybody going together in the right direction at Mississippi State, we can compete with anybody."

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing swindoll@genespage.com.

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