Spending Gameday With MSU AD Greg Byrne

I contacted Mississippi State Athletic Director Greg Byrne over a month ago about doing an article about what it's like to spend gameday with him. Once he understood why I wanted to do it, he very graciously agreed to my request. So, from 10:30 am to 10:15 pm Saturday, September 6th, I was his shadow - taking notes, pictures and doing interviews with numerous people along the way.

Greg's Saturday morning began with a 30-minute jog, although on this morning, as Greg said, he "slept in until 6:30." His normal jog begins at 5:30 each morning.

Greg takes his jogging somewhat serious, having run two half marathon's called the Frost Bite Half Marathons the last two years.

Once he's through with his jogging, he then gets ready for the day ahead.

Wanting to look his best, he stops by Eaves Barber Shop to get a haircut before he goes into work.

From there, he picks up Mike Richey, the Associate AD in charge of the Bulldog Club and Ticket Operations, and heads to the Bryan Building. They arrive at 9:30, eight and a half hours prior to the 6 pm game.

On this day, the two men, who have worked together for several years when Greg was the head of the Bulldog Club, are both preparing for the noon Bulldog Club Board of Directors Meeting.

I arrive at Greg's office an hour later at 10:30.

We discuss the logistics of my day with him. Once we are through with that, he continues with his preparation of the Bulldog Club BOD Meeting.

I spend my time browsing the various items he has on his office wall, one of which catches my interest - a plaque with the title A Short Course in Human Relations. It's to the left of the door as you walk into his office. It's one of the first things you notice when you walk in.

Here's what it has written on it.

  • The six more important words - "I admit I made a mistake"
  • The five more important words - "You did a good job"
  • The four more important words - "What is your opinion?"
  • The three more important words - "If you please"
  • The two more important words - "Thank you"
  • The one most important word - "We."
  • The least important word - "I"

    When I asked him about the plaque, he told me that, "we want it to be about we, not I."

    And, according to Mike Richey, that's 100% true. "He has brought a sense of us understanding our customers and that we are a service organization."

    At about 11:30 Bud Thompson, the current president of the Bulldog Club, arrives and meets with Mike Richey and Greg prior to the noon meeting.

    The meeting began a few minutes after noon and ended at about 1:15.

    Although I can't talk about the specific details of the meeting, it, basically, consisted of three parts - Starkville banker Tommy Tomlinson dicussed the Bulldog Club finances, Mike Richey discussed the Bulldog Club in general and Greg discussed the MSU athletic department, where it stands now and what the future holds. Without giving specific details, I can confirm that facility additions and improvements is a high priority.

    One addition that is close to finalization is the new basketball practice facility. According to Greg, "it should happen soon because we are closed to getting a lead donor." Greg told me that once the lead donor is finalized, the project can begin because there are already five or six other donors onboard.

    The video replay board was discussed and the drawings were shown to the members of the board. While looking at the drawing I wrote down the sizes. It will be approximately 111 feet tall and 80 feet wide, while the screen itself will be 53 feet wide and 30 feet tall.

    (Update: It turns out I misread the drawing. The actual size is 152 feet wide by 135 feet, 6 inches tall, with a main HD screen 111 feet wide by 47 feet high.-Gene)

    One thing Greg mentioned that I feel he wouldn't mind me writing about is the way he wants the MSU athletic department to be run. He has great respect for the Ritz-Carlton Hotels and Resorts business model. Instead of your normal pyramid type organization where top management is located at the top of the pyramid, the pyramid is, basically, turned upside down and higher management is located at the bottom supporting the rest of the organization. In other words, if someone is sick and there is no one else available to do the job, then top management will roll up their sleeves and do that job. He wants MSU's athletic department to be run exactly the same way.

    Once the meeting was over, I asked Bud Thompson what he felt Greg has brought to the MSU athletic department. He said that, "Greg is very open with the staff and the members of the public. He is very dedicated. The future is in very good hands."

    A tour of the new academic center, which the IHL College Board has named in honor of former MSU athletic director Larry Templeton, was the next thing on the agenda.

    Greg took the group through the entire two-story facility, including the academic employees offices, the student-athletes study hall and the 300+ seat cafeteria.

    Suffice it to say, while the outside looks almost complete, there is a LOT of work yet to be done on the inside. But you guys are going to like what you see when it's completed. Greg even mentioned how buildings are often designed for present needs with no thought toward the future. In the case of this building, however, that is not the case because there are areas set aside for potential future needs.

    Once the tour was concluded, Greg, Associate AD for External Affairs Scott Stricklin and I headed back to the Bryan Building where Greg always parks his vehicle.

    Greg explained the reasoning behind that, "my dad taught me not to sit in the best seats or park in the best spots." In other words, the best seats and the best parking spots are for the fans, not athletic department officials, which is just another example of his customer service oriented style of doing business.

    From there, we got into a golf cart that is furnished by the Bulldog Club so that Greg could visit MSU fans that are tailgating.

    First up was a short trip to the RV park in the parking area directly across from the Shira Complex to visit with Mike George. Greg visited with Mike and the 30+ folks at his tailgate approximately 15 minutes.

    And the folks came away impressed with what they saw from Greg. According to Mike George, "Greg is a breath of fresh air, very helpful and very accommodating."

    Next, from 2:15 to 2:25, he visited another RV tailgating group and talked with a couple of MSU fans there - Frank Easterwood and Sonny Bowie, both members of the Rolling Bulldogs and the Mississippi Travelers. They mainly talked about RV parking.

    Frank also mentioned that his son Jeff Easterwood, who played football at State from 1988 to 1990, died at the age of 29 while saving the life of a girl who was drowning.

    From there, we drove to The Junction so that Greg could walk around and visit with fans tailgating there prior to his next planned meeting.

    First things first, though. A couple of athletic department employees, who saw him arrive, talked to him about a couple of problems that had occurred. That took about 5 minutes.

    Now the real fun begins - visiting with the many fans in The Junction and other areas of campus.

    From 2:35 to 2:45, Greg shook the hands of at least 30 MSU fans, talking with each person, thanking them for coming to the game. Remember the plague A Short Course in Human Relations that was mentioned earlier in this article? Well, Greg used the 5th part of it - "Thank You" - constantly while visiting with the fans.

    A meeting with the club level and suites gameday workers was next on his agenda.

    And as we were walking to that section of the stadium, Greg thanked the ticket workers and told them to make sure they thanked the fans for coming and to let them know we appreciate them for being at the game. And trust me when I say this was a constant theme of his.

    When we arrived at the club level section, Greg continued to say hello to each worker that he met.

    At 3 pm sharp, he gave his talk to the club level and suites workers. There are 42 of them and most are MSU students. Megan Odom, an MSU graduate and former soccer player at State, is in charge of them.

    Just as he told the other workers he came in contact with, he told this group the same thing, "look every person directly in the eye and thank them for being here. And always anticipate their needs and immediately attend to them."

    We left at 3:05 and headed to the Bully statue unveiling, which was to take place directly across from Dorman Hall.

    He and interim president Vance Watkins spoke to the group of people attending the event until 3:20.

    I asked one of the MSU fans attending the event what his thoughts are about Greg. Owen McGuire said, "I think (Greg) will help us grow leaps and bounds and take us to a new level."

    From there, he walked to the Cellular South Fanfare to meet and greet more MSU fans. As he was walking, he was constantly saying hello to MSU fans, shaking hands with them while introducing himself.

    Once at the Fanfare, he stopped and talked to numerous fans, thanking them for coming, all the while introducing himself.

    While the majority of fans know his name and that he is the MSU athletic director, there are many who have never met him, hence they didn't know what he looked like. That's the reason why he felt the need to introduce himself.

    After visiting with the fans at the Fanfare, the MSU football team arrived about this time and he watched them get off the bus and do the Dogwalk.

    Once that was concluded, Greg crossed the street and visited with fans tailgating next to the parking lot to the east and southeast of the Barnes and Noble Bookstore, one of whom, Robert Clark, is a very good friend of Greg's. Robert and Greg became friends because their sons play sports together.

    I asked Robert what Greg is like as a friend, not as an athletic director. According to him, "Greg is down to earth and will do anything for you. Half the time we talk it's not even about Mississippi State sports, but just friends talking."

    Greg continued to meet and greet more tailgaters in that area until about 4:45 at which time he walked across the street to the stadium.

    Mike Richey, and a couple of other MSU athletic department employees, were manning a special ticket scanner booth (the scanners are being used for the first time to scan tickets). Greg visited with Mike to see how the scanners were working. According to Mike, there had been very few problems.

    Greg, wanting to wish MSU head coach Sylvester Croom good luck, then walked onto the field, talking to several other employees along the way asking them how things were going.

    Once on the field, Greg talked to several recruits who were officially and unofficially visiting State (I backed away while he talked to the recruits), a few of the game referees and other athletic department officials.

    From 5:00 to 5:10 pm, while I remained on the field, he visited with Coach Croom, then went up to the Miskelly Recruiting Center to visit with the recruits who were in there.

    Once he was back on the field, he talked with MSU athletic department officials for the next 30 minutes, mainly making sure things were running smoothly.

    At about 5:45, a football was presented to him and Dr. Vance Watson, both acting as representatives of Mississippi State University, from the Mississippi 4-H Clubs in a ceremony held in the middle of the field.

    From there, we walked to the MSU Athletic Directors skybox to watch the first part of the game. He and his wife Regina watched the game together for the next few minutes. Then, it was time to start visiting the MSU fans in the other skyboxes.

    Some of the skyboxes that he visited on the 500 level were Ja-Co Foods-Sonic Drive-In, Head Football Coach, Bruce Martin, The Gipsons, J.F. Thompson, Jr, Cullis and Gladys Wade, F. Davis Wade, Telesouth Communications, Howard Industries, Larry Homan-Johnny Crane, Hancock Bank, David and Rosalie Morris, Cadence Bank, Elmore and Lyle and there were several others he visited on the 600 level including the Colberts and Stansburys skybox.

    According to one of the skybox owners, Bruce Martin, "Greg is wonderful. I couldn't be happier. He's the best thing that could have happened to us."

    Ok, I'm going to balance out this honeymoon that MSU fans have with Greg with an incident that happened in one of the skyboxes that we visited. After Greg had introduced himself to a lady in one of the skyboxes, she turned to me as I was walking by and asked ever so quietly and with complete sincerity, "what does he do at Mississippi State?"

    When I mentioned this to Greg at the end of the night, he starting laughing. As he said to me, while he takes his job very seriously, he doesn't try to take himself too seriously.

    At about halftime, while Greg was visiting more skyboxes on the 600 level and MSU fans in the club level section, I talked with his wife to find out a little more about Greg and what it was like before he became AD and what it is like now.

    According to Regina, what you see with Greg now is how Greg has always been. "Even when Greg was at Oregon State, he always went around visiting with fans during the game."

    And other things haven't changed, including their post-game routine.

    "After the game, we normally go home, order a pizza and watch games on ESPN," said Regina. When asked why they watch more games after spending the entire day at one, she simply said, "we love college football."

    She did concede that after a morning game they might go out and eat, but even that's a rare occasion. Watching football games are more fun to them than going out.

    But other aspects of their lives have changed dramatically since he has become the MSU AD.

    "He receives a lot of emails and texts after the game now," said Regina. "And we used to talk to each other three to four times a day. Now it's only about one time a day. I text and email him now instead of calling him."

    Other than a couple of vacations a year, the demands of his job give them precious little time together, but when they do have the time, they prefer to spend it together with their two sons instead of going out.

    Sunday is the one day they usually have together. So, what is a Sunday like for them?

    "We go to church, eat lunch and usually go to Wal-Mart or Krogers," said Regina.

    While that doesn't exactly sound like the most exciting day, Regina explained the reasoning behind it.

    "Greg and I (not only love each other but we) like each other and are very comfortable with each other," she said. "So we use the time we have just to hang out with each other."

    We finally finished talking sometime in the third quarter with MSU leading big over Southeastern Louisiana. Greg arrived back at the skybox and off we went to the other side of the stadium.

    And as he constantly has done throughout his time with me, he greeted fans (and MSU employees) while we were walking, always thanking them for coming to the game.

    We arrived at the elevator (thank you Greg for conceding that to me since you would have preferred to walk up the stairs in the back of the stadium) and went to the pressbox where he talked with several MSU athletic department officials, a Southeastern Louisiana athletic department official that he has known for many years and several members of the media.

    Once the game ended, Greg, for the first time since he's been working at Mississippi State, went to a Coach Croom post-game press conference. I actually had to show him how to get to the press conference and where the AD normally stands.

    Just so you'll know, it's not that he didn't want to attend but out of respect to former MSU athletic director Larry Templeton he felt that was Larry's domain, not his.

    Once Coach Croom was through with his portion of the press conference, Greg got in the elevator with him and congratulated him on the victory.

    A few minutes later he came back to get me and we went back to the MSU AD skybox where he took a little time to eat and unwind with his wife and sons and Scott Stricklin after putting in a 13-hour day.

    Here's another bit of humor that occurred. During this time, while we were talking, Regina looked at me and asked, "are you going home with us?" Trust me, you had to be there to hear the tone in which she said it. While she appreciated that I spent time with Greg during the day, enough was enough - a day in the life is fine, a night in the life, well, that's not so fine. I knew she meant no offense by the comment and none was taken.

    At 10:15 pm, Greg drove me home and a gameday with the MSU athletic director came to an end.

    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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