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Bill Byrne leaving: A&M athletic director to announce retirement - The Eagle: Local News

Bill Byrne leaving: A&M athletic director to announce retirement

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Posted: Monday, May 7, 2012 12:00 am

By DAVID HARRIS

david.harris@theeagle.com

Bill Byrne gathered together dozens of the who's who within Texas A&M's athletic department for a private meeting at the Letterman's Club late Monday afternoon.

Dressed in black slacks and an Aggie golf polo of the same color, he walked out of the meeting about an hour later and flashed his characteristic smile.

"I have nothing to say at this time," he said after shaking hands with two reporters from The Eagle, a writer with Gigem247.com and an intern with texags.com. "I'll see you guys tomorrow. Thanks for coming out."

He was referencing the press conference that he's called for 12:30 p.m. Tuesday at The Zone Club to discuss his retirement plans.

But Monday was about telling his coaches and staffers -- many of whom he's worked with for the past decade -- what comes next for him.

Looking content, he walked back into the Letterman's Club.

According to sources inside the meeting, Byrne spoke for a little over a minute, held his emotions in check and was straight and to the point. Multiple coaches did get emotional during the meeting. Byrne's son, Greg, was also in attendance. He is the athletic director at the University of Arizona. There were no representatives from the president's office at the meeting.

Associate athletic director John Thornton exited the room, held both his hands up and said "No comment" as he walked out of G. Rollie White Coliseum. No current coaches would comment on the record.

The A&M System Board of Regents last week gave the university's president, R. Bowen Loftin, the go-ahead to negotiate Byrne's parting after more than nine years at the helm.

Byrne has one year left on his contract, but both he and Loftin had suggested the departure would come much earlier. The CEO of A&M sports wrote last week in his weekly newsletter that he's looking forward to announcing his next step. Byrne, 66, made $920,000 during the 2011-2012 season, including bonuses. During his time at A&M, the Aggies won 46 Big 12 championships and 17 national championships -- nine for equestrian, six for track, one for golf and one for women's basketball. The football team went 58-54, won one bowl game and finished one season ranked.

The move comes as A&M is set to debut in the Southeastern Conference on July 1.

Chatter about a move to the SEC surrounded Texas A&M through 2010 and 2011. Byrne had gone on the record in 2010 saying that the Big 12 was the right place for A&M athletics.

"It is my sincere belief that staying in the Big 12, where we compete in the same time zone, get our athletes home from competition at a decent hour, and where they can play in front of their families and friends, are all very important things to consider," Byrne said in a June 2010 column posted on aggieathletics.com. "Our athletes and coaches have skin in the realignment game, and all our coaches and the vast majority of our student-athletes want to stay where we are. That was a key decision point to me."

The SEC buzz heated up in 2011, and on Sept. 26, it became official that A&M would join the prestigious league.

Byrne told The Birmingham News in March that he regretted the school's tenure in the Big 12 was ending, but called the move "brilliant" and said the SEC "screams stability." He also riled up some fans in the same article when talking about the demise of the A&M-UT rivalry.

"I feel badly about that," Byrne said. "I'm very foolish. I assumed -- and it was a rash assumption on my part -- that our friends over in the state capital would want to continue playing us. It turns out they didn't think we were as much of a rival as we thought of them."

Byrne hired Mike Sherman as football coach in November 2007, after Dennis Franchione resigned under the controversy of an insider newsletter. Sherman went 25-25 in four seasons. The team was a preseason top 10 pick in 2011, but went 6-6, including a loss to Texas on Nov. 24. Byrne stood behind Sherman.

"We need to set aside our disappointment and build from here," he wrote in his Wednesday Weekly column on Nov. 30. "We all need to remember our coaches and players put us in position to win all our games this season, and once we take the emotion out of what went wrong, we will find a way to fix it."

"I love Mike Sherman," he told The Eagle that same day. "I think he's a great football coach."

On Dec. 1, the Austin American-Statesman reported Sherman was going to be fired. Sherman was on the road, recruiting. Byrne fired him by phone. After an eight-day coaching search, Byrne hired Kevin Sumlin away from the University of Houston.

Byrne arrived at A&M from the University of Nebraska in December 2002 with an impressive résumé of building up athletic departments. He saw much success in the non-revenue sports. He gave the athletic infrastructure a lift, and in working with the 12th Man Foundation, he raised the funds to build the McFerrin Athletic Center and Cox-McFerrin Basketball Center and to renovate Olsen Field.

Byrne's basketball, track and field hires paid dividends. He lured Gary Blair in 2003 to rebuild the struggling women's basketball program. In 2011, the team won its first national championship. He hired Billy Gillispie and then Mark Turgeon, who led the dormant men's program to six consecutive NCAA tournaments. And he hired Pat Henry, who has led the men's and women's track and field teams to three consecutive outdoor NCAA championships.

Byrne also hired Rob Childress as baseball coach in 2006, and the team reached the College World Series in 2011.

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