COLLEGE STATION, TX -- Texas A&M Athletic Director Bill Byrne has announced his retirement.
At a Tuesday afternoon press conference, Byrne stepped down from the post he's held since December 2002.
"I thank you from the bottom of my heart for giving me this opportunity," he said.
In what was an emotional press conference at times, Byrne thanked the players and coaches for their work over the years, along with the team in the department.
"Across the board, we have put together what I believe is one of the best support staffs in the country," Byrne said. "We have a staff dedicated to our athletes, our coaches, our fans, and to Texas A&M."
Byrne also noted the 12th Man Foundation's raising of $110 million over the last decade to make improvements for every team at A&M. He thanked the 15,000 donors for their contributions.
When asked about the timing of the retirement, Byrne said when he was given the opportunity to extend his contract for an extended period, he only wanted two more years because he was tired.
Byrne will take on a special advisory role with the university until September 1. His contract was due to expire August 31, 2013. An athletic department press release noted Byrne would "accompany several athletic teams to postseason championships, and...continue assisting the athletic department with the university’s transition to the Southeastern Conference."
A&M President R. Bowen Loftin was given authority by the System Board of Regents to negotiate employment terms with Byrne last week.
Over his tenure, the Aggies captured 15 national championships, most of them in equestrian and track and field, and the most notable in women's basketball. A&M also captured more than 40 Big 12 titles over nearly a decade, among the most in their soon-to-be-former conference.
However, in football, the Aggies had a mediocre record. He called the last season a "crusher" for him.
Asked about the A&M move to the Southeastern Conference in the fall, Byrne said he was not involved in the transition process. One of Byrne's final acts as AD was to help lead meetings on campus Monday with SEC officials going over new rules and regulations for the Aggies' new home.
Byrne said he plans on staying in College Station in his retirement.
John Thornton, a senior associate athletic director and former Aggie basketball player and coach, will serve as the interim athletic director while the search for Byrne's replacement begins. System Regent Jim Wilson and A&M Vice President for Marketing and Communications Jason Cook will serve as co-chairs of the search team.
"The University’s goal is to have the next Director of Athletics identified, and on campus, before the start of the fall semester," according to the press release.
Loftin will hold a teleconference at 2:30 p.m. on Byrne's retirement. The president is in Qatar attending events at A&M's campus there.
“Bill Byrne leaves Texas A&M with a legacy of building champions and leaders of character, both in athletics and academics,” Loftin said in the press release. “He has built Texas A&M into one of the top overall athletic programs in the country not only in terms of winning championships, but operating with integrity and a never-ending dedication to our coaches and student-athletes."
The following is the press release from Texas A&M Athletics on Byrne's announcement:
COLLEGE STATION, Texas--Bill Byrne, an award-winning veteran of 29 years as an athletic director in collegiate athletics, has announced his retirement from Texas A&M University effective August 31, 2012.
Byrne will assume the role of Special Advisor to the President at Texas A&M beginning May 8. Byrne’s immediate duties will be to accompany several athletic teams to postseason championships, and to continue assisting the athletic department with the university’s transition to the Southeastern Conference.
Byrne will also remain as a member of the National Football Foundation Board of Directors and will continue to serve on the Board of Directors for the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA).
“Marilyn (Byrne’s wife) and I have been discussing the next stage of our life together and it is time for me to step down as the Director of Athletics at Texas A&M University,” Byrne said. “I am so very proud of our Aggie student-athletes, coaches and staff who have had such a large impact on me and my family. The past 10 years in Aggieland have been some of the most memorable and enjoyable of my life. I will continue to be a big fan of Aggie Athletics, and I will be attending as many athletic events as possible in the coming years.”
A nationwide search for Byrne’s replacement will begin immediately. Jim Wilson, a current member of The Texas A&M University System Board of Regents and a former Chairman of the Board of Trustees at the 12th Man Foundation, along with Texas A&M University Vice President for Marketing and Communications Jason Cook, will serve as co-chairs of the search committee. The University’s goal is to have the next Director of Athletics identified, and on campus, before the start of the fall semester.
Texas A&M University President Dr. R. Bowen Loftin credited Byrne for building the school’s athletic department into a nationally recognized program across the board.
“Bill Byrne leaves Texas A&M with a legacy of building champions and leaders of character, both in athletics and academics,” said Loftin. “He has built Texas A&M into one of the top overall athletic programs in the country not only in terms of winning championships, but operating with integrity and a never-ending dedication to our coaches and student-athletes.”
During his 10 years at Texas A&M, Byrne led the University’s athletic program to unprecedented success on the field and in the classroom.
The Aggies won 14 Big 12 Conference Championships in the first six years of the league’s existence. But since Byrne arrived in Aggieland, Texas A&M won an additional 45 Big 12 Championships, including a record haul of nine championships in the 2010-11 school year.
Since the start of the 2006-07 season, Texas A&M’s coaches and student-athletes won 37 team Big 12 Championships. No other Big 12 school won more team championships during that span than Texas A&M.
Before Byrne arrived, the Aggies won two NCAA National Championships in softball (1983, 1987) to go along with football national titles in 1919, 1927 and 1939, and two equestrian national crowns. Under Byrne’s leadership, Texas A&M won eight NCAA National Championships with three in men’s outdoor track and field, three in women’s outdoor track and field, and one each in men’s golf and women’s basketball. Texas A&M also won nine equestrian national titles during Byrne’s tenure.
One of Byrne’s colleagues, University of Oklahoma Director of Athletics Joe Castiglione, said Byrne’s success at Texas A&M has been impressive.
“From extraordinary team performance to vast improvements in facilities, and successful hosting of many NCAA Championships, he has been an inspiring force for all involved,” Castiglione said. “Bill is one of the last people to seek credit for any of these achievements, but it is abundantly clear that his leadership and decision making have helped put the Aggie Athletics Program in such a successful position.”
One of the most notable improvements Byrne made to the Texas A&M athletic department was with the men’s and women’s basketball programs which were not competitive on a conference or national basis upon his hiring.
Byrne’s first coaching hire at Texas A&M was women’s basketball coach Gary Blair. A year later Byrne hired Billy Gillispie to lead the men’s basketball program. Under Blair and Gillispie, and later men’s coach Mark Turgeon, the teams became regulars in the NCAA Championships. The men’s team made a record six straight NCAA appearances, while the women’s team made seven straight NCAA appearances, including reaching the Sweet 16 in four of the past five years. The women’s team made the most dramatic improvement during Byrne’s tenure capped by winning the NCAA Championship in 2011.
One of Byrne’s many strengths is hiring excellent coaches and giving them the necessary tools to be successful. His supportive style of leadership is widely known throughout the coaching community and allowed him to attract top coaches in the country. His emphasis on character, integrity, honesty, and compassion proved to be a winning combination.
Track and field coaching legend Pat Henry, who won six of the Aggies’ eight NCAA Championships during Byrne’s tenure at Texas A&M, said Byrne created an atmosphere for success as a “Coach’s AD.”
“I have had the privilege of working for Bill the last eight years,” Henry said. “I have been a coach for 39 years and 25 of those years have been at the Division I level. I can say without reservation that Bill has always operated in a very professional manner. He has created an atmosphere at Texas A&M that allows his coaches to not only succeed, but provides an environment that is conducive to success. A ‘coach’s AD’ is a phrase that has been used over the years to describe an athletic director that allows his coaches to coach, who does not micro-manage his coaches, and provides the coaches with the tools needed to succeed. Bill has not only been that kind of boss, but he has also been someone who has listened and understood the needs of all sports here at Texas A&M. As a result, the Texas A&M Athletics Department is now recognized as one of the finest in the country. Bill is a friend, and will always be a friend, but as a boss, he will not only be missed, but will be hard to replace.”
Texas A&M had a best-ever finish of 20th in the Learfield Directors’ Cup in 1995-96 before Byrne arrived. This year the school is aiming for a third straight Top 10 finish, and is on track for its eighth appearance in the Learfield Directors’ Cup Top 25 in nine full years under Byrne’s direction. The Aggies set a school-record with a sixth place finish in 2009-10.
NCAA President Emeritus Cedric Dempsey said Byrne’s ability to surround himself with quality coaches and administrative staff set him apart.
“Bill’s leadership has also been heralded by athletics professional organizations,” Dempsey said. “Having observed his professionalism, integrity, and family values, I know no one who has given more to the field of intercollegiate athletics without seeking the deserved recognition than Bill.”
A visionary athletic director, Byrne has overseen the construction of more than $110 million in facility improvements at Texas A&M, including the Cox-McFerrin Center for Aggie Basketball, Gilliam Indoor Track, and Olsen Field at Blue Bell Park.
Above all the on-field successes and facility improvements, Byrne’s passion is the student-athlete. He focused on developing young people into responsible adults with integrity and character who would join society as exceptional ambassadors for their institution. As a result of his passion, student-athlete organizations became an integral part of athletic departments under his watch.
Texas A&M’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and Aggie Athletes Involved have been very active in the Bryan-College Station community during Byrne’s tenure. Aggie student-athletes organize and implement an annual canned food drive in association with a home football game. AggiesCan raised thousands of dollars and collected several tons of canned food to benefit the Brazos Valley Food Bank. Student-athletes also participate in an annual coat and blanket drive, and also helped distribute helmets to area youth as part of Hard Hats for Little Heads.
Recently, 354 Texas A&M student-athletes and student support staff were honored for posting a grade point average of 3.0 or higher during the 2011 calendar year. Of those, 46 earned an “Outstanding Athletics Scholar Award” for posting a 4.0 GPA for at least one semester.
Byrne was named the 2002 John L. Toner Award winner by the National Football Foundation, signifying the director of athletics who demonstrates superior administrative abilities and dedication to college athletics, especially in collegiate football.
After earning his bachelor’s degree in business from Idaho State in 1967, Byrne added an MBA in 1971 and began his senior administration role as director of alumni relations at Idaho State. From Idaho, Byrne would become executive director of the University of New Mexico Lobo Club (1976-79) and then serve as an assistant athletic director at San Diego State University (1980-82) before accepting an associate athletic director’s position at the University of Oregon.
When he was named Director of Athletics in 1984 at Oregon, he became one of the youngest athletic directors in Division I at the age of 38.
At the University of Nebraska, when Byrne arrived the athletic department was operating at a $2.5 million deficit and when he left the department was on solid ground with 92 championships operating on a $44.5 million budget.
Nebraska would post 10 national championships under his watch along with 83 conference crowns. During his time, Nebraska finished in the top 25 every year in the Directors’ Cup from the trophy inception to 1994 to 2002, with five appearances in the top 10.
During his 29 year career as a Division I athletic director, Byrne’s teams won 30 national championships and 144 conference championships.
Byrne is married to Dr. Marilyn Kent Byrne, who has expertise in leadership development, team building, and executive coaching. The Byrnes have two sons – Bill III and Greg. Bill is a vice president of Visa USA in San Francisco. Greg followed his father’s footsteps and is the director of athletics at the University of Arizona. Greg and his wife Regina live in Tucson, Ariz., with their sons Nicholas and Davis.