How would you like to be the “boss” of Nick Saban?
Greg Byrne not only holds that distinction as the athletics director of the University of Alabama, but he’s charged with overseeing an athletics program that has few rivals in notoriety.
“I’ve been in the Hong Kong airport and I’ve gotten a ‘Roll Tide,’” Byrne said as guest speaker for the Dothan Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon at the Wiregrass Rehabilitation Center in Dothan Tuesday. “It’s not just an Alabama brand; it’s not just a national brand. It’s a world-wide brand we’ve got to take seriously and not take for granted and do everything we can on a daily basis to continue to improve and serve our university, serve our student-athletes, serve our coaches and serve our fans.”
But back to Saban, arguably the best college football coach ever.
Byrne, now in his third year in his role at Alabama, not only signs the paycheck for the football coach, he learns from him as well.
“I’ve never been around a more focused, driven individual in my life,” Byrne said. “And I’ve been around coaches my entire life. My father was an athletic director for 29 years.
“He doesn’t talk the talk, he walks the walk. I live in the same neighborhood as him and I drive by his house to go to work and I can tell you like clockwork what time he is going to go in every single morning, what his day is going to look like – the structure and discipline down to the second.”
While attending alumni club functions and the like with Saban, Byrne listens attentively when the coach answers questions about sustaining success year after year.
“He says, ‘You know, I’ve seen great organizations, great businesses, great teams, great coaches who have reached the pinnacle and a lot of them level off while the competition keeps climbing,’” Byrne said of Saban’s response.
“So he says, ‘I figure I better keep climbing.’ That’s what he does and he’s been amazing with it. He’s focused, he’s driven and he expects the same thing out of people he works with.”
When Byrne was hired at Alabama in March of 2017 from the University of Arizona, one of the questions he was asked was what would it be like to hire Saban’s replacement whenever the coach decides to step away.
“I said, ‘Well that’s an easy answer. We’re going to try and push that off as long down road as possible,’” Byrne said. “I’m not the smartest guy in the world, but I figured that part out.”
Byrne has also figured out – like Saban – that to stay on top you’ve got to keep progressing no matter the circumstances. Last summer, the athletics department announced a 10-year, $600 million initiative called the Crimson Standard designed in part to enhance the student-athlete experience and overall game-day experience for the fans. Among the plans in phase 1 are renovations to Bryant-Denny Stadium.
“Bryant-Denny Stadium is the most visited site in the state of Alabama,” Byrne said. “One of the things with our Crimson Standard is we’re going to do some things to show our history off and get people there hopefully even more and get them connected and stay connected with our university.
“We have to stay focused on the task at hand on a daily basis and then you have to create that vision for the future. If you look historically, there have been many organizations, many sports teams, many universities that didn’t reinvest in their success. Eventually, the competition will pass them by.
“When you look at the state of Alabama, one of the shining stars that people think about immediately is the University of Alabama. Our history and tradition is something that stands out and that’s something we need to protect and continue to move forward for many years to come.”
Byrne knows he is challenged with moving each project in the athletic department in the right direction, just like any business leader.
“We want to give our fans a great experience,” Byrne said. “We want them to know they are valued.”
All along, Byrne tries to keep the proper mindset in overseeing a highly-visible department.
“A positive attitude, energy, enthusiasm – that’s contagious,” Byrne said. “And a negative attitude, cup half empty – that’s contagious, too. So what side are you going to be on concerning your business and what you are doing?
“We do a lot of really good things, but we’re going to try and get better and better every single day.”