Alabama has hired away one of the most highly regarded athletic directors in the nation with Arizona's Greg Byrne agreeing to replace Bill Battle in leading the Crimson Tide, the school announced Monday.
Battle decided to retire from his post as Alabama AD immediately, moving into a newly created "special assistant to the president" role, either until his contract ends in March or longer. Greg Hansen of the Arizona Daily Star first reported late Sunday that Byrne would leave Arizona to take the Alabama job and multiple sources confirmed as much to CBS Sports' Dennis Dodd on Monday.
According to SportsBusiness Journal's Michael Smith, Alabama began interviews for the AD job in December, and Byrne met with Saban on Saturday with administration getting a "thumbs up" from the football coach.
"It's been a distinct privilege and honor serving as director of athletics these last four years," said Battle in a statement released by the school. "... Being able to lead this department has been an honor and a privilege for which I am most grateful. ... I look forward to continuing to serve the university by working closely with the new AD to assist in a smooth transition."
Battle, 75, has been battling cancer and took a leave of absence from Alabama for two months only to return to work with the Tide before football season. He said his "health was not a factor in this decision" and that he is "in full remission" at this time. The former Alabama player had led the athletic department since 2013, a job he took a few years after selling the incredibly successful Collegiate Licensing Company (CLC) to IMG.
Byrne, 45, was a candidate for the Florida AD job this past season but spurned the Gators to remain with the Wildcats. He is the son of long-time Texas A&M AD Bill Byrne and has SEC experience after serving as an associate at Kentucky (2002-05) and Mississippi State (2006-08) before being promoted to AD by the Bulldogs (2008-10). One of his first moves was hiring then-Florida offensive coordinator Dan Mullen.
Greg Byrne left for Arizona in 2010 and has done a tremendous job with the athletic department since arriving, increasing its budget from $45 million to $80 million.
He hired Rich Rodriguez to lead Wildcats football and has retained him, fighting off overtures from bigger programs. He also kept basketball coach Sean Miller happy with a hefty contract extension in 2011 after Miller interviewed with Maryland and was considering leaving the Wildcats.
Byrne has also dealt with major facility decisions, including a $378 million construction and renovation project for the football team, and a change of scenery for the baseball team, a move that ultimately led to improved attendance.
Assuming everything goes as planned, Byrne will eventually be charged with hiring Nick Saban's replacement. Though the 65-year-old coach has not discussed hanging up his whistle anytime soon, one would expect Alabama to be Byrne's final AD job as long as he succeeds while with the Tide.