In the age of the 24-hour news cycle, athletic directors are going to great lengths to keep coaching searches quiet. Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne is no exception: From commercial travel to private phones, Byrne did everything short of donning a trench coat and a Groucho Marx disguise to cover his tracks in pursuit of Rich Rodriguez.
• Stay off home turf. Byrne flew to Detroit a week after firing Mike Stoops to meet with Rodriguez, whom he had met a couple times last year. Rodriguez picked Byrne up from the airport and took him to his home to meet his family. Rodriguez and Byrne went to an Italian restaurant where everyone knew Rich Rod from his three-year stint at Michigan, but had no idea who Byrne was.
• Fly commercial. I know, who flies commercial with a private jet at his disposal? No way. These days, though, it's just too easy to track the tail numbers of private planes online. In this case, Byrne hopped on a flight that stopped in Denver (Couldn't get a nonstop? Really?) before heading to Detroit. In fact, Byrne was spotted in Denver, and news quickly hit Twitter that he was no doubt there to grab Colorado State's Steve Fairchild after his thrilling 3-9 season in Fort Collins.
• Use an untraceable phone. Disposable phones aren't just for hitmen and drug dealers anymore. Byrne used a non-university phone to make all of his calls to coaches so those records would not be subject to the Freedom of Information Act or so the media couldn't get their greedy little paws on them. Had the phone records been uncovered, it would have been known that Byrne spoke to Rodriguez once a week while courting other potential candidates.
• Do your homework. Rodriguez doesn't exactly have a squeaky clean NCAA record after his three-year stint in Michigan, so Byrne not only flew to Indianapolis to have his potential candidates vetted by the NCAA, he also did criminal checks on each one. Unfortunately, Byrne did not release any of the skeletons from those coach's closets.
• Be unpredictable. Like any good sleeper agent, you never want to meet your mark in the same place twice. When Byrne met up with Rodriguez for a second time, he did so in New York, where the Wildcats' basketball team was playing in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic. The two met at a restaurant called Penelope and once again, Rich Rod was spotted and, this time, engaged by a Michigan alum. Rodriguez introduced Byrne as "my friend Greg" and chatted with the man. That was when Byrne said he knew he had his guy.
• Have multiple secret meeting spots. After meeting with Rodriguez, Byrne went back to Arizona to get university President Eugene Sander; Deputy Director of Athletics Rocky LaRose; Senior Associate Director of Athletics John Perrin; and Bill Morgan, an associate director of athletics in charge of compliance and fly to El Paso (remember, stay unpredictable) for the UTEP-Tulsa game which Rodriguez was calling for CBS. According to Byrne, the group met with Rich Rod that morning "at an office we had access to" — Starbucks, perhaps? — and came away fairly certain Rodriguez was going to be the Wildcats' next coach.
• Stay alert. Instead of offering Rodriguez the job right then and there, Byrne, who had been running on about 90 minutes of sleep, decided to get a good night's sleep before making any major decisions. He woke up refreshed, called Rodriguez and hashed out the details. That afternoon, Byrne flew to Michigan to bring Rodriguez and his family back to Arizona.
• Break your own news. While CBS Sports' Bruce Feldman was the first to break the news, Byrne owned the spotlight with a post on his Twitter page: "And the new Arizona football coach and his family is …" He then attached a picture of himself, Rodriguez and his family taken by his wife, aka @wildcatmamma (which is maybe the best Twitter handle by an athletic directors wife ever). A definite Christmas card shot.
So that's it. That's how an athletic director runs a covert operation to get a head coach. Hope the folks in Tempe were taking notes.