With AD Bill Battle set to retire, Alabama lands Arizona's Greg Byrne

Sam Cooper
Greg Byrne, right, was hired as Arizona's athletic director in 2010. (AP Photo/Wily Low)
Greg Byrne, right, was hired as Arizona’s athletic director in 2010. (AP Photo/Wily Low)

Alabama athletic director Bill Battle is retiring, and the school already has his successor lined up.

After multiple reports emerged Sunday night, the school confirmed that Battle, 75, will step down from his position and transition into a “Special Assistant to the President” role at the university. Alabama President Stuart R. Bell said Battle “will continue to lead the (athletic) department” until a successor is named.

On Monday morning, Alabama confirmed that its next athletic director will be Greg Byrne, the current AD at Arizona. Byrne will become the athletic director at Alabama, effective March 1.

The news of Byrne’s hire was first reported by the Arizona Daily Star.

Battle, who was hired as Alabama’s athletic director in March 2013, took a leave of absence in June to address a cancer diagnosis. Battle was first diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a treatable form of cancer, in March 2014 and had been privately undergoing treatments since then while continuing to work. Per TideSports.com, Battle’s leave from the university lasted about two months, and he returned to work ahead of the football season.

In Alabama’s release, Battle, whose contract ends in June, said his decision to step down was not health-related.

“I want everyone to know that my health was not a factor in this decision as, at this time, I am in full remission and I feel great. When I came here in 2013, I committed to Dr. Witt that I would be here for four years, or the equivalent of another college degree. Last summer, before my medical procedure, I told Dr. Bell that I was expecting, as were my doctors, to come through that procedure very well, and that I intended to serve out the last year of my contract,” Battle said.

“I told him that he should be looking for a replacement. That process has been going on over the last few months. As you know, in this business, high-level changes are hard to map out and announce very far in advance. Meanwhile, I would like to continue to help the University, but I’d also like to be able to spend more time at our farm in Georgia and in Jackson Hole, the sort of things a full-time AD job doesn’t really permit.”

Battle played football for the Crimson Tide in the early 1960’s under Bear Bryant and went on to become the head coach at Tennessee from 1970-1976. He went into business after his time at Tennessee until he was hired to replace the late Mal Moore in 2013.

“Bill has done a tremendous job as Director of Athletics, and has accomplished so much during his career,” said Bell. “His business expertise, coupled with his coaching experience and his strong understanding of the role an athletic department has in the daily fabric of a university, has allowed us to achieve the great successes we have enjoyed during his tenure. We are blessed to have the continued benefit of his counsel.”

With Battle moving on, Byrne heads to Tuscaloosa after more than six years at Arizona. The 45-year-old Byrne helped the school upgrade its athletics facilities and notably fired Mike Stoops as football coach and replaced him with Rich Rodriguez.

“We knew Bill was considering a change, and we wanted to hire someone who can assume that mantle of leadership and continue the tradition of success that Bill and so many others before him have established,” Bell said. “We believe Greg Byrne is uniquely qualified for this role, and we are pleased to announce he has accepted the position of athletic director here at The University of Alabama.”

Added Byrne: “Regina and I are honored to be joining the University of Alabama. I have incredible respect and admiration for both Coach Battle and Coach Moore, as well as all of the talented coaches and staff in place. We look forward to returning to the SEC and being a part of Alabama’s outstanding tradition.”

Before his time at Arizona, he spent six years, including three years as athletic director, at Mississippi State, where he hired Dan Mullen as football coach. He also served as an athletic administrator at Kentucky, Oregon State and Oregon. He earned his undergraduate degree from Arizona State University.

Alabama reportedly first met with Byrne back in December and was back in Tuscaloosa on Saturday to meet with the one and only Nick Saban.

According to the Daily Star, which spoke with prominent Arizona donor Jeff Stevens, the school tried to retain Byrne, but he opted to return to the SEC. From the Daily Star:

Arizona made an effort to retain Byrne, Stevens said, but the athletic director chose to return to the Southeastern Conference. Byrne served as Mississippi State’s AD from 2008-10.

“Greg was offered similar money at Arizona,” Stevens said. “But at the end of the day he chose to go to Alabama.”

Byrne makes about $700,000 per year at Arizona.

For more Alabama news, visit TideSports.com.

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Sam Cooper is a writer for the Yahoo Sports blogs. Have a tip? Email him or follow him on Twitter!