Byrne shares news from Miss. State

Published 5:00 am Monday, October 6, 2008

Mississippi State University athletic director Greg Byrne stoodtall as he addressed Thursday’s noon meeting of MSU alumni andfriends at the Brookhaven Country Club’s banquet room. Standing6-foot-6, Byrd was a few inches taller than any of the 50 folks inattendance.

Byrne spoke without a mike and was heard loud and clear. Hebrought good news and encouraging news from the Starkvillecampus.

Yes, things are looking up for the struggling MSU football team.The Bulldogs (1-4) have an open date this week to regroup after at34-24 loss at LSU.

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“Coach (Sylvester) Croom and the kids are disappointed in theseason,” said Byrne. The Bulldogs host Vanderbilt Oct. 11 andtravel to Tennessee Oct. 18. They are back at home against MiddleTennessee State Oct. 25, for homecoming. They’ll host Kentucky Nov.1.

For sure, the Bulldogs finally got their offense in gear againstpowerful LSU. They were sparked by quarterback Tyson Lee, atransfer from Itawamba Community College. Lee, a former ColumbusHigh star, is an exceptional athlete. We had a first-hand encounterwith Lee when he led Itawamba over Co-Lin two years ago in StoneStadium.

Croom’s Dawgs were 8-4 last season, beating Central Florida inthe Liberty Bowl. Obviously, hopes were higher than usual enteringthe 2008 campaign.

“The worst thing you can do right now is show cracks in yourprogram,” said Byrne, referring to the football team’s outlook. “Iurge you to stay positive in these hard times.”

He said making MSU sports fans and visitors to the campus feelwelcome was a key to future success. “We want to make sure our fansknow they are appreciated. We want them to feel more welcome andcomfortable.”

Speaking of comfortable, Byrne said he initiated a new plan tobuild better relations between campus law enforcement officers andathletes. On Wednesday night, the law officers were treated to adinner after watching the football team practice. In fact, theydined with the players.

Coach Croom and Byrne addressed the crowd.

“A lot of our players come from an environment where the sightof a badge on someone makes them think they’ve done somethingwrong,” said Byrne. “We had the officers line up along a wall andshake hands with every player after we got through eating.”

Since being hired last February, Byrne has been a busy man. At36 years of age, he is the youngest athletic administrator in theSEC.

“We have over 300 scholarship athletes on campus and each sporthas a special need,” said Byrne. He noted that plans are beingdrawn up for a much-needed basketball practice facility, adjacentto Humphrey Coliseum. Besides a college regulation size basketballcourt, it will have two high school courts, plus offices forcoaches and a weight room.

The Hump is constantly booked for a variety of events.Basketball players wishing to work out on their own were left outin the cold.

“Coach (Rick) Stansbury has built a great basketball program,”said Byrne. “His players need and deserve a practice facility.”

Future plans also call for a rebuilt football practice fieldthat drains faster. Plans are to resurface the track, too.

Dudy Noble Field (baseball) and Davis-Wade Stadium (football) atScott Field are the athletic department’s showcases or front porchfor athletics. Fans flock to both facilities.

“We could spend $30 million on our sports facilities and nottouch Dudy Noble and Scott Field,” said Byrne. Certainly, allgenerous financial contributions to the athletic department aredeeply appreciated.

Ann Sanders Carr, a Brookhaven native, serves as associateathletic director for women’s athletics at MSU.

When MSU baseball legend Ron Polk stepped down last summer,Byrne was expected to promote his longtime assistant, Tommy Raffo.Instead, Byrne bucked the establishment and hired Kentucky headcoach John Cohen, a 1990 Mississippi State graduate.

Obviously, Byrne caught a lot of flak, especially from themuch-revered Polk. The storm finally subsided. Cohen is winningfriends and gathering support as the year progresses.

“Coach Cohen is doing a great job and has made great strides,”said Byrne. “He has a passion for the game of baseball. He hashired a great staff, too.”

A strong recruiter, Cohen has obtained a verbal commitment fromBrookhaven Academy catcher Kolby Byrd. He was The DAILY LEADER’s2007 Defensive Player of the Year on the All-Lincoln CountyBaseball Team. He earned a similar honor for his skills atlinebacker in football.

Byrd plans to officially sign with the Bulldogs in earlyNovember. Right now, Byrd’s priority is helping the Cougars makethe state football playoffs.

Write to sports editor Tom Goetz, c/o The DAILY LEADER, P.O. BOX551, Brookhaven, MS 39602 or e-mail