COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) — Texas A&M athletics director Bill Byrne retired on Tuesday, a year before his contract was due to expire, and acknowledged that he had little say about when the school opted to leave the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference.
Byrne became A&M's AD in 2002, and the school won 45 Big 12 championships in 13 different sports during his tenure. But his legacy will always be tied to the school's move to the SEC, starting in July, even though Byrne said he was not involved in the final decision.
"Those are decisions that are made above my pay grade," Byrne said. "My dad was a soldier, my mom was an Army nurse, and you're taught to salute and carry on. That's what we'll do."
Byrne's contract was to expire in August 2013. He will become a special adviser to A&M President R. Bowen Loftin, who is traveling overseas.
Loftin, in a conference call from Qatar, disputed Byrne's account of the Big 12 departure process, saying he spoke with Byrne frequently about it and considered his opinions.
"Bill and I talked about all the things we've gone through over the last three years, especially the transition to a new conference," Loftin said. "His input was sought and it was carefully listened to, and carefully evaluated. It was never ignored.
"Clearly, the decision ultimately was mine in terms of making a recommendation to our board (of regents) for our decision for going to the SEC," he said. "But again, Bill was heard, his opinion about how and why it should happen."
John Thornton, the associate AD, will serve as the interim AD until a full-time replacement is found through a national search. The school hopes to have the new AD in place by the start of the fall semester.
"A&M is at a point in its development of athletics which I think is very good for bringing on a new AD," Loftin said.
The 66-year-old Byrne joined A&M after serving as the AD at Nebraska from 1992 to 2002. He was hired by Robert Gates, the former university president and former U.S. defense secretary, and Gates was among the many people Byrne thanked in a prepared statement as he stood on a podium in front of nine national championship trophies.
"In almost 30 years as an athletic director," Byrne said, "you take a lot of pounding on the job. And I was tired, and I was ready to go. It was time."
But women's basketball coach Gary Blair, the first coach Byrne hired at A&M in 2003, hinted that Byrne was forced to retire and A&M should've let him serve to the end of his contract.
"It's a year too soon," Blair said. "Even though it might not have been Bill's choice, he was a soldier, like he said and he would've helped us through that transition. I think he should have been allowed to retire at his own pace.