By Phillip Whitten
COLLEGE STATION, Texas, November 26. BILL Byrne, the University of Nebraska Athletic Director, may be in line to take the vacant A.D. post at Texas A&M, according to reliable sources in Texas and Nebraska.
That would be bad news for supporters of Olympic sports, particularly swimming, several of these sources say. In his last two positions — at the University of Oregon and Nebraska — Byrne has killed venerable, viable swimming programs.
He has also been less than forthcoming on his plans and the financial status of his department. Two seasons ago, shortly after Nebraska, Kansas and Iowa State virtually simultaneously announced they were cutting men's swimming due to budgetary reasons, aSwimInfo reported that Byrne had negotiated a gift of $8 million from Alltel Corporation, which would be announced several months later — in August — to achieve maximum impact with the opening of the football season. The gift negotiations had been in progress for several months.
The timing, we reported, would also have provided Byrne with Byrne plausible deniability about the athletic department's alleged budget woes, coming as it would several months after the men's swimming program was axed.
Byrne denied that there was any such gift in the works. Alltel officials confirmed the gift, but did not provide any details, referring all queries to the Nebraska athletic department.
In August the gift was announced, with all details as reported by SwimInfo several months earlier.
At year's end, Byrne announced he was distributing a record $1.1 million in bonuses — remember, he had claimed budgetary destitution only months before — for his staff, includwing a hefty six-figure bonus for … you guessed it, himself!
The Fort Worth Star Telegram reported about Dennis Franchione becoming A&M's new football coach, that everyone thought Franchione coming to A&M was contingent on Missouri's Mike Alden being the new A.D. at Texas A&M. But Gil Breton, a veteran sports writer with the paper says, "in truth, I believe that Nebraska AD Bill Byrne will be in Aggieland on Tuesday (Nov. 26) to either accept or reject the school's offer."
Both the Omaha World-Herald and The Daily Nebraskan reported recently that A&M, in its search for an athletic director, contacted Byrne more than a month ago asking him to recommend candidates of whom he thought highly. Later the school called back and asked Byrne to talk about the post for himself. Wally Groff, athletic director at Texas A&M for the past 10 years, resigned in August and will leave his post in December.
"I thought about it," said Byrne, "and said, 'Sure.' And we're going to visit. That's really all I have to say because it hasn't gotten any further than that," he told the paper.
One Texas mom who had a son on the former Nebraska swim team and a daughter attending Texas A&M, commented: "This [news about Byrne] saddens me for every Texas athlete! I deeply care about athletics in our state and don't want a candidate in the state of Texas like Byrne who has operated at Nebraska with such little integrity.
"I don't believe Bill Byrne is good for Texas A&M, the state of Texas or its athletes. I am only a mom with no clout and no name and no influence. But I have personally experienced this gentleman's wrongdoings in football and swimming at Nebraska and the inexcusable way he treated his coaches across the board much less the athletes. So Texas A&M and its supporters are hearing from me today.
Though Byrne has destroyed swimming programs in his last two posts, it is unlikely that he will seek to do the same at Texas A&M, which has nationally-ranked men's and women's teams and a superb facility.