AP source: Texas A&M AD Byrne to retire

HOUSTON (AP)   Texas A&M athletic director Bill Byrne, who oversaw the school’s upcoming departure from the Big 12 and everything from national championships to the end of the storied football rivalry with Texas, is retiring.

Byrne will discuss his decision at a Tuesday afternoon news conference in College Station, a school official with knowledge of the decision. The school said only that Byrne would make an announcement “regarding his future” and the person spoke to The Associated Press late Monday on condition of anonymity because details had not been released.

The 66-year-old Byrne was hired at Texas A&M in December 2002 and has a contract that ends Aug. 31, 2013. School President R. Bowen Loftin said last month that the two were discussing Byrne’s tenure.

Texas A&M’s programs largely flourished under Byrne, but he will be remembered primarily for the move from the Big 12 Conference to the Southeastern Conference, effective July 1.

Byrne took heavy criticism last year as it became clear that the Aggies would leave and end longtime rivalries   none of them bigger than the annual football game against the Longhorns.

Last Thanksgiving, Justin Tucker kicked a 40-yard field goal as time expired to give Texas a 27-25 victory over Texas A&M in the Aggies’ last Big 12 game and the 118th meeting between the bitter rivals.

The Longhorn band spelled out `Thanks A&M’ while playing “Thanks for the Memories.” Earl Campbell, who won the Heisman Trophy at Texas in 1977, and Texas A&M’s John David Crow, winner of the award in 1957, watched the game sitting side by side in golf cart in the corner of the stadium.

Many had hoped to continue the game, which began in 1894 and had been played every year since 1915, but the Longhorns said their schedule is full through 2018 and made it clear there wasn’t a lot of room for discussion.

A lot of the fallout was blamed on Texas’ decision to start its own Longhorn Network to televise its sports teams. Byrne, like others around the Big 12, didn’t like the move. He and his Texas counterpart, DeLoss Dodds, differed on whether Texas A&M was offered a chance to join the Longhorns in the venture.

Texas’ pursuit of its own network was widely known in 2010 when Nebraska and Colorado decided to leave the Big 12, followed this year by Texas A&M and Missouri. The league is adding TCU and West Virginia.

Byrne also took a deep pride in the school’s other programs, including the women’s basketball team that won a national championship under Gary Blair in 2011.

“Bob Gates said when he hired me that he wanted us to have the best sports program in the country,” Byrne said on the eve of that championship game win over Notre Dame, referring to the former university president who is now the U.S. defense secretary. “We work to do that every day.”

The softball, women’s swimming and diving teams, and track and field teams are usually national powerhouses, as are the women’s soccer team and the equestrian team.

It hasn’t been easy changing attitudes at a university that began as an all-male military school. Some alumni opposed the decision to begin admitting women in 1963, and school administrators didn’t always see the advantage of funding men’s and women’s sports equally when Title IX passed in 1972.

While the football program flourished at times, change was slow in other sports. After Blair arrived in 2003, he and then men’s coach Billy Gillispie helped raise $24 million in private funds to build a new practice facility and it made a difference.