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Alabama athletic director Greg Byrne

Alabama football: A wish list for Greg Byrne

Welcome to The Rammer Jammer, SEC Country’s daily Alabama athletics recap. Today, we look at Greg Byrne’s to-do list and the Iron Bowl of Basketball.

Alabama officially introduced its athletic director-elect on Thursday afternoon, when Greg Byrne took the podium in the Mal Moore building to field questions. Byrne still has a month and a half before he officially takes over at the Capstone, but it’s never too early to start making plans. In an effort to help him prepare, I thought I’d highlight the biggest tasks ahead of him. So, here’s our wish list for Greg Byrne:

5) Start work and fast track a state-of-the-art swimming facility — This has been in the planning stages for years and its long past time to get it done. Alabama’s swim program is resurgent, led by an Alabama alumnus who just so happens to be one of the most widely respected coaches in the world and who built the American, British and Australian programs into the relative juggernauts that they are. Dennis Pursley has done wonders in just a few years for his program, but he can only take it so far in a dilapidated student recreation center.

Besides, the current jewel of the SEC swimming facilities? They’re in Florida, Georgia and … Auburn. The Tigers have dominated SEC sprints until very recently. Nothing would frustrate diehard Auburn fans more than losing the last vestige of any consistent dominance over Alabama.

4) Continue to, and improve support for, women’s athletics — The gymnastics, softball, golf, and to some extent, tennis programs are among the best in the nation. Volleyball, soccer and women’s basketball need the resources to return to SEC contention and draw eyes. Ed Allen, Wes Hart and Kristy Curry have done a good job putting their teams in position to succeed, but some increased institutional support couldn’t hurt.

3) Get baseball back to the College World Series — Alabama has had a little 1990s-2000s Atlanta Braves about them lately, completely unable to win when it counts. Battle hired Greg Goff as Alabama’s new baseball coach to go with a new stadium, so some of the credit or blame will be allocated to him. But Byrne made much of his impact at both Mississippi State and Arizona by building them into national contenders in baseball. He’ll win unending support from the diehards at Alabama if he can do the same in Tuscaloosa.

2) Update — or replace — the basketball facilities — It’s time for Alabama to put its money where its mouth is regarding basketball. If coach Avery Johnson is really going to make Alabama into a top-tier basketball program, he needs the kind of resources afforded to Nick Saban. That could even extend to replacing Coleman Coliseum, which is among the oldest and plainest arenas in the SEC. It’s historic enough, having hosted Elvis and Elton John, but Alabama has the resources to replace it — and not with one of those tiny, two-tiered arenas that doesn’t hold 10,000 fans that Auburn and Ole Miss built.

Oh, and it should be named after C.M. Newton. I’ll write about this sometime, but one of the great basketball coaches of all time worked and now lives in Tuscaloosa after integrating Alabama athletics. He deserves more recognition than a mildly nice room with a pair of TVs in the front of the house that Newton built.

1) Nail replacing Saban — No decision he makes will go further for determining Byrne’s legacy — and longevity. Presumably, the new AD will outlast the 65-year old football coach and will become the latest in a long line of Alabama athletic directors faced with replacing a legendary coach. The whispers for Dabo Swinney are out there, of course, but there’s no telling what could change between now and whenever Saban chooses to retire. But Byrne is already thinking about it. 

Byrne’s introduction showed he understands what he’s in for, writes Kevin Scarbinsky. He’s drawn votes of confidence from each of Alabama’s coaches, and he even likes Twitter. He denied being offered the Florida job, and knew to refer to coach Bryant as coach Bryant.

ICYMI

A photo posted by Derrick Gore (@gore_315) on

Sticking the landing

Finally, an easy one for the gymnastics team. After facing the No. 1 team in the country two meets in a row, Alabama gymnastics will travel to Columbia to take on No. 8 Missouri at 8:30 p.m. ET on the SEC Network on Friday.

This will be a chance for lineup experimentation and a focus on details for Alabama. Barring counting a fall — or maybe even two — Alabama should walk the Tigers. The Gym Tide holds the advantage on every apparatus except vault (by a matter of hundredths) and is one of just four teams in the country to break 197 points this season. While underdogs usually rely on beam troubles to pull off upsets, Alabama is much better than their hosts on the beam. Alabama averages 49.3 to Mizzou’s 48 on beam.

Keep an eye on Missouri’s Morgan Porter, whose Yurchenko full was scored perfectly last week, at 9.95. If she can add the half-turn necessary to get the full 10 start value, look out. As for Alabama, expect rotation and some new faces. As Terrin Waack of The Tuscaloosa News reports, all-around standout Kiana Winston will be rested.

The Crimson White’s Matt Speakman has an interesting profile of Keely McNeer, Alabama’s perennial leadoff.

Built by Bama

  • Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and the Green Bay Packers head to Atlanta to take on Julio Jones and the Falcons in the NFC Championship at 3:05 p.m. ET on Sunday on Fox.
  • Dont’a Hightower, Cyrus Jones and the Patriots will host the Steelers at 7:40 p.m. on Sunday on CBS.
  • Former Alabama basketball player Tony Mitchell is headed to Australia. 

Seatbelt check

During the nonconference slate, basketball in the state of Alabama looked decidedly orange and blue. Bruce Pearl’s Auburn squad had impressed early and often with an adept scoring offense and some high-profile performances, including a win against Oklahoma on Dec. 21. Then conference play came and those roles quickly flipped. Auburn is 2-4 in conference, with wins against Missouri and LSU, teams Alabama just beat back to back.

The Crimson Tide, meanwhile, have won six of their last seven and are 4-1 in the SEC. The momentum favors Alabama, as do many of the stats. Avery Johnson’s squad outscores opponents by roughly seven points per game, compared to Auburn’s three. Alabama holds advantages on the boards on both ends and second-chance points, along with a sizable difference on defense — 62.2 points per game conceded compared to Auburn’s 76. Of course, Auburn is outscoring Alabama by an average of 10 points per game: 78 to 68.

Alabama’s Achilles’ heel right now is its free throw shooting. Saturday afternoon in Auburn Arena won’t do wonders for the concentration problems Alabama players blamed for their truly abysmal percentages, but they may not be able to afford to return to Coleman Coliseum before figuring it out.

The game tips off at 4 p.m. ET on ESPN2.

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