BY: LINDSEY BURNS
Come June, longtime Manhattan College Athletic Director Bob Byrnes will retire with 26 years of service under his belt.
Byrnes has overseen the entire athletic program and is also involved in everything from hiring to scheduling with the MAAC conference, to making sure that Manhattan College athletics is represented the right way.
Because he is so involved with just about anything sports related at Manhattan, Byrnes has formed strong relationships with his co-workers and athletes and has made a significant impact on many individuals.
“I have really enjoyed working with Bob,” said Dr. Shawn Ladda, a professor in the department of kinesiology and a faculty athletic representative. “How I think he’s made such a big impact is with student-athletes. He has been an outstanding mentor, coach and teacher to so many student athletes.”
Ladda is not alone in the high praise for Byrnes. Men’s soccer Head Coach Jorden Scott also had many positive things to say about him.
“Bob’s the type of person that makes you feel good,” Scott said. “He makes you feel like you’re a million dollars. You could be losing games, you could be having the worst season of your life and he just makes you feel like you have a chance. Throughout my time with him as an assistant and head coach, you sit in a room with him, no matter the issue, no matter the success or what we were planning or what we were doing, he is always very positive.”
For Byrnes, the thing he will miss the most about working for MC is simple: the people.
“It always revolves around the people: coaches, players, the competition,” Byrnes said. “If you’ve competed in something it’s kind of in your blood and when you take competition and the camaraderie that exists out of competition away, there’s a little bit of a void.”
“It’s a lot easier to do your job when you have great supporters and I enjoyed that,” Byrnes said. “The other thing is of course the players. Our athletes have really done well academically and graduated at a high rate and it’s something I’ll always be proud of.”
While Byrnes thinks this highly of his co-workers at Manhattan, others believe that it is Byrnes who best represents these values.
“I think he’s a very caring individual,” Ladda said. “He embraces the Lasallian mission and puts student-athletes first and wants to make sure that they have a positive experience.”
“He really is a man of student-athletes. He has kept them central to the athletic department and wants to make sure that they have a positive experience. He wants to see them develop through their four years and also is committed to them beyond Manhattan College. He writes them references and tries to help mentor them so they can be successful in their careers.”
For Byrnes, the student-athletes are always top priority. Sometimes it is so easy to get caught up in wanting to win games and only caring about the record. For Byrnes, it is different.
While he cares about the school’s sports records, he also values the athletes as students as well. Byrnes wants his athletes to do well in their classes first, and then do well on the field.
“When you have an athletic director in the department that, even though we never went to a NCAA Tournament, recognizes the academics, recognizes the behavior and commitment in the players, recognizes the success on the field and in practice, it’s huge,” Scott said.
Besides being an excellent athletic director, Byrnes is also simply a good person who people just want to be around.
“Everyone knows him,” Scott said. “He has that aura around him that when he’s walking toward you, you don’t know whether he’s going to ask you how your team has been doing or just smile and hug you.”
Byrnes will never hesitate to let someone know when they are doing a good job, Scott said.
“In my four years here, out of everything that I have ever achieved, if you look at MAAC Coach of the Year or a MAAC Championship or a MAAC Final, the biggest achievement I have is a letter that sits beside my bed from Bob given to me in December,” Scott said.
“It is a letter that just thanked me for my work in getting the students’ academic GPA up and making sure that there was a little more structure to the program, and the fact that it was going in the right direction, that we were getting success and getting recognized nationally,” he said.
“That is my greatest achievement so far and I don’t know how you top that,” Scott said.
While Scott only worked with Byrnes for four years, Ladda worked with him for many of his 26 years, as she came to MC in 1994.
When asked what his most memorable moment was as athletic director, Byrnes replied with two answers.
The first was when the men’s basketball team made the NCAA Tournament for the second year in a row in 1995.
“I think at that time people gave us little chance to win, and then we beat Oklahoma,” Byrnes said. “That win over Oklahoma.”
The second was when the men’s baseball team made its NCAA Tournament run in 2006. The team went out to Nebraska and beat Joba Chamberlain, who became the Yankees’ No. 1 draft pick later that year.
“It was particularly gratifying since our baseball program hadn’t been good in a number of years, so that was like scaling Mt. Everest,” he said.
It is easy to recognize when a particular team is doing well record-wise. Often, all of the credit goes to the players or the coaches, the ones who the crowd can see performing first hand.
It is easy to forget about all of the work that the administrative staff does.
“I think people look at the coaches and players, and they don’t appreciate the hard work that goes on behind the scenes on every department,” Scott said in regards to Byrnes. “I just think he’s been a great leader for us, he’s been a symbol of our department.”
It is difficult to think about the absence that will be felt come June, and incoming Athletic Director Noah LeFevre has some pretty big shoes to fill.
Scott was able to sum up what will be felt when Byrnes retires in a few simple words.
“He’ll be sadly missed,” he said.