As the new school year is about to begin, we revisit with Brian Byrd, the former interim athletic director and Roswell Independent School District assistant superintendent of Human Resources. Byrd served in that capacity since Troy Hudson, former RISD director of activities and athletics, was placed on administrative leave in early December.
Byrd oversaw all of the activities and sporting events since Dec. 21. Byrd recently handed over the job to Hall of Fame basketball coach Britt Cooper, who sat out a year since retiring as a coach and has been on the job since July 1.
Before moving on to Cooper, the Roswell Daily Record sports department wanted to get a take on the condition of RISD athletics and what Byrd saw in his six months as interim athletic director.
RISD posted the position of athletic director and saw 11 applicants apply. The selection committee — comprised of head coaches and representatives from the district’s middle and high schools, along with community members — narrowed it down to two finalists.
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The selection was then handed over to the 11-member final interview committee — comprised of an administrator and two coaching staff representatives from both high schools, an administrator and one coach to represent each of the four middle schools, and also two community members, Byrd and Don Alsup. Cooper was chosen by this committee.
The committee was looking for a person who would work toward the improvement of the athletic department and move it forward with a vision from a facility standpoint to program management. They also wanted someone that could build relationships, communicate well with area coaches and look out for what is good for kids.
“The group as a whole,” Byrd said, “weighed the pros and cons of both applicants. They (committee) were comfortable with Britt (Cooper), he understands Roswell. Even though he coached at RHS, they understand that he understands the district as a whole and not just that one portion. Once you get to the central office position, you can’t be partial to one school over the other, and if you are, then you’re not going to be in that position very long. So there were really no reservations toward him. A strong point was Cooper having been in the district, understanding the dynamics of the district.”
Byrd felt like Cooper’s strengths were fairness and institutional knowledge of the district, but also that he had relationships with coaches from both schools. Cooper cannot come back and coach because the RISD position is an administrative position. Cooper will attend most athletic events for both high schools and some middle school contests as well.
“I know this is a position Britt (Cooper) has wanted for a long time,” Byrd said. “He applied back when Brian Shea got the position.”
Byrd hits reset
Byrd felt that while he was working as the athletic director on an interim basis, one of the main things he wanted to do was build trust with the athletic office and the school sites.
“My big thing during that time,” Byrd said, “was communicate with the coaches and see what was going well; what wasn’t going well and if there was anything we could change to make it easier on them. What I mean by that was the process of paperwork once they went on a trip. What are some things we can do differently to make it easier on them.”
Byrd understands what it’s like to be a coach, but also that the coaches are full-time teachers and wanted to ease the paperwork for them as well. Byrd has felt like over the last six months that he has bridged the gap of communications with the coaches. That is an area that he feels like Cooper will do well in communication with coaches.
Byrd hopes that Cooper will be able to strike a healthy balance between being in his office and being at practice and talking with the coaches to see if he can be of assistance. Byrd thinks that with Cooper newly retired from the sidelines, he can relate to the coaches and what they are going through and might be able to help overcome some of the obstacles he has faced.
Coaches safe regardless of record
Byrd was asked about coaches who were on the hot seat, and if hiring Cooper changes anything. Byrd felt if any coaches were on the hot seats, they would be given a clean slate.
“Yes, they would have at least another year or two years,” Byrd said. “One of the things is we are going to collaboratively, or I should say, he is. I’m his direct supervisor in the organizational chart. I know one thing he (Cooper) is going to do is work with the school principals and coordinators on those decisions. It’s not going to be a unilateral one-person decision. The biggest thing is it’s never fun to fire anybody from any position, whether it’s a coach or teacher. What can we do? If we’re having to fire people, that’s because we’re not doing our job of mentoring and molding and making them the best they can be.”
Byrd was asked if wins and losses matter. He answered that wins and losses are just a small piece of the equation, because high schools are education-based, not sports-based. What he and Cooper are looking for is if the teams are competitive.
“We feel like as a district,” Byrd said, “that we have programs at both schools that we think should be competing for state championships every year. But it doesn’t always happen. The Goddard baseball team was a perfect example. Great team, great coach and they came up one game short. It happens — what you do is get back to work. Wins and losses are a component of it, but it’s not the end-all, be-all.”
For Byrd and Cooper, what they will judge coaches on besides wins and losses is whether their teams are competing. Both know that talent will vary from year-to-year, and they might not be as good as past years. But if they are competing hard, that is a reflection of the coach.
“I never have a problem with a coach,” Byrd said. “If the kids are competing hard, wins and losses will vary, but if they are out there giving it their all, I don’t have a problem with losing.”
No new coach hired
As of this article, the Roswell head baseball coach has not been filled.
The Roswell High Athletic Complex
Roswell soccer teams will continue to use the Cielo Grande Recreation Area, and it’s a safe bet the RHS athletic facility will have an outside chance of being usable in 2019, but more likely in 2020.
The RHS athletic facility project, which began in 2017, will look a lot like the Goddard facility. There will be two soccer fields with lights and bleachers with the goal to play games on campus. There will be a baseball field, with the cement poured and fencing up with the dugouts in place. The softball field will stay where it is at. Byrd mentioned the athletic program is looking into fixing the tennis courts, which is a priority. Byrd thinks the new facility will have some restrooms and concessions along with a new locker room.
Dr. Ann Lynn Mcllroy comes from Loving and is excited about the sports in this community. Mcllroy played college volleyball and realizes the importance of sports.
“We’re really excited to have Dr. Mcllroy come aboard,” Byrd said. “She had her hand in the interview process and is excited that Britt (Cooper) is coming aboard. I couldn’t have asked for anything better the way it’s working out.”
This year, athletic eligibility is based on New Mexico Activities Association requirements. NMAA has changed its guidelines to a semester eligibility — athletes need a 2.0 grade-point average and no Fs. Athletic eligibility used to be an athlete could have an F and still play as long as they had a 2.0 GPA. A kid could be ineligible during a semester in which RISD uses nine weeks, but if a kid becomes eligible in the next semester and the season is still going on, the kid can participate. The NMAA sets the standards, but enforcement is done by each school.
Roswell football will still stay in the same district, with the exception that Alamogordo replaces Lovington. In other sports, they will move up to Class 5A. Their district will have Hobbs, Carlsbad and Clovis. Goddard will stay the same in football, but will stay in 4A in other sports. Their district will consist of Portales, Artesia and Lovington. Goddard and Roswell will continue to play each other in every sport at least once to continue the rivalry and for revenue purposes.
What Byrd learned
Byrd learned being an interim athletic director was not an easy job. Byrd has had to deal with different personalities.
“I also realized you have to be a good listener,” Byrd said. “I had to learn not to have a ready answer. Just listen to people as well as the parents. It might not change the outcome, but listen. People want to be heard. I think that’s something our coaches can learn, to listen. Nothing surprised me per say. For me, it was a chance to reconnect with the coaches.”
Byrd attended Hobbs High School and New Mexico State University. He worked in private industry, but wanted another challenge. He went back to school because he wanted to coach. He went to Eastern New Mexico University to receive his teaching degree. After graduating, he coached football and baseball at Lovington. He was an assistant football coach for six years. He was the assistant baseball coach for five years and was interim head baseball coach for a year. Byrd was the head baseball coach at RHS for two years starting in 2008 and was an assistant football coach as well.
Goals for both schools
“When both schools were in the same classification,” Byrd said, “I would have loved to see both schools playing in the state championship game. For football, that can still happen. I think that would be awesome. Goddard is still going to be Goddard. They’re going to be competitive in everything they play. I think Roswell is the same way, even though they are moving up. Roswell’s challenges have gotten a little bit bigger. They’ve got their work cut out for them. As long as they are competing at the state level, that’s all you can ask.”
Cooper began his job on July 1, signing a one-year contract that will pay him $85,000 a year.