Oregon Unknowns: Byrne and the Blow Torch

Josh White History

A new Friday series are the OREGON UNKNOWNS, where we look at interesting stories or facts about our beloved Ducks that few casual fans know about. 

Would you chain yourself to this?

Former University of Oregon Athletic Director Bill Byrne’s tenure should evoke fond memories for most Duck fans.  Many would note his direct involvement in bringing the athletic department out of the conference cellar by laying a solid early foundation, while charting a sustainable course for its future as well.

Like most successful leaders, Byrne was a classic achiever – he took control and led by example.  He possessed a clear and concise vision of exactly what he wanted, and what he didn’t want.  It didn’t take him long to make up his mind about something, one way or the other.  Occasionally, abrupt measures had to be taken to keep everything and everyone heading in the same direction.

Just ask Massachusetts sculptor George Greenamyer, who was commissioned by the athletic department to create a sculpture for what was then the brand-new, $18 million Len Casanova Center.  The new facility would house 103,000 square feet of improved offices, practice fields, medical treatment areas, weight rooms, and locker rooms, all of which were among the long-overdue amenities that were scheduled for upgrade.

Greenamyer’s statue has earned itself a prime placement after all

Greenamyer’s sculpture was to be a centerpiece item for the front of the sophisticated new space, prominently featured in the main foyer; something designed to greet visitors and convey the brand immediately to anyone who walked in.

As the story goes, shortly after the statue was finally unveiled, Byrne conveyed immediate disgust with the finished product that was presented to him.

Instead of scheduling a formal meeting or wasting time talking about it, Byrne, being a man of action, ordered a contractor who was working with a blow torch nearby to cut the statue off at its base, and then indicated that they “do something with it, because it’s not going to go here.”

When Greenamyer found out what had happened, he decided to go all Eugene-hippie-style on Byrne, threatening to chain himself to his $54,000 masterpiece.

In an emotional rant, the passionate sculptor dispatched of series of names to describe Byrne, including “art basher”, “neanderthal”, and “redneck”, amongst others.

“This represents a visceral hatred of art.  It’s shocking behavior; it’s ego-dominance, it’s like football … I’m prepared to chain myself to it to protect it,” said a grumpy Greenamyer.

Following a verbal skirmish, mediation sessions were facilitated by then-president Myles Brand, where it was agreed upon that the athletic department would find another, more suitable location for the statue.

Byrne left Oregon after the 1991 season, assuming the same job at Nebraska.  When the Moshofsky Center was completed in 1998, the statue was mounted above its east entrance.

I have included a few amateur photos, but next time you walk into the Mo from the east, look up, check it out, and decide for yourself: Did Bill Byrne make the right decision?  Is the sculpture in an appropriate location now?

Would you chain yourself to it?

Are you a former player or know someone that has an Oregon Unknown to share? This is great fun for the fans, and for players to remember again the special times during their Oregon career. Simply email Charles@fishduck.com and share in the fun!

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