Hidden Heroes: Micah Byars

Owen Slinde, Sports Reporter

AMES — Since being raised in Gainesville, Florida, Micah Byars has had quite the journey when it comes to college athletics. 

He played football for a few years at the University of Florida and a few smaller schools before going to UCF and is now loving it at Iowa State. 

Byars has been the Director of Basketball Operations for the Cyclones men’s basketball team for 12 years. Since joining the program in 2012, Iowa State has had unprecedented success.

“I feel like I’ve caught the train when it was in the midst of the best run that we had, so I’m grateful for that,” Byars said. “I think Iowa State has a great history but more than anything, we’ve been able to dip into it and take advantage of it. We’ve gotten really good players over this time, and they’ve developed–as well as the coaches–into excellent Big 12 players, and that’s the reason we’ve been blessed to go to those NCAA tournaments and have the success we’ve had.”

A lasting effect

Before Iowa State, Byars was part of many programs at many different levels of college sports, whether being a student-athlete, assistant coach, recruiter or director as he is now. 

Since Byars has been a part of the program for so long, he’s been able to create long-lasting relationships with players. 

The Cyclones have had seven All-American honors, one of them being Georges Niang. Former Cyclone great, now a key player on the Philadelphia 76ers, described Byars as a mentor, peer and friend. 

“I think when you come across so many people in your lifetime that like you only for what you do and see the type of person you are when you’re on the court, it really makes you appreciate people that don’t care if you’re playing in the NBA or collecting trash,” Niang said. “Micah [Byars] is one of those people.”

Niang mentioned that Byars was there to support him right away when he stepped foot on campus, and that support and relationship just got stronger from there. 

“You can ask a bunch of players before and after me about the relationships Micah has built, and that’s a credit to him as he takes the time and effort to make these relationships,” Niang said. “Now it’s totally on the players if they want to keep that relationship, but I know that Micah will continue to reach out to maintain that relationship. He takes the time to build a relationship with anyone who has worn that Cyclone uniform.”

Niang said he and Byars still talk weekly, whether about basketball, life or anything in between. They even love to joke around and poke fun at each other.

Everyone knows that life comes with ups and downs, especially in college athletics, and especially in the Big 12. 

Byars’ attitude is one of Niang’s favorite things. He said it was a constant throughout the entire season and even in the offseason.

“There’s just so many things that he did along the way, and I think the greatest attribute Micah has is he’s never too high or never too low–just me being able to go into his office to have a word with him and him being able to bring me to a steady pace,” Niang said.

Niang said it’s super helpful and great to have a deep relationship with Micah, as he’s the type of guy who looks at a situation from all perspectives, which he believes has led to his professional success.

Jacob Rice

Daily tasks

What does a day in the life of Byars look like? 

It’s much more complicated than a statement. He’s not sure until the day comes. 

“Every day I come in, and I think that I have a plan of what I do, but usually, I’m right about 40% of the time,” Byars said. “Now it’s not necessarily bad things; it’s just what I thought I may have accomplished one day might take a shorter amount of time, and the same goes the opposite way.”

While the next basketball season may seem like forever away, it’s much different from an inside perspective. Not much of an offseason for the coaches and players means sometimes you have to find time for those little things.

“Once the portal closes in late May, that’s when our focus shifts to what the summer will look like for us. So, typically, we’ll have the entire month of May off, but when June comes around, we’re eight weeks of summer workouts with our guys, and then the next thing you know, it’s the fall, and you do it all over again,” Byars said. “So, while there isn’t a real lull, there is an offseason, but you have to steal a week or a couple of days here or there.” 

Each day is different, even during the season. Most things in season are behind the scenes for the program. Everything he does is to ensure everything goes smoothly for the players and coaches.

“Outside of scheduling, mentoring athletes and meeting about recruiting with the staff, it’s just a variety of jobs that pops up, so it’s my job to put out those fires before they reach coach Otzelberger’s desk,” Byars said.

Effect on the program

Since Byars has been at Iowa State for 12 years, he has been on the team both times T.J. Otzelberger has served on the staff, but he knew something was different when Otzelberger was hired as head coach.

“From the moment T.J. got hired, you could feel the momentum shifting from where it was, not at any part or individual in one way, but more just T.J. having a great grasp of where this program had been and where he wanted it to go,” Byars said.

Otzelberger took over as head coach of the men’s basketball team in 2021 following Iowa State’s 2-22 season. Otzelberger helped the team make a huge turnaround, coming away from his first year with 22 wins and a Sweet 16 trip.

“I think it’s a testament to the athletics department, T.J. and what he’s instilled in that jump going from 2 wins to 22 wins and a Sweet 16 but also being able to sustain it into this year,” Byars said.

Jacob Rice

From talking with players, alumni and coaches, everyone has said the same thing about Byars and how he approaches the program. He wants to make it the best experience for everyone and is also there for the players if they need anything.

“Micah’s role has meant a lot to me. He helps with everything like the hotels, places to get and all the behind-the-scenes no one sees,” Gabe Kalscheur said. “He does a great job of making sure that everyone has their job and that they’re doing it the right way. He’s the glue guy behind everything that goes on, and I’ve really appreciated everything he’s done these past two years for me.” 

Byars said he believes since he’s been in the role as a student-athlete and other coaching positions, he thinks he can help facilitate positive interactions between coaches and players. Especially mid-season, when everyone is focused on the grind, he’s there to remind them of the little things that they need.

A head coach’s perspective

When Otzelberger returned to Iowa State, he said Byars helped him with anything he needed to get settled in. He said having a familiar, experienced face in the office was helpful.

“He’s really connected, and he really cares about the program,” Otzelberger said. “When you have somebody that has those characteristics, you know that they’re going to give you a feeling of confidence with what you’re doing based off how much he cares.”

Besides being a key part of the team, another thing coach Otzelberger loves about Byars is his values. He mentioned he is a great family man and a man of great character. 

“He’s a tremendously hard worker, he’s someone that’s self-accountable, holding himself to a high standard, and he’s a great teammate,” Otzelberger said. “He’s not only a great asset but a resource every day for all of us to make the program the best it can possibly be.”

Byars will continue to do anything that helps improve the program, whether that is recruiting, coaching or anything that helps the student-athletes be at their best. He will continue bettering and reinventing himself and the program every single day.