There’s an Auburn orange windscreen on one of the microphones, contrasting with what should be Yella in the Rane Room on Auburn’s campus.
President Steven Leath begins the press conference with birthday wishes while wearing a spanking orange tie and a sparkly Auburn pin. He uses the term “yeoman’s work” to describe the search process in finding a new athletic director.
Jay Jacobs is here, and he’s recognized. He’s had a long career in the athletic department, and President Leath places emphasis on student-athlete graduation rates. “Pay attention, Allen,” he says.
Twelve national championships, 25 conference titles, “best school for the best athletes,” and more lead to a round of applause for Jay Jacobs. President Leath turns the focus to hearing about Allen Greene during the search process.
“You need to look at this guy, and we did.”
“He’s a superstar, an elite leader.”
“This could be the best hire you make as president.”
“The good news is... we got him!”
President Leath hits on Greene’s experience around the country -- Notre Dame, Ole Miss, Buffalo — and his playing experience as a member of the Fighting Irish baseball team and a guy that spent time in the minor leagues. He also has the requisite experience in the SEC, which is paramount.
He’s got the references. Kevin White, AD at Duke, raves about Greene. “He’ll be a stalwart within the highly-competitive SEC, as well as a serious leader nationally.” High praise from Coach K’s boss.
“They’ll be great ambassadors for Auburn,” he says as he introduces Allen Greene, who begins his talk with a hearty “War Eagle!”
Sidenote: where can I get the fancy Auburn notebook that Allen Greene opens up as he begins his remarks?
He starts by thanking President Leath, and you can see the charisma already coming off of this guy. He’s smooth. He makes a joke about catering to the cooler weather surrounding Auburn as a welcome mat for his family coming from Buffalo.
He thanks Jay Jacobs, the staff at Buffalo, and recognizes his family in attendance (including his parents). “Team Greene” is the term he uses for his family, and recognizes his daughter’s sixth birthday.
“I have this script I’m supposed to go off of, but I find it hard...” he says as he starts to ad-lib a bit. He asked the people around town “Why Auburn?”
“I left here feeling incredibly warm” - Gus Malzahn said after his first visit as a member of the Arkansas staff.
Now it’s time to tell his story of how he ended up in this industry. “I was an old washed-up has-been” after his time in the minor leagues, and he got out of his job to swing by the baseball field. He happened to run into a couple of ADs who were watching baseball, and decided he needed to get back into athletics.
“Not even as a 22-year old, I didn’t know how...” and someone’s phone rings. “Mike Wodlaw? Should I answer? I don’t know how to not answer. This is a really old iPhone.” Laughter breaks around the room. Good job, beat writers. Gotta go to “Do Not Disturb” mode.
We’re back on track. He wraps up his quick story in reaching this point.
“The Auburn Tigers. What are we going to be about? Number one, it’ll be the student athlete experience. Not only the athletic experience, but the learning experience. We want our people to get a meaningful degree. Athletically, we want you to be incredibly successful.”
“I’ve made this joke before, but Auburn acquired this new technology, called a scoreboard. On this technology, they keep score, and we want to be winners at the end of every game.”
“And third, we want to make sure Auburn stands for creating productive members of society. We want you to be equipped for the rigors and intensity of the real world.”
He talks about the requisite pillars of excellence, compliance, innovation, etc. He knows about Tiger Walk, the Eagle Flight, Toomer’s Corner (“am I allowed to roll Toomer’s Corner?”), and wants to take chances and risks, learn, and move this athletics department forward.
He mentions how our differences don’t mean we can’t be teammates. Our quest for championships will be unwavering.
“Broadly speaking, the vision will be to raise the national profile of Auburn University.”
“In closing, I understand that there are lofty expectations, and I embrace that. We’ve got some work to do, we’re going to roll our sleeves up, and do all we can to make the Auburn family proud.”
He closes with a quote from Pat Riley, about obsession and how you have to be obsessed in some way to have success. He talks about how his crazy obsession will be his quest to win championships, to be an Auburn man, and to make the Auburn family incredibly proud.
“Now is a great time to be a Tiger. War Eagle!”
And it’s time for questions. First up, Mark Murphy with Inside the Auburn Tigers, who asks about early priorities and what he learned at Buffalo that helped prepare him for this job. Greene makes fun of his old boss, Danny White, and then talks about the process of learning to reshape an athletics department at Buffalo.
Duane Rankin from the Montgomery Advertiser is up next, asking about the fact that he’s an African-American athletic director. Greene touches on MLK Day earlier this week, and says he’d be naive to think it’s insignificant that he’s gotten this job. Then he talks about how there’s a side of him that thinks that it’s not a big deal. He’s here to serve, and that should transcend race.
We’re hurting for questions, and Jay Tate steps up from AuburnSports.com, asking about what he learned at Ole Miss. Greene says “you can’t wear reflective tennis shoes when you go turkey hunting at 4:30 in the morning.” The crowd guffaws. I did too. Then he gets serious, talking about the passion of the SEC. Going through cold stretches, people aren’t so warm. He talks about taking challenges and setbacks and helping apply them to our people as far as life itself is concerned.
“I’ve seen you before!” he says as Brandon Marcello stands up, asking about the outlook for Auburn football. “Coach Malzahn already hit me up for a standalone football facility, so that’s on the docket. Football’s the driving engine, it’s an enterprise, and so it’s really important that football is successful.” He mentions about how Gus wants to win the right way and is looking forward to working with him.
Philip Marshall stands up now and asks about how this all came about when Greene realized that this could be a possible move. The answer comes in talking about how he’d obviously heard about how great Auburn was, and that he came home from the first meeting with the search committee people and told his wife that he was sold immediately.
Simone Eli from CBS in Birmingham asks about paying it forward as a student-athlete. Greene touches on one of the hot topics of time demands and time management, and tells a story about his time as a sophomore at Notre Dame, in which he recalls the pressure of the world closing in on him both athletically, academically, and socially. He had a nervous breakdown, and mentions how life is different today for the kids. He says that living through that experience fairly recently, he can relate pretty well.
James Crepea from AL.com asks about his timetable for getting his hands around a staff of that size at Auburn. He doesn’t have an answer yet, but it’ll take him some time to get his feet wet and learn the people and landscape around the athletic department.
Matt Stevens from the Advertiser apologizes for his crappy iPhone (it was the one that rang during the opening statement), and asks about the tough times at Buffalo and what Greene learned from those experiences. “Watching others -- there are several people that I’ve learned from in this industry.” He talks about how he talked to Bubba Cunningham at UNC about dealing with adversity, and that you have to remain steady as the leader of the department.
Jay Tate stands back up. He asks about the change from compliance to development. “Less of a decision and more of a revelation.” He talks about getting hired at Notre Dame and moving to the “external side of the house” of fundraising. It just suits him better is the short answer.
Duane Rankin asks about learning from his former bosses Sandy Barbour and Kevin White. Greene tells about an event at Kevin White’s house and how White was exceptionally cordial and how White made them feel welcomed. Sandy Barbour is good at navigating “everything” and taught Greene that it’s okay for things to be frantic. “Watching her do her thing as a young administrator was inspiring.”
The final question’s about the review of the basketball program, and Greene admits he needs to learn more about everything, but that he’s excited to be at the game tomorrow. He ends with another emphatic “War Eagle!”.
All in all, he’s charismatic, makes you feel pretty comfortable, and shouldn’t have any trouble making friends. The biggest, and most obvious, downside is that he may not be able to get his arms all the way around an athletic department with the size of Auburn’s just yet. We’ll have to wait and see, but I’m on board with this all the way right now. War Eagle!