AUBURN — The moment Allen Greene clinched his role as the next athletics director at Auburn the odds were certainly not in his favor.
His second interview with the search committee and first with the Parker Executive search firm didn’t get off to the best start in Atlanta.
“When we had the second round of interviews, he had a major flight delay and didn’t get into his hotel until around 3 a.m., you knew he hadn’t had any sleep and you’re thinking this is going to be interesting,” said Quentin Riggins, Auburn board of trustees member and AD search committee member.
But, Greene has never assumed things would go smoothly. Whether it was the flight, the hotel, the ride to the office in Atlanta for the interview, the weather on that particular day, the temperature of the interview room — something was likely going to be a hurdle he’d have to overcome.
No problem. Been there. Done that before.
“He was better than the first interview,” Riggins said. “I can’t explain the whole experience with Allen. He had it. Whether you’re a scout, coach or player, you know it when you see it, when you hear it. When he walked in the room and began his presentation I thought this was the guy.”
Not long after that interview session in Atlanta on Jan. 19, Greene was named the 15th athletics director at Auburn and the school’s first African-American to serve in that position.
“How do you remain steady when there’s all this noise going on? And, honestly, I think it’s just developed over time. I wasn’t born with it; my parents know that,” Greene said. “But, over time you develop an understanding that, as the leader of the department, you’ve got to remain steady regardless of what’s happening.”
From his days as a baseball outfielder in the Pacific Northwest area for US Bank summer travel team, Greene’s life also could be described as having an interesting path toward success.
When then-Notre Dame assistant coach Brian O’Connor went to Seattle on the recommendation of a summer league coach named Tom McCabe, O’Connor got more than he bargained for while expecting less.
After O’Connor flew to see Greene play, he knew this recruiting trip might be a challenging evaluation. The fields had been so saturated with the rain typical of the Seattle area that he remembers taking Greene to a park where they had coin-operated, machine-throwing batting cages to see him hit.
“I’m glad we brought him to Notre Dame because he was a very good college player and his personality allowed us to build a great culture there," O'Connor said.
Because of his relationship with McCabe, O’Connor was determined to continue after Greene, who was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays out of high school and had Power Five conference schools chasing him.
He met with Greene’s parents, both of whom attended Greene’s introductory news conference at Auburn, and instantly realized this was a priority recruit.
Greene was a superior athlete and it didn’t take a respected college assistant, as O’Connor was at the time, to see that. But it was those intangibles, that "it factor" as Riggins said decades later, that instantly made O’Connor pick up the phone and call his boss. He told head coach Paul Mainieri that Greene had to be part of their first recruiting class.
“I told Paul that I don’t know how good of a player Allen is, but I know he wants to be a great player and I know he’s all about what we’re about and he was raised in a fantastic family so it was an easy sell for us at Notre Dame,” O’Connor said.
O’Connor, now the head coach at the University of Virginia, is hosting the Cavaliers preseason alumni banquet in Charlottesville where he anticipates McCabe will be one of 1,100 people at the dinner. O’Connor also knows that this weekend he’ll need to have his phone or iPad on and fully charged.
“(McCabe) is flying in from Seattle and you can bet your bottom dollar that within the next 48 hours, we’ll be on FaceTime with Allen Greene,” O’Connor said. “Allen is one of those people that I could tell talking on the phone with him when he was in high school that this is a person you always want on your side.”
Mainieri, who is now the head coach at LSU, was Greene’s coach for three years.
Greene was a ninth-round draft pick of the New York Yankees in 1998, making him, at the time, the 13th-highest drafted player in Notre Dame history. He was only the ninth Notre Dame draft pick to sign following his sophomore or junior year since the inception of the draft in 1965.
“I love Allen Greene like he’s one of my sons and I’ve always admired that throughout the time I’ve known him," Mainieri said. "He’s always been a positive person with a great sense of humor but he just always had that thing you look for.
“I’m the son of a coach and have been around coaching my whole life and you still can’t describe it fully. Special people like Allen Greene just have it.”
Greene’s inability to hit a professional breaking ball ended his minor league career in 2001.
After his playing career ended, Greene was hired at Shamrock Net Design, LLC near Notre Dame’s campus and was promoted to director of finance and internal operations with the company, but commercial financial management was not soon in his future.
Greene describes a meeting at Notre Dame’s baseball field with Bernard Muir, who is currently Stanford's athletics director, and Bill Scholl, who is Marquette's athletics director. Both men were in Notre Dame’s athletics department at the time and convinced Greene of a career path overhaul.
“I pulled up and, along the third-base side of the fence, were two gentlemen in suits. One of them is Bernard Muir and the other is Bill Scholl,” Greene said. “I said, ‘Why are you guys here?’ And they said, ‘Well, we’re supporting the baseball team.’ And I said, ‘Whoa, you get paid to watch baseball? This is a job I have to find, I’ve got to get into this industry.'”
However, it was a conversation with Mainieri that led to a recommendation and an interview for an opening in Notre Dame’s compliance office.
“After Allen and I talked, I went to (then-Notre Dame athletics director) Kevin White and he said they had an opening in compliance,” Mainieri said. “It’s not surprise to me that Allen has flown up the ranks in this business. I’ve done this so long now that he’s one of my success stories that I take pride in.
"I’ve had 12 former players become head coaches, one is a deputy counsel for the Major League Baseball Players Association. I’ve coached men that have gone on to be generals in the U.S. Air Force. That’s rewarding when I get to help them along the way, but Allen’s success is mostly him being a tremendous worker with leadership skills.”
While working at Notre Dame, Greene moved from compliance to fundraising but was engulfed in a culture under White that would shape where Greene stood Jan. 19, 2018.
While working in Notre Dame’s athletic fundraising department, Greene was around colleagues such as Muir, Scholl, current Penn State athletics director Sandy Barbour, current North Carolina athletics director Bubba Cunningham, current Northwestern athletics director Jim Phillips, former athletics director Todd Turner and Kevin White’s son, Danny.
Danny is now the athletics director at Central Florida, but later when Greene went to Ole Miss and then Buffalo, he was Greene’s boss.
When Danny White left his athletics director post at Buffalo for Central Florida, Greene was the in-house pick to take over. In doing so, it gave him him his first crack at being the athletics director at a Division I program and becoming the one of the youngest athletic directors in the NCAA's FBS.
“What I can say is I mostly worked with Allen on event scheduling and planning when I was working in an administrative role with the Mid-American Conference and he was an associate AD at Buffalo,” said Donayle Canada, who is now the assistant athletic director for compliance at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. “When I called Allen was something, it got done. The problem was solved or things began to move faster.”
As typical with Greene’s journey, more roadblocks were coming.
In March 2016, Buffalo football player Solomon Jackson died a week after he collapsed during an offseason workout.
Last April, Greene and Buffalo President Satish Tripathi were forced to announce the school was eliminating four sports (baseball, men’s soccer, men’s swimming and diving, and women’s rowing) to save about $2 million from its athletics budget.
In both instances, Greene was required to be the face of breaking the news. Greene’s self-described steadiness was required.
In his new job at Auburn, Greene’s steady hands will be needed early and often as he evaluates an in-house investigation into the school's men’s basketball program.
After then-assistant coach Chuck Person was arrested, he was fired, and two men’s basketball staff members have been put on paid administrative leave. Neither Greene nor university President Steven Leath have given any assurances to the future of head coach Bruce Pearl despite the team’s 19-2 start to the 2017-18 season.
Greene will be in charge of handling a department that has seen a federal lawsuit involving the track and field program, multiple Title IX complaints in the recent years under outgoing AD Jay Jacobs and an ongoing investigation into a complaint by a former athletic academic staffer who took a final exam for at least one football player from the 2015 season.
“It’s going to take me some time to get my feet wet, learn the landscape," Greene said. "it’s going to take time for the staff, both coaches and athletic staff, to get a chance to know one another.
“So, I think over time as I get a chance to learn people, I’ll start to figure out what needs to be done and to what degree.”
When Green begins his day-to-day operations next month, he’ll once again be judged more heavily in situations with more hurdles. Everyone involved directly and indirectly will see if Greene’s "it factor" works at a place like Auburn where he has no previous ties and no preconceived connection with how things had been done.
“As long as I know that the president wants to advance the athletics department, then that’s good enough for me,” Greene said. “How that happens? TBD.”