AUBURN, Ala. — Allen Greene’s formal introduction as Auburn athletic director came four days after Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, and Greene couldn’t deny the significance even if he wished his skin color wasn’t so notable.
Greene took the podium Friday as the first African-American athletic director at Auburn and only the third in the Southeastern Conference, saying “it speaks volumes to how far our country has progressed.”
“I would be naive to sit here and think that it does not mean something significant,” Greene said. “I would be naive to think so.
“I’m sure there are people out there who are watching. I’m sure that of the 400 texts I have, that people are very happy for me and on the bigger picture for our country. Then there’s the other side of me that thinks it’s not a big deal. I consider myself a partner, a leader and regardless of my gender or my sexual orientation or my skin color, I’m here to serve. That should transcend.”
Greene joins Vanderbilt’s David Williams and former Georgia athletic director Damon Evans as African-American ADs in the league. The 40-year-old spent the past two years running the University of Buffalo’s athletic department after stints at Notre Dame and Mississippi.
“In this case, we hired the best person and it is a different kind of hire for most of collegiate athletics and historically in the SEC,” Leath said. “But he’s the right guy at the right time.”
Trustee Quentin Riggins, a former Auburn linebacker, said Greene stood out to all the search committee members after the interviews.
“In my profession, whether being hired by Alabama Power or running (Gov.) Bob Riley’s governmental affairs department, I was the first black in both,” Riggins said. “In both situations, they felt they got the best person. So I think we got the best person.”
Greene takes over the department amid an internal review into Bruce Pearl’s basketball program.
Pearl has led the No. 17 Tigers to their highest ranking in nearly 20 years but his program is dealing with an internal review. Auburn fired associate head basketball coach Chuck Person after his arrest on federal fraud and bribery charges and the fallout has cost Auburn standout players Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy so far this season while two staffers remain on leave.
The NCAA has already ruled that Wiley won’t be eligible this season. It leaves the job security of Pearl an open question, and Leath said the final call “would be ultimately Allen’s decision.”
Greene said Leath was transparent about the basketball situation during the interview process. He was asked if what he learned made him feel better about the basketball program than what he’d seen in media reports.
“I’ve learned to not necessarily believe the things I read and hear,” Greene said. “But I need to sit down and really get my hands dirty and understand what the situation is in its entirety, and then make some decisions based on that.”
Pearl and football coach Gus Malzahn were among those attending Greene’s introductory news conference in a room packed with trustees and Auburn supporters. UCF athletic director Danny White, Greene’s former boss at Buffalo, also made the trip, along with Greene’s parents, wife and kids.
Malzahn has already agreed to a new seven-year contract, but is hoping for some facility upgrades. Greene joked that the coach had already “hit me up for a stand-alone football facility.” Malzahn applauded the hire.
“In due time, we’ll sit down and we’ll talk about the whole football situation, as far as facilities and everything that goes with that,” the coach said. “I’m really excited to have Allen here. He’s going to do a super job. He’s got a dynamic personality. He’s got dynamic vision, for not just football but Auburn athletics.
“I really feel like our students are going to be excited, our student-athletes are going to be excited, and it’s a great fit right now.”