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Being Prepared For Leadership: Auburn’s Allen Greene

Guest Allen Greene, Auburn; Jim Cavale, INFLCR
49:54 min watch

Summary

INFLCR Founder/CEO Jim Cavale leads a wide-ranging conversation with Auburn AD Allen Greene. The discussion begins on the topic of Greene’s career progression from student-athlete to college athletics administrator. From there, the two cover working with now-UCF AD Danny White, interviewing for the Auburn job, the first press conference, lessons learned in athletics, and much more.

 

Click the timestamp below to jump to a specific question/topic. Scroll down to read the full transcription.

  • - When did the dream of playing college and professional baseball start to feel like it could be a reality?
  • - Was college athletics the first thing that came to your mind as you transitioned away from playing baseball?
  • - What was the catalyst that got you in college athletics?
  • - How did you manage your first few years in college athletics?
  • - On family support
  • - How have people helped you along the way during your career?
  • - How do you handle collaboration from your position?
  • - As a leader in college athletics, what is your approach to putting the Student-Athletes first in everything you do?
  • - On going with Danny White to Buffalo
  • - On being ready when Auburn called
  • - On the Auburn interview
  • - Preparing for the first press conference after being hired at Auburn
  • - What are some of the things you approached right away and are possibly still working as part of your vision for Auburn?
  • - How do you look at branding from your point of view at Auburn?
  • - On Student-Athletes and social media
  • - On the lessons learned in athletics
  • - On Bryce Brown and his experience at Auburn
  • - Advice to fellow leaders on hiring and developing talent

Jim Cavale: So Allen, you’re here in Birmingham, SEC meetings, worked out where we could spend some time right here in the INFLCR headquarters. And, you know, first off, you know, when you walk in, everybody is looking around like they’re wondering what team you play for. I’m sure you get that a lot like you’re still… could you still go out there and hit, you know, 20 home runs?

 

Allen Greene: There’s no way. I was actually at a baseball practice two days ago. And Coach Thompson is like, “This is the last group, you can get in here and hit some balls if you want.” I’m like, “No, no, I like to remember when I was good.”

 

Well, let’s talk about that. You played sports growing up. You end up realizing a dream to play college and pro baseball. And that’s a big part of your story now as a leader in college sports. So, when did the dream as a young boy, young man, really start to make you feel like it could be a reality?

 

Yeah. Well, before I answer that, Jim, I want to thank you for having me on. I know you and I have gotten a chance to know each other over this past year and a half or so, and I really respect what you do and the way you’re able to amplify the messages. So, we need people like you in our industry, so I appreciate it.

 

Thank you.

 

You know, I probably, when I was about 10 years old is probably when I started thinking about what I wanted to do when I grew up. And the lifelong dream of mine was to play in Major League Baseball. And fortunately, you know, as a… as a young person, I played baseball, basketball, football and soccer growing up. And as I got older and in my high school years, it kind of just narrowed down the focus down to basketball and baseball and finally I settled on baseball being the sport that I wanted to pay most of my attention to.

 

And you end up excelling enough to be able to go to Notre Dame.

 

I did, yeah. It wasn’t… wasn’t, it wasn’t something I intended to do. I didn’t know where I wanted to go. I didn’t have like that dream school. Notre Dame wasn’t really even on my radar. In fact, I thought you had to wear a suit and tie to school at Notre Dame. Thankfully, you don’t, and you didn’t, and you still don’t.

 

And now you got to do that every day.

 

And now I got to do it every day. So it catches up with you at some point in time. But it was, you know, having some vision and some, some dreams about where you want to go really helps you think about today and what you want to do today to get better.

 

No doubt. So you go to Notre Dame, you end up, I mean, it’s amazing, if we think about the brands that you played for. You go from Notre Dame to the Yankees.

 

Yeah.

 

I mean, you know, the standards in sports to a degree, right, national fan bases. But what was that feeling like? You realize a lifelong dream. You get drafted by the New York Yankees.

 

Right. You know, it probably goes back to high school. I went to O’Dea High School, which is an all-male Catholic high school, all of, you know, maybe 500, 500 students and… but the brand in Seattle was that an academic powerhouse and an athletic powerhouse. So going from my high school Notre Dame was really not that much different in terms of the academic brand, in terms of the athletic brand.
And then, obviously, getting into the Yankees organization, I seem to have been a part of… a part of programs and brands where you kind of either love them or hate them. And usually the reason why people hate them is because of all the success. And so, it wasn’t, in fact, I would tell you this, the… one of the greatest experiences that I had playing Minor League Baseball was, you know, being on the road and having someone boo you and that means that you’ve been successful. And so, just a really great experience in the Yankees organization and I wouldn’t trade… I wouldn’t trade that for the world.

 

So you did that on plan, and I know a lot of guys who I played with come to college baseball and get a chance to play pro ball, you know, it wears you down. It’s, you know, in college, you’re playing 56 games, all of a sudden now you’re playing 100 games, you’re not traveling luxuriously, you’re not making a ton of money. I heard all the stories.

 

Yeah, yeah. Yeah, yeah.

 

And then you realize like, okay, I’m done, and I want to move on. Was college athletics the first thing that came to your mind?

 

No, it actually wasn’t. The first thing, well, I don’t know what came to my mind because sport is such a huge part of athletes’ identities and particularly if you translate professional sports, you basically been playing a sport since you were five or six years old. And so, for 20 years, I’ve known baseball. I’ve known other sports, but I’ve known baseball and I’ve identified myself as a baseball player.
One of the first things my father said to me when I got done playing pro ball was, “Don’t do anything stupid.” Because you’re… you’re searching for yourself. You’re trying to find this new identity and he just didn’t want me to do something stupid. I don’t know what I would have done. But I’m sure I could have come up with a couple of things if left enough time. But I didn’t know if I want to get into investment banking. I didn’t know if I wanted to get… I didn’t really even fully understand that there was a career in college athletics. And so, I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with myself and it just took me a little bit of time to figure that out.

 

What was the catalyst to get you into college athletics?

 

I joke but it’s in all sincerity. I got into this industry because of me being very selfish. And I remember going to… so I was back in South Bend, working for a small web development company and I would always stop back by the baseball stadium to watch practice or games on my way home from work. And…

 

Wow.

 

Yeah.

 

You miss it that much.

 

Well, just, you miss the guys.

 

Yeah, the guys.

 

Like you miss the guys.

 

Sure.

 

You miss your coaches. You just… you miss that camaraderie that you’ve been so accustomed to for so much of your life. And there was two guys in suits standing along the third base line, and I knew they worked in the athletics department. I didn’t really know what they did. I just knew they were athletic department employees. And I knew them. They knew me. And so, we exchanged, you know, hellos. And then I kind of said, “No, Notre Dame is a football school. So how y’all out here watching a baseball game?” And they said, “Well, we’re supporting our student athletes in our, in our baseball program.” And I was like, “Oh, that’s cool.” And I thought to myself, well, I’d do that too. But yeah, y’all are getting paid for it. And I just do it because I… because I love it. And so, that, that kind of was my entrance into wanting to work in this industry. And then shortly thereafter, after interacting with the student athletes, you quickly realize that you literally are there to support other people and it’s not about the gratification you get for yourself. It’s about the reward you get for, for seeing someone else develop.

 

So talk me through your, your first few years in college athletics because, obviously, a lot of people listening work in sports and, you know, like, nights, weekends…

 

Yeah.

 

It’s crazy. And when you’re first getting started, you’re not going to make a ton of money.

 

Right.

 

You know, hopefully, you don’t have a big family yet and a bunch of responsibilities, right? Because if you do, it’s going to be tough to balance it all and people deal with, with that whole work-life balance thing in any line of work, but college athletics is intense. So talk… talk me through your first few years. And then when you started to see a path toward being an athletic director and started maybe dream for that.

 

That’s a really good question, Jim. I think that going into it my first year, first two years, I was in compliance. And so, just doing a lot of rules, education, had to… although I have that experience while I was a student athlete, I hadn’t done it from the other side of the table. And so, helping and interacting with student athletes was the best part of the job. I interacted with some athletes every day. But it is a grind, right? It’s nights, it’s weekends, it’s doing whatever you have to do to get the job done. And that… in order to do it successfully, you have to sacrifice other things in your life. And so, some of that is your personal life. We were… my wife and I were… we had just gotten married. And so, we were starting our lives together. Hadn’t had a child in the first year working in professional or college athletics. And that was just… you have to start to choose, you know, where your priorities are. And I’m so thankful that my wife has been so supportive, Christy has been my biggest champion. And without her understanding the things that I need to do professionally, I wouldn’t be where I am today. And you can’t underestimate or shouldn’t say that you can’t undervalue a partner who gets your world because there is no work-life balance. I mean, you, you, you are… you are tied to your job and your own personal success and your organization’s success is completely tied to the work that you do. And so, whether the phone call comes in at 10 o’clock at night or 6:00 a.m. in the morning, and you know, you may be able to take your kids to school, but yet you got to be on the phone on the way there or you have to break off a meeting or you can’t make it to a kid’s game or whatever. And you try to do the best you can and navigate those but if there’s a jump ball, right, the job is going to get the possession.

 

Yeah, and it’s, it’s one of those things, and I think being an entrepreneur is similar because you’re just always on. But there’s also a lot of people depending on you.

 

Yes.

 

And especially in the seat you’re in today, right, and not just your family, but your team and their families; and for you, student athletes. And we look at our athlete users the same way, but we’re not tied to them as much as you are in your position. So that’s a big weight that you’ve obviously been lifting and lifting and lifting and getting used to carrying but fast forwarding all the way to how you look at your role today, your wife must be patient and very understanding to know that many people are depending on you.

 

Sure. It is, and she is, Christy is incredibly patient. It would be… in order to articulate this accurately, it is frustrating for her, and it’s frustrating for me. I’ve seen, you know, my son has played, you know, five soccer games and I’ve only seen one of them. And I’ve missed, I missed every one of them. You know, my daughters, I miss some of their games, I miss some of their events at school at night. And so, you take these jobs knowing that it’s not a normal lifestyle, but you do it because you love it. You love shaping people’s lives. And so, “a normal job,” you know, my responsibility is to three kids, right, and my wife.

 

Yeah.

 

In this role, I got, you know, right, there’s 550 student athletes. You’ve got 300 and so full-time staff. You’ve got fans who are incredibly passionate about, about their school and their teams. And you’re responsible for all of those things. And it’s, they’re very challenging, very demanding jobs, because so many people have opinions on what they think you should do and how you should do it. But, but that’s, that’s part of the allure of intercollegiate athletics, and…

 

Yeah.

 

And you got to love it.

 

So let’s… you rise up. You’ve got, you know, you’re married. You’re, you’re building a family. Talk about the support you have there from Christy. Then you’re working for these different brands, and one brand I want to ask you about that you, you played a big role with and I worked with them at INFLCR a lot is Ole Miss. You know, I was just there a few weeks ago and they were talking you up and talking about the days when you were there, Danny White was there. And I was talking to Kyle Tucker actually it was…

 

Okay.

 

…who’s been there. It seems like forever. And whether it’s… it’s that journey at Ole Miss, or some of the other schools you were at along the way, talk about some people who took you under their wing and helped you get to where you ended up at Buffalo where you became the athletic director.

 

Sure. Well, you said a key word and that’s a journey. It is a journey. And the journey isn’t always pleasant. But if you can find a way to have the journey somehow be rewarding, then, then you’re in a great spot. Danny and I, you know, spent a lot of time together at Ole Miss and we had a lot of fun. There was a lot of hard work. But we… because we are so different, we would… our ideas would clash, which was great. And usually magic would come out of it. I think that’s why we were able to have success there. You know, the interim AD at Ole Miss right now, Keith Carter…

 

Yeah.

 

…all three of us work together and felt that we really kind of did something magical there to help Ole Miss really achieve some, some cool things that Ole Miss hadn’t achieved before. There’s a lot of other people in this industry who have been just stalwarts who, you know, who are… who lend an ear and, you know, people who I can call on and just say, Hey, here’s the situation I’m going through. I know you’ve gone through them before, how did you handle it? What are some things I need to be thinking about? Give me a different perspective. Is what I’m… is my thought process appropriate? Just having people hold you not, not accountable, but just kind of keeping the checks and balances there. And I’m sure you’d have to do the same thing, right…

 

Yeah.

 

…as you’re… in your own company, as, as the leader of this organization that you… there are other people who have been successful in their businesses. They’ll say people have failed in businesses and you can learn a lot from their experiences and, and we are… we are in this industry and no different.

 

What’s an example of… give me an example of a Danny White-Allen Greene clash that turned into a great thing?

 

Yeah. It was usually something political. You know it, well, I’ll tell you one. Well, I won’t tell you in detail. He and I have very different approaches. We want the same outcome but different approaches. And there was a time when one of our coaches wanted to give a raise to someone on staff. And Danny is like, “Yeah, of course, we’ll do it.” And then I’m saying, “Well, why? We weren’t successful. So why does someone get a raise when not successful?” And we have these back and forth about being in the foxhole with a coach and if you are trying to do all you can provide coaches within your… within your bounds, within your means, provide them the things that they feel like are necessary for their program. And we ended up in the same spot. I understood where he was coming from.

 

Sure.

 

I just… I just happen to disagree.

 

Yeah.

 

Now that I’ve evolved, I do understand why those are some things that you do.

 

The reason I bring it up is I think leadership teams are obviously what guide a brand, a company, an athletic department. And the magic of a leadership team is not meetings becoming, “Oh, I got this other meeting again,” you know, we all know that attitude that can come out of meetings that everybody knows the leaders is going to talk the whole time and this guy is going to do this, and this girl is going to do this and it’s going to be a disaster.

 

Sure.

 

But instead, a plan to create what I think is a healthy debate where you’re going head to head about key issues, but you’re not doing it with pride. Your ego is checked at the door. You’re doing it for the same purpose.

 

Right.

 

And to me, that’s where the magic happens with meetings, leadership teams, and that’s where brains are working together instead of against each other.

 

We talk a lot about, well, how can… help me understand.

 

Yeah.

 

Or how can we…? Because anytime that there is this new idea, there’s going to be resistance or there’s going to be, “Oh, well, the problem with that is…” like that’s, that, that is kind of human nature. And if we can somehow get ourselves to say, “You know what, that’s a… that’s a really good idea. I know there are some flaws here, but I think we can work through them. How can we work through these things?”

 

Yeah.

 

And if you can start to do that, then you can start to be solution-oriented and actually make some progress and some stuff.

 

So you look up there in our core values, so we go back to them a lot. But be the solution is over there.

 

Sure, yeah.

 

That’s the eighth one on the right.

 

Yeah.

 

So that is, that is something I’ve just learned in business has to be the attitude because what’s going to happen every day? Problems.

 

Sure, yeah.

 

You got to be a culture…

 

Every day.

 

Every day, multiple times a day. And before you know it, if you’re not a solutions culture, little problems will feel like big problems.

 

Right.

 

Sometimes you just need perspective of what are we here to do.

 

Sure.

 

Solve.

 

Sure.

 

We’re also here, my company and Auburn University for the same true north and that’s athletes. So just talk to me about how you approach as a leader in college sports, how you’ve learned to approach putting the athlete first as the most important thing you do.

 

Wow, that’s a good one. There’s a colleague who I have learned through their coaches who is a very different person when they’re managing the organization versus when they’re around student athletes. And I didn’t understand that until I got to Auburn. Taking jobs like Auburn that you talked about, fires. We have 15 head coaches and 300 or so full-time staff members. There’s fires every day. Someone has a problem every single day that they need your help with. And that wears on you, right? It completely just zaps your energy and your bandwidth. And I’ve noticed that I start to do that also. I start to deal with the daily operations of a department from a very business-minded place. When I’m around our student athletes, I notice I light up.

 

Yeah.

 

And, and it just kind of happens that way.

 

Yeah.

 

And so, for those people who are really committed to the student athlete experience, those are the people who light up around their student athletes. And I have… I find myself being energized when I’m around our young people.

 

That’s awesome.

 

They just… they bring a whole different element to the room and it’s one that I crave.

 

Yeah, youth breeds creativity, energy, a lot of things that, you know, as we get into the daily grind, win, lose, that’s awesome. It’s cool that you’re able to do it. You can walk right over to practice to do that, you know.

 

Yeah.

 

You need to… maybe you should plan that.

 

I think it was Monday. Monday, I got four practices in, start… started off with swimming, maybe it was Tuesday, I don’t even remember. Started off with swimming, went to men’s basketball, went to baseball, and finished off at football.

 

That’s awesome.

 

And that was the best afternoon I’ve had in a long time.

 

So, Danny goes up to Buffalo and says, “Hey, come with me”?

 

Yeah, so this, this leads to another conversation. So Danny and I had conversations about just our career path and professional development. And Danny wanted to be an AD, right. You know, like, that’s… he knew that’s what he wanted. And we would have conversations and I didn’t have that same… not confidence. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be an athletic director. And I said, but if I’m going to be one, I can’t do it just by having compliance and development experience. I have no idea how an athletic department is run. Like, I have no idea on what these fires are every day that come up. And we know he got the job at Buffalo. He took me along, not because I was experienced, but because we had gone through the battles together. And we had developed a level of trust that he knew I was going to tell him my thoughts, and I would challenge him in a way that would help us get to and help him get to a better solution or the best solution possible.
So it was a great experience and I’ve shared with people. I had been at Notre Dame and I had been at Ole Miss, all, you know, great brands, and I’m at Auburn, a great brand. But the most rewarding and challenging and best experience from a professional level perspective I’ve ever had was the six years I spent at Buffalo. You wear multiple hats. Resources are a tremendous grind. There isn’t as much fan affinity. You’re working for everything that you get. And when you have success at that level, it’s incredibly rewarding.
At Auburn, everyone expects to have the success because we have the resources. There isn’t… there isn’t an achievement that we shouldn’t have. But at Buffalo, no one expects you to go…

 

Yeah.

 

…right to the NCAA Tournament in basketball. I’ve been in more NCAA tournaments at Buffalo in basketball than I have at Auburn, right.

 

Yeah.

 

And even after two years, I’ve have had more experiences in NCAA tournament at Buffalo than in Auburn. And so, so I developed tremendously as an administrator during the time at Buffalo, because you have so many challenges to deal with that are not the same challenges at a place like Auburn.

 

That’s awesome man. And I’ll tell you as an upstate New Yorker, I mean, I grew up in Syracuse, New York, you know, Buffalo is a… I mean, at one point for me growing up I would get Buffalo and Buffalo State mixed up all the time.

 

Right.

 

You know, Buffalo, obviously, rose as a brand big time when they had some great college football years before you got there. But what you guys did was… is very impressive. And I’m sure there’s a lot I don’t know that you did with the athletic department, but I obviously saw basketball, saw softball.

 

Sure, sure.

 

It’s an amazing story. And so, he gets the UCF position. You get promoted. You’re now the head guy, and you felt because of what you were helping him with when he was there you were ready to roll.

 

Right. Well, I’d say, you know, Danny was there for about three years and every day I tried to figure out how to get him fired. That was my job. I mean, how can I get this guy out of here? And it just… it worked out really, really well where he got an opportunity to go to UCF and he’s obviously killing it there. And I got an opportunity to stay at Buffalo and continue the positive trajectory that we’d had. One of the things I will share about the, the dynamics of Buffalo was, I had, you know, three years, three or four years to develop relationships on campus with university leadership, to develop relationships with our donors, to develop relationships with our coaches. And so, if I wasn’t the person to take over, then they were just looking for somebody completely different or someone brand new. So, you can’t lose sight for those people who want to be ADs. You can’t lose sight of cultivating the people who are on your own campus because you never know when, when an opportunity might open up at your existing campus, or if a provost or a dean or somebody gets a job someplace else, and it allows them to vouch for you at this new… this new place. So never, never pass up an opportunity to develop relationships on your own campus.

 

Yeah. Well, a lot of what we preach at INFLCR, especially to athletes is be ready for the moment.

 

Right.

 

You never know when you’re going to make a run to a final four.

 

Sure, that’s right.

 

You never know when you’re going to be in a moment that is going to have a lot of eyeballs on it because it’s a special moment in sports. And of course, being ready with your social media is important. But you seem to really be ready for the moment where you got called down here to Auburn, Alabama for the interview, and I just… I’ve heard the story like 10 different ways. I’ll tell you the way I’ve heard it.

 

Okay.

 

You tell me if I’m right or wrong.

 

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

 

What I heard was that Auburn called Danny and said that they were very interested in him coming to Auburn, being an athletic director in the SEC. And he said, you know, he’s really committed to what he’s building at UCF. You know, it’s where he wants to be the rest of his life. But you really need to give Allen Greene a call and see what he’s doing up at Buffalo.

 

I would believe the first part. I wouldn’t… I wouldn’t believe the second part. You know, it’s interesting. I don’t… I do not know how my name made it into this search process.

 

And you were happy.

 

I was happy. The day before I got a phone call from the search firm, I was in my president’s office talking about an extension. My wife and I had had this long conversation, conversations about, you know, our family, our personal life, the kids, our committee, like we loved our time at Buffalo.

 

Buffalo is a great city.

 

It’s a great city.

 

Yeah.

 

And we did not want to leave.

 

It’s kind of like Birmingham with eight months of lake effects happening.

 

Exactly. It exactly was that. And, you know, we, we didn’t want to leave. We weren’t looking to leave. We weren’t looking. We certainly weren’t looking to go to Auburn. Like, we were… we… we’d already spent some time in Oxford, Mississippi. I’m from Seattle. She’s from right outside, outside of Philadelphia.

 

Yeah. Right.

 

There was like we, we weren’t interested. I wasn’t interested. And then I started getting an understanding of what Auburn was looking for. And, you know, someone was telling me, like, you’re actually really good fit down there. I’m like, “But I don’t fit. I don’t check a whole bunch of boxes, though.” And it did. I mean, fortunately, it worked out where I fell in love.

 

I’m sorry. I’m going to stop you.

 

Yeah. Yeah.

 

What boxes?

 

Well, so, Auburn traditionally has hired someone from Auburn or with our connections, right?

 

Oh, yeah.

 

Someone that doesn’t have my nice chocolatey tan and, and certainly not someone from Seattle, right, so there’s, there’s these, in my opinion, three major boxes that I can’t change.

 

Yeah.

 

And, and no matter what kind of lipstick you put on me…

 

Yeah.

 

I’m still going to be that pig.

 

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

 

But what I… what I really appreciate about the leadership at Auburn is they saw the things in me that that made the fit work, and they took a chance on, on someone that was very much outside of the traditional profile. And so, I owe it to Auburn University to do all I can to serve to the best that I can for not just our student athletes, not just for our staff, not just for the people who work at Auburn but for the entire Auburn family. And I am incredibly humbled by, by their display and their confidence in me to lead this department and I will do so humbly, and I’ll do all I can to make Auburn the best it can be.

 

So, when you came down for that interview, you were kind of just like it’s an experience. It’s, you know, broaden my horizons, SEC, AD interview, whatever, like, is that basically what your self-talk was?

 

No, no. Like, I didn’t…

 

Did you really want it?

I wasn’t interested in the job because it was in the SEC. I’d already been in the SEC.

 

Yeah, you were already on it.

 

I’d already done it. I wanted… I wanted the, I didn’t even really… I didn’t want the job. I really didn’t.

 

That’s what I’m asking.

 

I was I was intrigued, and I tell the story when we’re out on the road I was intrigued but I wasn’t interested. I didn’t become interested until the very first interview which was in Atlanta. I fell in love with the people. Second interview, in Atlanta, fell in love with the people. Signed the contract. Then showed up in Auburn, Alabama with my family the night before the press conference. I had never been to Auburn, Alabama before.

 

Why’d you sign the contract before that without going there?

 

Because I didn’t need to go there.

 

You just knew what the job was, and you felt good. You felt the peace and the people, the people.

 

I felt comfortable. I felt at home with the people. And based on what I knew who I was, I could just be myself. And if I would just be myself at Auburn, I think there would be some chance for some success.

 

That’s awesome. So you…

 

Crazy is what it is.

 

It is crazy. But that’s how, I mean…

 

Borderline stupid.

 

Too big risk.

 

Yeah, it is. It’s a big risk.
Big risk, but… don’t talk to me about risk. I love risk.
Right, so are you. No, captivated.

 

All right, so you go to the press conference. Now, you talked about your complexion. You’re the first African American athletic director, not at Auburn, but in the league.

 

Third in the league.

 

Third in the league.

 

First at Auburn.

 

First at Auburn.

 

Third in the league.

 

So first at Auburn, third in the league. And you mentioned the other two things, being from the North… Pacific Northwest.

 

Right.

 

And not being an Auburn man.

 

Yeah.

 

Did any of that come back when you walked in the room and you walk out to do that press conference? Any, any like self-talk, you know, pollute your mind?

 

I don’t know. It was a whirl… number one, it was a whirlwind. But when I, when I was preparing for my remarks, it had nothing to… it had nothing to do with my profile in the sense that the things that I couldn’t control, right. So where I’m from, can’t control. Being a person of color, can’t control. Not being from Auburn, can’t control those things. I approached it as here’s who I am.

 

Yeah.

 

 

And if y’all accept me, then that’s great. We’re going to have a lot of fun. If you don’t accept me, then this ain’t going to work out and we can both just go our separate ways. It didn’t dawn on me that I was the first person to color to lead Auburn athletics until the night before, and I was kind of rehearsing talking points with some of the staff. And they were helping me with making sure I said Jordan-Hare Stadium, not Jordan-Hare Stadium.

 

Yeah.

 

And just some, some of those nuances, right?

 

“See, he’s not an Auburn guy.”

 

Yeah, he’s not… yeah, right. It’s Auburn University, not University of Auburn. It’s, it’s, you know, that’s when I finally said, “Oh, I guess I am.” I could never… it didn’t cross my mind that I was the first one. It crossed my mind of is being black and being able to lead Auburn athletics, will that be acceptable? Can people accept that? That, that’s where my main concern was.

 

But the people who you fell in love within Atlanta made you feel like they had accepted it, and that empowered you?

 

Yeah. So the experience at Ole Miss, we went, my wife and I went to Ole Miss prior to accepting the job. And the questions I had was, “How comfortable are you with a person of color outright, you know, out asking for money to support Ole Miss athletics with people who we know did not approve of integration?” In the early ‘60s, the same people who I was calling on…

 

Right.

 

…right in Jackson, and then Memphis and in the, in the Delta, and down the coast, those are the same people who went to school at all Ole Miss in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. And the response that, that Pete Boone shared with me, and I’ll never forget this, he said, “We wouldn’t have you down here if we didn’t think you’d be successful.”

 

Wow.

 

And that was deep. Like that, that hit me. And so, part of the conversations that we have with the people that Auburn felt the same way. They would not have had me engaged in this opportunity if they didn’t feel like I could be successful.

 

And that’ll make you feel a certain way.

 

It makes you feel good.

 

Yeah, right. That’ll…

 

Yeah.

 

That’ll give you presence.

 

Yeah.

 

It’s kind of like your… your parents.

 

Right.

 

Or your wife, telling you…

 

It’s like your…

 

Encouraging you.

 

Yeah, and it’s like your coach, like your basketball coach, putting you on the line to shoot, you know, a one on one at the end of the game, that your coach has confidence that you’re going to knock them down.

 

Yeah, yeah.

 

Your knees may be knocking like crazy, right? But your coach believes in you. Your players believe in you. Your teammates believe in you. And therefore, you… you’ve got confidence going into a situation that could be potentially pretty damn frightening.

 

You get in there, and there’s a lot of work to do right away, especially from a people standpoint, because let’s face it, like the reality is, is like anything else, the only way you can be successful is having the right people, culture fit, core values, the things that really make up the DNA of an organization. So you had a get the org chart, so to speak, right? And we’re not talking about a 30-person org chart. We’re talking about 300-person org chart.

 

Yeah.

 

And then you had to, obviously, think about all the things you think about in college athletics to transcend the value down through the student athlete experience. What are some of the things you approach right away and are still working on as part of your vision for, for Auburn?

 

Well, the first thing… so right after the press conference, I end up having a chance to speak to the entire athletic department. And at that point in time, we didn’t talk… we talked a little bit about professional values. But I talked about my personal values, and I wanted them to get to know me as a person, not, not Allen Greene, the guy; not Allen Greene, the AD. And I did also talk a little bit about here’s what I expect from a professional… from people who are going to work in this organization. So that way it’s kind of laying the foundation of here are my non-negotiable and, you know, don’t be late, be respectful, be a team player, those types of things. Then it’s really just working to understand the university, understand the athletics department, the university, the culture. It’s hard to make decisions when… if you don’t understand the culture, and some of the history, the backstory. We can all talk about the future all we want…

 

Right.

 

…but if you don’t look in the rearview mirror, then you’re going to make a mistake going forward. We know that history repeats itself, but how can we repeat the good part of history, the part of history that helps us advance and helps with our brand and, and acknowledge the history that may not have been the best history, but use it to our advantage moving forward. And then trying to figure out who, who I needed to be, like, I know who I am. But what type of athletic director do I need to be and who do I need around me to be able to fill my gaps? There’s some things that I do really, really well. And then there’s some things I’m terrible at. And so, I got to have people around me who can, can hide my blemishes and help accentuate the things that, that I’m good at.

 

And that’s the key. Talked about brand. We said it a lot. Obviously, we’re partnered. Auburn is actually our second ever client. Kentucky is our first. And we learned a ton as a team with our product from our early days with Auburn a couple years ago. But since you’ve come on, we’ve been able to help a lot more sports, women’s sports, and really have a holistic partnership with you. And so, I think for me, you know, it’s refreshing knowing that from the top down Auburn is really thinking about their brand. Matter of fact, brand is a part of the hashtag this year for the football team, right? For the brand.

 

Right, for the brand.

 

Right for the brand. So for you, how do you look at branding, especially, as it goes to social media, student athlete experience, because it’s a big part of what you guys are doing?

 

You know, growing up, you know, your parents teach you don’t judge a book by its cover. And we wish that that could be true, right? It’s not true. People do judge books by their covers. And so it’s incredibly important that our student athletes understand that they represent Auburn. And they represent their teams. They represent their coaches. They represent the administration. They represent university leadership. They represent the Auburn family. And in order for Auburn’s brand to remain shiny, then our young people who represent us have to sure that they’re operating, behaving in accordance with really the Auburn creed, right, and understanding that they… their actions are a direct reflection of the people who, who came before them, whether it’s their student athletes, or whether it’s people who just went to school at Auburn, or people who are passionate about the university, and understanding that and being able to demonstrate maturity in the face of adversity, incredibly important. Being able to win with humility, incredibly important. Being able to step into any situation with confidence, incredibly important. Those are some of the characteristics that, that, that the Auburn family really appreciates. And we need to make sure that our student athletes are espousing those, those, those character traits.

 

And so, when it comes to, you mentioned book by its cover, I talk to athletes all the time about the fact that whether you like it, or not social media has become your digital character footprint.

 

Right.

 

You know, if Aaron Boyd who I just hired, he played, I think, the student athlete wide receiver at Kentucky. When he applied to work for our team, what’s the first thing I looked at? You know, I mean, his social media. And so, when a front office executive is evaluating a young man, he’s not just going to look at this 40 time, he’s going to look at his social media, his Twitter, what, what’s he about.

 

Right.

 

So this is the reality of the society we live in today. And it can be used for good. It can be a weapon of mass production.

 

Absolutely.

 

Or it can be a weapon of mass destruction.

 

Right.

 

And with 500-plus student athletes and some coaches, that’s a big liability.

 

It is, again, that goes to the foundation and the culture, right. And so, you think about making sure that there are behaviors that drive the culture and using it for… what do you call it? What was the first one? Mass…

 

Production.

 

Production, right. So, if we can get people to understand, you’ve got a choice. We are… you are straddling the line, you can choose to use your influence for positive, or you can choose to use your influence for negative. Coach Mason talks about use your influence for positive and being able to have our student athletes put themselves in a positive light speaks to their own personal brand.

 

Oh, yeah.

 

Because we all know that we may have negative thoughts in our minds about any sort of issue or topic or… or feeling. But we also probably have some positive thoughts on it, too. So let’s, let’s, let’s deal with the negative stuff separately, and privately and make sure that the positive stuff is out there being mass produced.

 

Yeah. And even in a situation like this past weekend, obviously not the outcome that Auburn wanted, but seeing guys still tell their story and maybe bring some of the low lights with transparency to their audience, Derrick Brown being one of them, it gives people a look inside, “Hey, we can we can win this way, but we can lose with dignity too.”

 

Yeah.

 

“And we ain’t done yet.”

 

You know, it’s funny, 18- to 22-year-olds, right? They’re not professional athletes.

 

Right.

 

There are kids, right?

 

Yeah.

 

And so, they’re not perfect. No one is. They try really hard, which is what we all expect. But they also understand that in order to achieve any sort of success, you have to have some failure. The two go hand in hand.

 

Yeah.

 

You can’t just have all success, right? The stock market is one. It’s unrealistic to expect returns every day.

 

Right.

 

There’s going to be some dips. There’s going to be a recession.

 

Yeah.

 

You’re going to climb back up. But over the long haul, you’re going to be a net positive.

 

Right.

 

And when we think about the long haul of the stock market and the long haul of a young person’s life, we want them to just grow. We know that there’s going to be ups and downs. That’s a part of it. If we can reduce the volatility, that’s even better. But the chances are, if you think about those people who have… who have either failed in a business or they failed in something in their personal life, if they can use that, that experience to help them grow and help them learn, and help them do something even better, or try it again, but try it a different way, then that’s fantastic.

 

It’s the… it’s the Tony Bennett speech. You remember the Tony Bennett speech? Here’s the UMBC ticket. Here’s the national championship ticket.

 

Right.

 

It took this…

 

Yeah, to get that.

 

To get this.

 

Yeah, the tough part is we all get caught up in the moment of the UMBC, UM, whatever…

 

BC.

 

UMBC, right. And the Terriers, I think…

 

Yeah.

 

…or something like that.

 

Well, actually, the tough part is I’ve given you the example, we also get caught up in the semi-final from this last year.

 

Yeah, well, that’s true, too, right? But… but you think of Virginia, you think of Virginia last year, and that, that is a prime example that they use that negative experience, and they turned it into something positive.

 

It’s beautiful man. And, and there’s so many parallels in life that you see with your kids, that you see, as we get older, we see it because we’re parents because we get a chance to be blessed to lead some people because we have goals ourselves. And we’ve just gone through the reality that everything you put on your vision board ain’t going to happen like you think it will.

 

Right.

 

But it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a vision board.

 

Right, right.

 

But you may fall short on some things and you can use that to get to somewhere else you never thought you’d go.

 

I’ve struck out four times.

 

Yeah.

 

It’s made me a better… it made me a better baseball player.

 

Yeah.

 

You know.

 

Bryce Brown, so had the chance to catch up with Bryce a few different times, hung out with him at NBA Summer League, sharp young man, really on a journey right now to make it to the league. Probably saw he signed that deal recently with the Celtics. And I know he was celebrating the ring on campus for the Mississippi State game. It was cool seeing all those guys back together. But, you know, he’s a guy who talked about his journey at Auburn and what it means to be an Auburn man from his perspective. We did an interview. And he talked about the leadership, he talked about you, he talked about Coach Pearl, and the fact that he is an 18-year-old when he gets there, and he needed to grow up. And he needed somebody to be patient with him, but also hold him accountable. And he felt like the Auburn environment did that for him. What’s it like for you to hear that and then see his story?

 

It almost makes me want to cry, because that’s why we do what we do is for those moments. You know, we talked earlier about dealing with fires every day, multiple. And as I’ve shared with some of my colleagues, I’ll deal with fires every day to have one of those… to have one of those experiences that Bryce Brown had, to know that, that that’s an impact that we’re having makes all the other stuff worth it.

 

And that team, special team.

 

Oh, there’s no question.

 

What was that like for you?

 

It was so much fun to watch them. There were two things. It was it was fun to watch them gel. And you could see… you could see it happening particularly once we got to Nashville for the SEC Tournament. It was, it was, it was just different. It was fun to see our fans celebrate. Like, people don’t necessarily care how the sausage is made. They just, they just want a good breakfast. And it’s fun to be behind the ropes and see how the sausage is made. And it’s fun to watch those young men develop and grow into being teammates. And what we saw out of the basketball season last year is the culture is what helped us get as far as we got. It wasn’t the talent.

 

Yeah.

 

There were teams who we played who were a heck of a lot more talented than us.

 

I just love… my favorite part about the team was like the attitude they had going into North Carolina game was almost like Bryce said, “They, they really thought they were going to beat us, like, in that, we took that personally.” Like they took it personally that anybody would doubt them.

 

Right.

 

And they believed in each other so much that if somebody was off, somebody else would pick that person up and they had that like you said camaraderie, they gelled to the point where the year before they were much more successful in the regular season. But the year after less successful regular season, but a conference championship and a run to the Final Four. It’s just amazing thing, team.

 

Team.

 

All right, so as we wrap up, talking leadership, we talked about a lot of this already. But if you’re to talk to, you know, a fellow leader, high level, and you give them one big piece of advice when it comes to hiring and developing the best talent, what would you say?

 

It’s not hiring and developing the best talent; it’s hiring developing the best people.

 

I like it. And how do you do that knowing that you’re just getting to know a person, one or two times?

 

Yeah. God, it’s a really good question, I don’t know.

 

Is it gut feeling? Is it…

 

Like in terms of if knowing that that person is a right fit for your organization you mean?

 

Yeah.

 

You can… I hope that, you know, I can get a sense of someone and I guess you asked some questions and some open-ended questions and see where people go. And if, if you and whoever you’re interviewing, both of you are nodding along and then you got… you got some magic starting to brew. Always be who you are. Always be who you are. Don’t, don’t try to be someone who you’re not. The end result is not a good outcome, regardless, because you can only fake it for so long.

 

Right.

 

So be who you are. And if you’re not a right fit for a particular organization, so be it. That’s okay. So what? There will be an organization who is looking for someone with your skillset, right, with your… with your characteristics where you can thrive. And I think that’s a big… that’s a really difficult thing for certain… for people to accept. I had a hard time accepting it when my first AD job that I interviewed for they went with somebody else. I’m like, “But I’m better than that person,” or at least I think I’m better than that person. But the people in the organization who interviewed, you know, all five people or whatever, knew that the person who they hired was going to be the best fit for what it is that they needed. And now that I’m more mature and I’ve gone through it a couple of times and missed a couple of times, you’re like, okay, it makes sense. It’s not personal. I mean, it’s personal. But it’s not personal.

 

It’s not. Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s not a vendetta.

 

Right. No.

 

It’s, you got to have the right fit.

 

You got to have the right fit. If you go someplace and you’re not the right fit, you’re not going to be successful. So why do it to yourself?

 

All right, so, this new Will Smith movie, he’s like, he’s there and then they got the clone of him, right. So let’s pretend the same thing, Allen Greene today.

 

Where do you come up with these questions?

 

I’m going… I’m making this up. So Allen Greene today gets to go to Notre Dame baseball practice with the Allen Greene that just got done playing Minor League Ball. He’s working for a web development company. And talk to him and give him advice. What do you say to young Allen Greene? Sitting next to him. They’re out there playing baseball. Time for a pretty long conversation.

 

Lots, lots, lots. Don’t, don’t, don’t worry about the noise. Don’t worry about people around you. Don’t worry about… don’t, don’t worry about all the distractions. Just serve and be kind to other people and care about… care about your teammate.

 

Yeah. Serving is, is always the thing that it comes back to with leadership and success, isn’t it?

 

It is.

 

Because when we’re inward, we’re never fulfilled.

 

No. Like you just…

 

But when we’re outward, you have that moment, like you said you almost got emotional about Bryce, right? That’s outward.

 

Mm-hmm.

 

Isn’t that amazing, how that works?

 

It’s rewarding.

 

It’s rewarding–family, your team.

 

Yeah.That… and that, that’s the unique part, right, you… and I think we know this as humans. Material things don’t make people happy, right? Money doesn’t buy happiness. We know… we know these things. So don’t fight it. Don’t try to make a whole bunch of money just so you can buy a whole bunch of stuff. That’s not going to make you happy. It’s false. Be around people who you care about and who care about you. And that’s what makes you happy.
There was… I don’t know what I was watching. There was, like, a what would, not what would you do but something that, that someone tried to buy a homeless person’s dog. And they said, “Okay, I give you 25 bucks for your dog.” You know, and they got up to 1,000 bucks. And the person is like, “There’s no amount of money that you can give me to buy my dog. This is… this is my friend.” That thousand bucks could have paid rent, that could have done something. But it goes to show how important relationships are and how… and how invaluable. There is no value on relationships. There’s value on cars. There’s value on clothes. But there is no value in relationships.

 

No doubt, man, I love it. Man, I really enjoyed this. I appreciate you, I mean, telling me how early you guys left this morning, I know you got to get back to your family and probably watch a few practices for all I know.

 

I wish. We actually, yeah, there’s a dinner tonight.

 

Oh, isn’t it?

 

Yeah. So we got one more function before I head back.

 

One more function before you head back. Well, thank you for making time with me today. We really appreciate our partnership with Auburn. INFLCR is bullish on the Tigers and all that’s happening. So we appreciate you.

 

Well, we appreciate you. You’re having an impact on our student athletes. And at the end of the day, that’s what’s really, really important to us.

 

No doubt, all right, man.

 

Appreciate it, man. Thank you.