Allen Greene knew he’d cry if he talked about his mom first. So during the November press conference announcing his appointment as UB’s new AD, with his parents, wife and three children in attendance, he started with his dad—and still choked up.
“As an only child, to be an athletic director at a younger age, at an FBS [Football Bowl Subdivision] school, at an AAU institution, as a person of color, knowing what my parents have been through to support me—all that hit me as I was talking about them. It punched me in the gut,” says the new AD, whom UB President Satish K. Tripathi promoted from Deputy AD after Danny White left for Central Florida.
Greene, who turns 39 in April, came to UB with White in 2012 after holding various roles in athletics fundraising at Ole Miss. A Seattle native, he had been a standout baseball player at Notre Dame and was drafted by the Yankees organization, playing three years in the minor leagues. He spoke with At Buffalo from his office in Alumni Arena. (A condensed version of the interview appeared in the Spring print edition of At Buffalo.)
How exciting is this opportunity for you?
Incredible. I didn’t really realize I wanted to be an athletic director until probably five years ago. Once I became Deputy AD here and had a good view into the role of a Division I AD, I thought, “That’s something I’d really like to do.” To do it here at a place that I’m familiar with, that’s an established academic institution and where we’re building an athletic program … I couldn’t ask for a better situation.
What did you learn as a Deputy AD?
As a student-athlete, I didn’t know there were people behind the scenes working to make my experience great. Danny taught me something I kind of already knew, but he really brought it to the forefront, and that is to support those who are supporting student-athletes. Our coaches, academic services, video productions and all the other staff who impact our student-athletes take great pride in the student-athlete experience.
Where did you see yourself going previously?
I really didn’t know what I wanted to do when I grew up, and I’m still working on growing up (laughs). Being an AD seemed so distant. I didn’t grow up in college athletics, though I was a student-athlete. Now it’s much more sophisticated where you go into undergrad or grad school knowing you want to work in athletic administration. I think recognizing that you can have such an impact on the student-athlete experience, I said that’s something I can do and want to do.
What did you do as deputy AD?
People always asked me, ‘What does that mean? What do you do?’ It’s like taking care of the house. It’s making sure that the train keeps on moving when the AD is not in the building for the day or all week. The world still turns and there are issues to deal with. There are still people that need to be served, questions that need to be answered, decisions that need to be made. In our industry, we call it the “No. 2” position, the person who makes sure that the train keeps moving, who represents the AD and the athletic department in the AD’s absence. It’s a catch-all. I would equate it to a chief of staff and someone that knows a little bit about everything and can help clear the road so people can continue to do their jobs.
How do you see yourself as an AD?
I’ve listened to lots of successful ADs speak and one of the things they talk about is being a servant leader. Externally, there’s lots of talk about being able to raise money, sell tickets, brand or market the program, and those things are all important. But the day-to-day aspect of our enterprise is managing and leading with a servant mentality.
What’s the best advice you’ve gotten so far?
Go with your gut, take time for yourself to think, and be a servant.
You’re 38, right?
Yeah (laughs). I’ll be 39 in April.
Are there particular challenges with being one of the youngest ADs in the country?
I think that being a younger AD allows you to be a little bit more creative in taking calculated risks. But there is value in being in this industry for 20 years, where you’ve experienced everything. There’s a healthy balance, and since I can’t control how old I am, I’m going to use it to my advantage.
What specific projects are in the forefront for you right now?
When you say projects I think of capital projects. But I think that even more important are the things behind the scenes that people don’t “see” but hopefully “experience.” I think about the graphics that are in the hallway, the basketball court design and doing things that are innovative.
What is your vision for UB Athletics?
We have a very bold vision of where we want this department to go. Athletics can serve as the “front door”; it can help elevate the profile of this world-class university. If we have a thriving athletics program, we can better tell the story of the whole university and increase pride throughout UB.
What was your childhood like?
I’m blessed to have such caring parents, who worked extremely hard to support me. It took a village to raise me. I was a multisport athlete and I needed to get from A to B and B to C and C back to A and then to D. My parents relied on all my friends’ parents to get me around whenever they couldn’t.
What sports did you play?
Baseball, basketball, football, soccer and gymnastics.
Gymnastics, really? How’d you do?
Terrible. My older cousin was in gymnastics and my parents thought that would be a good thing for me to do. It didn’t last.
What did your parents do?
My mother has an entrepreneurial spirit. During my adolescence she owned her own bridal shop and was a wedding planner. My father worked for Papa Aldo’s, the precursor to Papa Murphy’s Take ‘N’ Bake Pizza. He had an entrepreneurial spirit as well and was a part owner of that company.
How did they shape who you are?
My mother is resilient. I’ve seen her try, fail, triumph, fail again and bounce back. If I was a good baseball player, it’s because of her in terms of failing but knowing I had the ability to be successful. If I have people skills, it’s because of my father. He taught me from a young age that the most important people in any organization are the ones whom many consider to be the least important.
Which one did you get your fashion sense from?
(Laughs). I’d have to say my dad, from his days working at Nordstrom. As I’ve matured I’ve become more particular about the things that I wear. My wife has shoes and purses, I have shoes and clothes. It’s my vice. That and ice cream.
At first it was chocolate, then vanilla, then chocolate chip cookie dough. I think I’m sophisticated enough to actually like mint chocolate chip now. I’ve come a long way.
What do you think of Buffalo?
The rest of the country has no idea how beautiful this city is. The summers and falls are spectacular. It’s a vibrant city with lots of culture, great food, great festivals, great music and great people. I don’t want the secret to get out too much, but it does need to get out a little bit that this is a great place to raise a family.
That secret gets out more with a heightened athletic profile.
Absolutely. I call those things trade-offs. You think about cities like Chapel Hill, Austin and Ann Arbor; those are typical college towns. A vibrant athletics culture and environment along with a world-class academic institution is a recipe for success. If the value of UB is increased across the country, then the value of people’s homes is increased, and people are going to restaurants on Saturdays before football games, elevating the local economy. Everybody wins.
What are some of the Athletic Department’s strengths and opportunities?
Because Buffalo is such a dense network, there aren’t many degrees of separation from one person to the next and because so many people who went to UB live locally, that’s a huge advantage. There are places where you have to drive an hour to get to your largest alumni base, and we’ve got that right here in a 10-mile radius. We really need to work hard to foster those relationships. That’s a huge advantage for us that not a lot of schools have. People’s passion for sports in Buffalo is another one.
I’m less concerned about people being pro sports fans vs. college sports. If you like sports, you like sports. I feel there’s room for college athletics to be successful along with the Bills and Sabres. I’m from Seattle. I know it all too well. It can work. And I think we’ve seen progress. Think about the NCAA Tournament last year and the number of people in the Student Union and in bars, people wearing blue and white, the news coverage. Our community was euphoric. Having that experience over and over again, that makes you feel good.
With that success and visibility comes increased scrutiny. How do you manage that?
It goes back to the question about challenges. The trade-offs of being successful and having more notoriety is a positive. We do things here very, very well. Think about the Power 5 [conference] schools that have message boards and everyday there’s a million threads and everyday someone wants someone fired, everyday someone’s saying we should recruit this person. I’d love to say one day we’ve got too many people wondering what we’re doing. That would be a good problem to have.
What’s the update on the fieldhouse?
We are in the process right now of working on an updated funding model to pay for an $18 million facility. Athletics needs to bring $8 million to the table. We’ve identified some key people in the community we feel can help get us there. That facility is a long-time coming and way overdue and will drastically change our ability to compete. We’re not asking for a Taj Mahal. We’re asking for what we consider to be the basic necessities to compete at the Division I level. The campus absolutely recognizes that and they support it. It’s a matter of making sure there’s a financial mechanism in place and plan in place to achieve it that does not risk our other university initiatives.
Why is this such a game changer?
People may not understand that our coaches and student-athletes are training and practicing year-round. It is a year-round commitment, whether it’s practicing or conditioning and working out. In theory, it’s no different than academics — success is a result of proper preparation. Although it doesn’t snow as much in Buffalo as people think, we have winters, and the largest indoor space we have is Alumni Arena. For 500-plus student-athletes, that’s not enough. And we also have our general student population that would like to play flag football somewhere. Our band I’m sure would want the ability to practice indoors. It’s not just a football or an athletics facility. It is a campus facility that is going to change the student experience in general.
Whether you’re in this role for a few years or decades, what do you hope to achieve?
I want to be the best AD that UB has ever had and will ever have. If we can get 1 percent better every day, then the totality of that over a long period of time will be incredible. It’ll be more than we could have ever imagined.