The inevitable became imminent Friday, when Auburn’s Allen Greene resigned from his post – an unheard of move for an athletic director confident in his role, but Greene was never really confident in that role.
Nearing the end of a contract that was set to expire in January 2023, Greene’s tenure has been rocky and the terrain under his leadership has changed rapidly. A month before he was hired in January 2018, then-football coach Gus Malzahn received a seven-year extension at the end of the 2017 football season from school president Steven Leath (who provided his work in May 2017). Some presidents aren’t very athletic, but Leath was. Malzahn received that extension after securing a spot in the SEC Championship Game in a rematch against Georgia with a spot in the College Football Playoff. Auburn lost, but Malzahn had bought out his equity and signed a new deal with a massive buyout.
The boosters who wanted him out couldn’t get rid of him after such a great season even if they wanted to, and the new deal also helped avoid an open job in Arkansas (Malzahn’s home state, where he was a legendary high school coach and assistant for one year with the Pigs). None of the above is Greene’s fault, it was a leadership void in the athletic department that nature hated, so Leath stepped into it.
With a coach thought to be sewn up for the foreseeable future, Greene largely assumed responsibility for the rest of the athletic department. Within 18 months, he was unfriended in the department largely due to budgets being cut across the board by 10%, including a baseball team that had just made the College World Series and a men’s basketball team that had just made it to the final. Four, raising tensions with her coach, Bruce Pearl. By mid-2019, Leath was out, replaced by former president Jay Gouge, and Malzahn made it through the 2019 and ’20 seasons before being fired in December 2020.
Influential boosters orchestrated a palace coup and fired Malzahn with a huge buyout that came with it. They tried to put their son to work, but backed out after — in part — a social media campaign spooked them. In Auburn’s tradition of one leadership void after another, Greene stepped in and conducted a conventional search that landed on an unconventional name in then-Boise State coach Bryan Harsin. Harsin’s hiring isn’t why Greene no longer has his job, but it sure didn’t help. And there have been rumors of Greene being involved in other administrative searches across the sport as it became increasingly apparent that he would not receive a contract extension. Greene also saw some of his power in the athletic department wane after the university’s COO, Lt. Gen. Ronald Burgess, was brought in to help oversee athletics.
In February 2022, the boosters were back again trying to take out anything that would stick to unload Harsi. He stood firm on the money he was owed, no one found anything concrete after an internal investigation and Harsin remains the coach. Many sources expected Harsin and Greene to be released together after the season if the Tigers had a rough year on the field, but the end has now come and Greene is leaving to, the release said, “explore other professional interests.”
If you’ve followed this far, you’ll know that Auburn operates almost exclusively through dysfunction. This current wave of turmoil comes from the artist who gave us hits like JetGate, the Cam Newton recruitment and a stipulation scandal that cost the program a title shot in the early 1990s — and that’s just scratching the surface.
Auburn has another new president, Christopher Roberts, and again the question arises: What kind of program does it want to be and who is really in control? Auburn is no stranger to scandal or dysfunction, but there is one common denominator over the last 40 years that you have to give them: winning.
There will be the usual suspects if Auburn chooses to go in: Tim Jackson, the head of Auburn’s booster organization, or director of compliance Rich McGlynn. Former NFL CIO and Auburn alum Michelle Mckenna is also a name to watch as the search gets underway. Auburn could also choose to go the search firm route and bring in another outsider, but it’s unclear how much has actually changed internally.
There is a best-case scenario here where Auburn seriously contends for the SEC West on the back of a good defense, and that makes it impossible to fire Harsin politically, just like Malzahn did in 2017. The football program continues amicably and tensions cool. A new AD can step into that situation with a thriving men’s basketball program and have some stability.
But if Auburn does poorly on the field and people who don’t like Harsin push to get their way, there could be a whole new AD or trying to hire a new coach amid massive headwinds that could do not fully understand. or an AD walking into a job with a new coach they had no say in the hiring, plus all the issues that can come if that coach isn’t the right guy.
This is Auburn. Which do you think is more likely?
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