Allen Greene was swamped Thursday, as you can imagine, and therefore unavailable for an interview. He was in the process of taking a monumental leap from the University at Buffalo to Auburn, from the Mid-American Conference to the Southeastern Conference.
"Not yet in a position to talk," Greene said, via text, hours before Auburn announced his hiring. "I obviously understand why you're reaching out and appreciate you doing so."
Good man, Allen Greene.
News of his departure was shocking Wednesday night on several fronts, starting with the rungs Greene skipped while flying up the administrative ladder. Warde Manuel, for example, served as athletic director at Buffalo for seven years before going to Connecticut for four more and landing at his alma mater, Michigan.
Danny White was in Buffalo for 3½ years before leaving for Central Florida, a school that had a significantly larger budget and made a stronger commitment to Division I athletics. But it was hardly a big-time program no matter how often he spouted off on Twitter about his football team.
Greene barely was on the job for two years in Buffalo, hardly long enough to be evaluated either way. He took the hit for UB dropping four sports, a decision made by President Satish Tripathi in an effort to save $2 million, but otherwise he didn't hire or fire anyone of consequence.
Now he's joining a beast in the SEC.
Good for him. Good for Auburn, too, assuming Greene can endure the pressure and demands of the high-profile job. UB's football season was hailed a success because it won six games and was bowl-eligible. If Auburn wins six games next season, angry masses will be ushering the coaching staff into town square.
It's a different climate in Alabama, where football is a religion and coaches serve as preachers. The Iron Bowl – for the uninformed, that's the Auburn-Alabama game – draws more fans to the stadium in one day than UB Stadium had all last season. And that brings me back to UB, as it pertains to football in Buffalo.
Yes, here we go again.
No matter how hard they try, no matter how many times they try, UB football will not capture the hearts of fans in Western New York any time soon. For the umpteenth time, it's not an indictment of the program but the nature of our community and its unabashed obsession with the Bills.
UB has sent numerous players to the NFL, including the reigning Defensive Player of the Year in Khalil Mack. The Bulls had local athletes take prominent roles, none better or bigger than quarterback Joe Licata. Buffalo has a top-end receiver in Anthony Johnson who is destined for the NFL and a quarterback in Tyree Jackson who could join him.
The university spent millions of dollars rebranding athletics under White and his asinine New York Bulls Initiative, not to mention the costs of restoring Buffalo's name in UB after Greene realized it was a bust. Heaven knows how much money was blown on pregame concerts that entertained people who then skipped their games.
Nothing moved the needle for one sad but true reason: Most football fans in Buffalo aren't interested in college football in Buffalo. UB can face the facts and redirect its finances into sports that stand a chance or continue spending your tax dollars on a level of football unsuited for the region.
UB sells itself as the state's flagship university and the idea it has the largest athletics department in New York. Technically, that's true. We'll disregard the fact that Buffalo is competing against the likes of Albany, which will never be confused with Auburn or Alabama or for that matter Arizona or Arizona State.
Once again, the departure of an athletic director gives UB an opportunity to re-evaluate the big picture and the direction of the athletics department.
Nobody is suggesting UB drop football, a point that cannot be emphasized enough. The sport has been a financial loser for years but still brings value to the university. It contributes to overall credibility and helps attract students, although most refuse to embrace the program upon arrival.
UB needs to find the right level of football knowing it could boost basketball and other sports. True, adding hockey and lacrosse programs also makes sense in Buffalo, but not now, not after the penny-pinching decision last spring to dump baseball, men's swimming and diving, men's soccer and women's rowing.
UB's direction starts with Tripathi, who knew little about college sports and allowed football to become a driving force no matter the crowds on Saturdays. His mission, before getting out of the way, should be finding an AD who understands the local climate and has the backbone to make the right decisions.
FYI: Downgrading football is not a crime. It's a solution that would enable UB to compete for a national FCS title while redirecting some $3 million annually toward basketball and other programs that have shown they can compete in bigger and better conferences and deliver more bang for the buck.
Unlike UB Stadium, Alumni Arena is a terrific venue. The Bulls draw more fans to basketball games than football games, if you count bodies in seats rather than fictional figures based on tickets sold. Basketball requires fewer scholarships, has greater potential for national exposure and fills a gap in the local landscape.
See: Villanova, Dayton, Georgetown, Davidson, Butler, Richmond and Rhode Island. All are among 124 schools with FCS football teams that participate in better basketball conferences with multiple bids for the NCAA Tournament. The MAC typically receives one bid that comes with winning the conference tourney.
UB's problem is explaining to donors who supported FBS football why it should drop a notch. The issue comes back to promises White made while insisting he could build a fan base in Buffalo. Still, anybody who supported the university should be onboard with the greater good of the athletic department, right?
It would require donors such as the Murchie family, which donated millions of dollars and was largely responsible for the $18 million fieldhouse finally under construction, embracing UB athletics as a whole. Their money would not be wasted. Buffalo long needed a multipurpose practice facility, anyway.
The direction isn't going to change unless they have someone to turn the wheel. UB should expect a strong list of qualified candidates to replace Greene. The university would be wise to hire someone who understands the inner workings of Buffalo, N.Y., as much as the inner workings of SUNY-Buffalo.
Prospective candidates could include:
Gabe Cagwin, senior associate athletic director at Arizona State. He played basketball and graduated magna cum laude from UB, where he earned his master's degree in economics and a doctorate in higher education administration.
Michael Cross, assistant AD for new business development at Penn State. He graduated from UB with a bachelor's in economics and a master's in education at UB before earning his doctorate in higher education from Michigan.
Doug Gnodtke, executive associate AD and chief of staff at Michigan. He worked under Manuel at UB and followed him to UConn before becoming his top aide in Ann Arbor.
Rick Cole, athletic director at Iona College, earned two degrees from UB and worked as an associate AD at St. John's and Stony Brook. Tim Kenney, athletic director at St. Bonaventure, grew up in Grand Island, earned his bachelor's at UB and his master's at Florida State. He also served as associate AD at the University of Massachusetts.
Michael Mudd, athletic director at Worcester State. He grew up in Amherst, earned his bachelor's from St. Lawrence University and his master's from Miami University. He's a former assistant GM of the San Jose Sharks. Paul Vecchio, athletic director at Alfred, worked at UB for 17 years and served as associate AD under Manuel.
There could be better candidates, including women and minorities. All that matters is the next athletic director understands the region. Enough, already, with hiring national search companies to help hire someone who knows nothing about Buffalo sports, cares little about Buffalo and is gone on the first train out of Buffalo.
Greene isn't from the region, but he seemed a solid fit and showed no signs of looking for the exit. Nobody should blame him for accepting an opportunity at Auburn, either. Still, it doesn't mean UB should replace him with another outsider who refuses to challenge stubborn and delusional administrators at the top.
Any day now, UB should be releasing a statement congratulating Greene while holding him up as evidence that the Buffalo job is attractive. Expect a reminder that the nature of mid-major programs calls for schools like UB to serve as stepping stones for people looking for a ride on the fast track.
But it doesn't need to be that way.
UB offers opportunities for coaches to gain experience and build their resumes before hitting the road for larger programs and higher salaries. Nate Oats and Felisha Legette-Jack are bound to draw interest after building superpowers in men's and women's basketball.
It's a different story with administrators. Changing athletic directors every few years can lead to instability and reckless decisions by people whose personal agendas cloud their view of the big picture. At times, they're off and running before they're held accountable in the job they vacated.
White hired good people, but he was thinking about his next job the minute he arrived in Buffalo. He left without answering for money he misspent and other mistakes he made. He came from Ole Miss, a place that was enamored with big-time college football, and he was determined to build the same in Buffalo.
The same way that you can’t force someone to like vegetables, mid-major football isn't going to fly in Buffalo. White was warned numerous times that he didn't stand a chance of slamming a program down the throat of a town that wasn't interested. He refused to listen, leaving a lingering problem he helped create.
Rather than do what was right by the university, or the region, White did what benefited him and took the first bus out of town. His departure led the university to hire Greene, who came to realize what people have known around here for a long time: College football is practically irrelevant in Buffalo.
It may not be UB's fault, but it's UB's reality. It's about time UB hires someone who understands as much, someone determined to stick around take the athletic department in the right direction, someone who understands why football in Orchard Park is an entirely different beast than football in Amherst.