June 27, 2013
By Phillip Marshall
AUBURN - When Dave Didion decided it was time to leave the NCAA and its embattled enforcement division, he knew where he wanted to go. And he picked up the telephone last fall and made a call.
In 1999, Didion had left his position as Auburn's assistant athletics director for compliance after almost five years to be the NCAA's director of enforcement. It was his fourth tour of duty at the NCAA national office. Last fall, Didion put in a call to Auburn athletics director Jay Jacobs. In April, he left the NCAA to become Auburn's associate athletic director for compliance, working with senior associate athletics director Rich McGlynn.
Wednesday morning, sitting in the same office he left some 14 years ago, Didion said he is content with his decision to return to the school that won his heart more than 15 years ago.
"I just told (Jacobs) what the atmosphere was like at the national office, not just the national office but enforcement specifically, and told him I was looking for a different opportunity," Didion said. "I think he got with Rich and talked about it. He told me he was going to work on something."
Didion's career has been in compliance and enforcement. He told Jacobs he would be happy to work with McGlynn or for McGlynn.
"I wouldn't want to come back and be the person that disrupts the process," Didion said. "I think it's pretty good. Rich has done a great job. The issues he has to deal with, he's been exemplary. I said `I don't want to step on toes.'"
Jacobs was interested. McGlynn was interested. And on April 22, Didion joined the stream of enforcement officials leaving the NCAA and headed South, leaving his wife, Delise O'Meally and twin 8-year old daughters, Courtney and Casey, temporarily at home in Indianapolis. His wife is director of governance and international affairs at the NCAA.
Why Auburn for an Ohio State graduate? The answer, Didion said, is easy.
"I've never lost my interest in Auburn University," Didion said. "Jay can tell you that, because every time something good happened I emailed him and congratulated him. Every time something tragic happened I emailed him. I've always loved Auburn University - loved the campus, loved the people, loved the area. Despite what Selena Roberts may write, Auburn is a good place. People here work hard and try hard, and Auburn stands for everything I appreciate."
When Didion returned, he found a campus that was different yet very much the same. Most of all, he said, he found the same kind of people that made it so hard to leave in 1999.
"Facilities have improved tremendously," Didion said. "When I was here, the small indoor practice facility was just being completed. I think they were just starting to break ground on the soccer, track and soccer complex. The basketball arena hadn't even been thought of. They had just finished remodeling the coliseum.
"The campus has undergone lots of building, but a lot of things are still the same and fortunately a lot of people are still the same. I've seen a lot of familiar faces, and that's a good thing."
Didion returns with much experience to a program that survived the Cam Newton saga and at least two other close looks from the NCAA unscathed. It is his job, he says, to educate, to evaluate and do all he can to avoid trouble before it comes.
"Compliance has become an integral part of athletic programs," Didion said. "I think presidents and athletic directors alike have come to understand how important a good compliance program can be, how it can help you. If you are sitting before the Committee on Infractions and you have a compliance operation that is run smoothly, your day before the committee goes a lot better than it would if you had to say `I don't know why we didn't know about that. I don't know why we weren't on top of that. Oh, no, we didn't know that.' That's not a real fun day."
McGlynn, who has guided Auburn through troubled waters, and Didion are outgoing men who like to laugh and make friends. But they agree that keeping coaches happy isn't part of their job descriptions. Keeping coaches from doing damage to themselves and their school is their top priority.
"Education is more important than anything," Didion said. "If you can educate coaches and staff members and keep violations from occurring, that is way ahead of the game. It's a lot easier to stop a problem from occurring than it is to try to fix it, even though you can fix most problems pretty easily."
Trouble comes, Didion said, when coaches don't tell the truth or hide the truth. He pointed to numerous NCAA infractions cases in which the coverups, not the original violations, led to serious sanctions for schools and for coaches.
"What I've always told coaches - and it remains true - is if you do something that is wrong and you come and talk with us about it, we can fix it, we can help you, no problem," Didion said. "We might have to report a secondary violation, but that's OK. No problem. But if you try to hide something or don't tell us the truth about something it's really, really bad. We're not going to tolerate it. I don't think Jay is going to tolerate it. I don't think President Gogue is going to tolerate it."
Didion was single when he left Auburn in 1999. He met DeLise, a former Morgan State tennis player, when she worked in another NCAA office. They were married in 2002, and their twin daughters were born three years later.
DeLise is headed to Moscow for the World University Games and the twins are with their father in Auburn. His family will join him permanently in Auburn, but Didion isn't certain when. He said leaving them behind in Indianapolis, even temporarily, was the hardest part of his move.
"For the longest time, if you asked me how my job was going at the NCAA, I would tell you I didn't have one," Didion said. "I didn't consider it a job. I really loved the work I did. ... Then things changed and the way the enforcement department did its work changed. It was not an enjoyable process anymore. It was drudgery. There were a lot of things that occurred I didn't agree with and a lot of changes that were made I didn't agree with, but I went along and tried to do the best I could.
"It got to the point where I just became miserable. I talked to my wife about it and finally told her `I can't work in this department anymore. I just can't.' Hence my call to Jay. It took a while to get me to that point, but I got there."
Back in Auburn, Didion once again looks forward to going to work. At 62, he says he'll think about retirement after his 8-year-olds finish college. He's as energized as ever.
"Auburn is one of the few places I would consider and one of the first places I thought about when I thought about leaving the NCAA," Didion said. "I am glad to be here."
Tomorrow: Didion talks about the truth about the NCAA and his opinions on the big issues facing college athletics.
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: