COLUMBUS – An end of an era is coming to Ohio State as Athletic Director Gene Smith announced on Wednesday that he will retire from his post effective the end of June 2024 after what will be 19 years in the role.
Smith made the announcement public during a press conference at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. Many of the assembled members of the media thought that the press conference was just to speak on recent conference expansion and what it might mean for the Buckeyes.
“I just want to thank the leadership of Ohio State,” Smith said during his opening comments regarding his decision. “My tenure has provided me an unbelievable opportunity to lead the program. I have always believed that a leader seeks to be the right person at the right time in the life of an institution and I just believe that July of 2024 is just the right time to welcome in new leadership to build on what we have already achieved.”
The hiring of a replacement for Smith will be in the hands of the university president, a role that is currently vacant for Ohio State after the departure of Kristina Johnson.
That means the school will need to fill the vacancy in the office of the president before it can start a search for a new Athletics Director.
Smith came into the Ohio State program in 2005 and under his watch the Buckeyes have won 32 team national championships along with 117 individual national champions. The Ohio State football team has celebrated one championship during Smith’s tenure, the 2014 title, the first of the College Football Playoff-era.
The world of college athletics is much different than when Smith took his first A.D. role at Eastern Michigan in 1986, but then again, it is different than when he started with the Buckeyes in 2005.
Those changes have created challenges for many in the industry, but Smith maintains that these changes had nothing to do with the decision and instead it was just time to move on to the next chapter.
“Those changes were not a part of this decision,” Smith said. “The changes in the industry are not what said to me that I needed to step away. My mentors have said that I will know when it is time, you’ll know.”
There certainly have been high points and low points during Smith’s tenure as the top person in Ohio State’s Department of Athletics.
“There are so many great moments, the national championship in football was special. Three national championships in men’s volleyball. The wrestling national championship was unreal,” Smith said.
And on the more difficult side?
“2011 was hell,” Smith said. “That was painful. The student athletes that were impacted didn’t deserve the penalties that they had to deal with, that was hard. People were affected negatively. Helping (Luke) Fickell through that year was hard, that was really challenging, and I have to compliment him for his resiliency and commitment to try and keep our program afloat. That was a hard year.”
Smith’s replacement will be entering a completely different landscape with an 18-team Big Ten, a 12-team College Football Playoff, NIL, transfer portal and so much more.
With all of that, Smith wants nothing more than to leave his successor in a good spot to put their own fingerprints on the program after his departure.
“I have always wanted to leave a place better than I found it,” Smith said. “I also want to leave a place that when the next person comes in, that leaves them a chance to transition in as smooth as possible. And they now have that ability with this team.”