Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith retiring

Gene Smith Announces Retirement Plans, Talks College Football Expansion, Future of the Sport

COLUMBUS — Ohio State athletics director Gene Smith has announced his plan to retire in July of 2024. Smith met with reporters Wednesday morning to also touch base on the ongoing changes around college sports and answer questions about a number of other topics. The highlights of everything that Smith had to say can be found below.

  • Effective June 30, 2024 Gene Smith will be retiring from Ohio State. He is announcing now so that he can help find his replacement. He wants to thank Ohio State fans for their support in his time at Ohio State. He looks forward to spending more time with his family and grandchildren.
  • “I also want to thank the coaches and support staff who I have been fortunate with to work.” Every day they have all come to work with the goal of making this the best athletic department in the nation. It has been a privilege and an honor to work at Ohio State for the students here.
  • “I’m very fortunate to have a wife who understands my world.” She has been a great friend and colleague through all of it, the good times and the bad times.
  • “We have another year to chase a lot of opportunities.”
  • Why now? “I’ve always embraced change.” The changes going on now were not a part of this decision. He’s been part of realignment throughout his career. NIL is new but not the transfer portal. The changes in the industry are not what caused him to say it’s time to step away.
  • This summer he and his wife Sheila sat down and talked about it and he knew it was the right time to move forward with retirement.
  • Advice to his replacement? They will hire somebody skilled and with experience. Hopefully someone with a higher IQ and EQ. Somebody that holds true to their values and desire for excellence. But that replacement will have to be patient. You have to hit pause and don’t overreact. Be inquisitive. And then at some point you have to be authoritative and lead.
  • There should be a new structure regarding FBS football. “We need to look at how we’re structured differently.” Keep evaluating how football is structured. “Somewhere along the line we need to think differently about football.”
  • How will this transition happen without a university president right now? They are working closely with the board of trustees in the absence of the president. At some point they do need a leader though. When that happens, he will hopefully connect with them right away. He can talk about the program and give recommendations that they might consider.
  • The search for a replacement will start after the new president is appointed.
  • Any details on the new revenue that makes the addition of Oregon and Washington palatable? “It was not dilutive to us.” FOX brought new money to the table.
  • What is he proudest of over his tenure? So many great moments. The national championship in football was special. The three national championships in men’s volleyball were special. The wrestling national championship was incredible. The individual performances were fun to watch. Most proud of the fact that they have created a culture where the student athlete is developed holistic. It took a bit of time to transition to that, but that’s where they are now. When a student is done with their time at Ohio State, they are now ready for the next chapter of their lives.
  • What’s been the toughest part? “2011 was hell. That was painful.” The student athletes that were impacted didn’t deserve the penalties that they dealt with. People were affected negatively. “That was a hard year. Dog years.” COVID was rough for everybody as well.
  • There should be one person overseeing college football because the sport is so important and big and it’s only going to get bigger. He’s believed that for a long time. Football should be treated differently because it is different.
  • Are there a lot of bumps along the road for his successor given the transitions coming to college football? A lot of work has already been put in, now is the opportunity to take advantage of the work that has been done. The challenges are the things that are coming around the corner that you weren’t expecting. The changes in the industry aren’t bumps. “That’s the business. It’s always been the business.”
  • Are you worried about college sports or is it in a good place? “I know that college athletics is going to change more. It’s changed a lot already. I can’t sit here and say ‘I wish it was like when I played.’ That’s an unrealistic thought process. The ecosystem we serve today is totally different. You have to have this mindset that change is coming. If you are in it for the right reasons, then you embrace that change.” “I don’t think college athletics are ever going to go in the tank.”
  • Change today seems to be on a faster track. There are so many changes going on right now, so understanding and adjusting to changes has changed. It happens constantly and quickly, and you have to lead people in the face of those changes.
  • There are moments in his history that have been disappointing. The summer of 2018 with Urban Meyer was hard. It was disappointing that that happened and so many people had to deal with the pain of that.
  • In the ’80s and ’90s as a young athletic director, there were rooms he was in that he knew some people didn’t want him in because of the color of his skin. He knew that he couldn’t fail because if he did, he’d be the excuse. “If I fail, it would’ve been ‘See, they can’t do it.'” So he’s proud of the legacy he’s left for others.
  • Should the playoff expansion be re-examined now with realignment? He hasn’t thought about that yet. He was texting with SEC commissioner Greg Sankey this morning, but not about the playoff. Just about the fact that he was going to announce his retirement this morning. “I trust Greg. I trust Tony Petitti, so I’ll leave it to them.”
  • Does Ohio State benefit from the addition of Washington and Oregon? What’s the end game? “I have a lot of respect for Oregon and Washington.” They have studied Oregon and Washington when they were looking at the additions of UCLA and USC. They are strong academic institutions. Oregon and Washington are in young demographics. Oregon and Washington have proven themselves as institutions that invest in their athletic programs. Competitively? “No, I don’t want them in, I don’t want to play them,” he joked. The positives outweigh the negatives.
  • “I do not believe student-athletes should be employees.” But they do need to continue to find ways to provide support for athletes. People forget about the investments the university already puts towards the athletes. But the money needs to be tied to the education, rather than just a pay check. Every student-athlete at Ohio State — unlike the rest of the students — has at least nine people around them that they can go to for help. Be it sports science, nutrition, mental health, etc. The amount of money invested to help Marvin Harrison, Jr. reach his peak is considerable, for example.
  • It is hard to sustain the 36-sport model like Ohio State has. The costs go up 5-6% every year. It will be a business decision for the next AD to make on how to make it work…or not. The advice? “Be good at what you do.”
  • Should there be a bonus structure for football players for making the playoffs? If there is a way to find an opportunity to provide additional resources to students, you should do it. But that one would take work to evaluate how that would work and what it would lead to.
  • How proud of the furthering of diversity in athletic administration is he? It goes back to his early days. There wasn’t a pipeline for diversity when he began. They spent early years trying to create pipelines and opportunities for diversity. “There was a concerted effort” to improve diversity by himself and a number of his colleagues.
  • “College athletics is in a great place. It’s in a great place.” The perspective you need to look at is “Is the student-athlete having a great experience.” Is everything being optimized for them? If the answer is yes, then things are good. “Our student-athletes are off the chain.”
  • Should the position become available to be a commissioner of college football, would he like the role? Gene Smith pointed to the corner of the room where his wife Sheila was sitting. Her response? “Hell no.”
  • The relationship with the head football coach and AD are important. “I’m gonna miss [Ryan Day] when I’m done. He’s the real deal.” It’s always important to have a good relationship with the football coach and to be able to bounce things off of each other.
  • There has not been much basketball talk yet regarding expansion. There has been discussion about staying out west for the midwestern teams on road trips prior to the addition of Washington and Oregon, so this will require more travel and more discussion.
  • What’s he looking forward to doing in retirement? That first week of retirement, they are spending some time out in Colorado with the family for vacation. He may come back for a press conference or two after he’s retired just to see people.
  • He will sit down with his team and have a conversation about what he needs to focus on this year. There are a lot of things to do, but he will take their advice on what should be his focus in his final year.

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