Ohio State Introduces Ross Bjork As Athletic Director, Bjork Talks Directives

COLUMBUS — Ohio State introduced new athletic director Ross Bjork on Wednesday. Bjork will take over this summer from the retiring Gene Smith, who has been at OSU since 2005. Both Bjork and Smith were on hand to speak at the introductory press conference, as was new Ohio State president Ted Carter. The highlights of everything that everyone had to say can be found below.

Gene Smith

  • Smith opened the press conference by welcoming Ted Carter and congratulating him for hiring Ross Bjork. Bjork and Smith have known each other for “many, many years.” “It will be a joy to work with Ross over my last five months to ensure a smooth and seamless learner.”
  • Bjork will quickly learn what it is to be a Buckeye.
  • To Bjork’s family, “Welcome to the ‘hood.”
  • “Today is a great day for Ohio State.”
  • Bjork will inherit a department that is as strong as ever with great coaches. OSU is positioned for increased success now and into the future.
  • “I feel 100% at peace because I know what Ross brings to this family.”
  • It has been a blessing and honor to work with Ted Carter as well.

Ted Carter

  • “Wow, what a great day.”
  • “Today is a great day for THE Ohio State University.” “It’s a great day for the Big Ten.” Great day for the students, coaches, and collegiate athletics.
  • Thanks to Gene Smith for 19 years of service at Ohio State. “You cannot be in higher ed and not have been touched or learned from Gene Smith.” Smith always prioritized students in everything he did.
  • Not saying goodbye to Gene Smith just yet.
  • The effort to find the new AD was going on well before Carter got here. The hire will be formally approved by the Board of Trustees next month.
  • “There is no replacing Gene Smith. We did seek to find somebody who could build on his legacy.”
  • Carter was looking for three things: 1) a leader in a complex space — 36 sports, 1,000 athlete; 2) someone who could understand this changing landscape; 3) somebody who could come in and “carry the true weight of The Ohio State University.” Bjork has been all over the country. He was the youngest AD ever hired when he was hired at Western Kentucky. He was the youngest AD ever hired by a Power 5 program when he took over at Ole Miss.
  • Bjork has demonstrated an ability to lead through some of the most challenging situations administrations have seen.
  • Bjork’s mother is from the Findlay, Ohio area.
  • A personal observation from his interview of Bjork: He struck Carter as a leader who is passionate about sports who has been in the arena. He’s only 51 years old and can be here for a long time, just like Gene Smith was.
  • When Carter started on January 1 at OSU, he was deeply involved in this search. Bjork struck him as somebody who has the values that are already here at Ohio State. He was by far the leader among the candidates that they interviewed.
  • The search committee doesn’t give a ranking, they just provide finalists. If this looked like it was rushed, it wasn’t. They did want quite a bit of overlap time with Gene Smith.
  • Ohio State is unique, so there is extra responsibility in being able to handle how the NCAA is changing. Some universities should have different weight. “Our voice should matter.”
  • What should the NCAA do to modernize? He agrees with Bjork that the time is coming very quickly in terms of change. There’s too much of a difference between divisions.
  • “I don’t give orders.” “I took that uniform off four-and-a-half years ago.”
  • They’ve never been more welcomed to a place than Ohio State.
  • How did Bjork explain the Jimbo Fisher situation? “As you might imagine, I pressed that question pretty hard.” “Ross has owned it. As has the institution. Remember, these things don’t happen in a vacuum.” As a lifelong sailor, a calm sea has never produced a good sailor. Bjork will bring that experience here. Carter doesn’t foresee any of those decisions happening at Ohio State.
  • Still in the early stages of NIL. Raising capital is very important in the NIL space, but it has to be done appropriately, and has to be done in a way that the biggest programs can survive.
  • The outline from NCAA president Charlie Baker is a good starting point but “I don’t think that’s where it’s going to end.”
  • “We’re 36 Division I sports and that’s where we’re gonna stay.” That’s the vision right now. Only two sports generate revenue at Ohio State — football and men’s basketball. They may have to get creative at some point. He’d “really like to not” get rid of any sports.
  • What does the co-AD situation look like the next six months — who makes the decisions? “Gene Smith is THE athletic director at THE Ohio State…” until his last day. Right now, Ross Bjork still works for Texas A&M. “Gene will still be the boss until he steps away.” Gene Smith: “Any good decision is mine. Any bad decision is his.”

Ross Bjork

  • “O-H…”
  • “I think I’m [Ted Carter’s] very first hire, so the goal is not to mess it up.”
  • The pledge is to work every day for Ohio State while adhering to the Buckeye core values.
  • Bjork asked for a standing ovation for Gene Smith. “Thank you for your mentorship over the years.” They first met in 1997 when Gene Smith was at Iowa State as AD. “He’s always been accessible and he’s always been down to earth.” His job will be to continue that operation and legacy.
  • “No one is just born into this enterprise.” This is what dreams are made of. “I simply wanted to work in sports.” As a high school football player, he was going to be a teacher and a coach. You don’t wake up thinking about being the AD at Ohio State.
  • “I wasn’t born and raised in Ohio, but I am a product of Ohio.” Williamstown, Ohio is where his mother’s side of the family is from. He grew up in Dodge City, Kansas but would take road trips as a kid to the family farm in Ohio.
  • Interacting with Archie Griffin and Clark Kellogg was special — they were part of the search committee. He’s been texting back and forth with Big Ten commissioner Tony Petitti.
  • “I want to thank the Texas A&M leadership team.” “The 12th Man is the real deal.”
  • This was admittedly not an ideal time to leave given the changes with the Texas A&M football program. “The bus for Ohio State athletics only stops once, if any.” And you can’t control the timing of that bus.
  • Why Ohio State? Compete at the highest level, be a leader in the industry, embracing the challenges.
  • What does an Athletic Director actually do? Drive the every day culture. Develop your coaches to their full potential. Resource acquisition. Student athlete well-being and life after sport. Must be teachers and educators.
  • The vision for OSU is to innovate and enhance what is already here. Maintain and grow, if possible. Don’t mess up what Gene Smith has already done. “Win at the highest level.” “We will be ready and prepared.”
  • Athletics is not the most important thing on campus, but it is the most visible.
  • On the future of college sports, what must be done: A new course must be charted financially between the athlete and institution. “We need to recreate that model. Period.” The antiquated NCAA governance needs to be restructured. The highest-resource programs need to be separated. Enough conversations, enough legal battles. Ohio State and the Big Ten can lead the way in this. Take down barriers and get stuff done.
  • College athletics is here to stay. There will be athletes. There will be academics. Regardless of any changes, that will stay.
  • How did you perceive OSU before you applied? “Championship brand. Period.” Then you look at what Gene Smith has built and the championships that have been won here. It’s up there as the top athletic department. His family has worn Buckeye clothes at all family reunions, so he didn’t grow up in Ohio but he grew up around Buckeyes.
  • You own your decisions. If they happened on your watch, maybe it was your fault, maybe it wasn’t. But “the buck stops here.” On explaining Jimbo Fisher’s extension, there was a situation happening with an opening in 2021 that made them go that route and it was approved by the trustees.
  • On defending the Hugh Freeze situation: “We went on facts.” The compliance record was very strong, but there were some outside forces. Then Freeze had a personal failure so they took action. So it happened, but how you deal with it is more telling than the thing that may have happened behind that.
  • The No. 1 thing he can do with the coaches is get to know them, which will teach you the culture. “I’ll learn a lot from Gene.” There are a lot of ways to evaluate coaches. First, you have to get to know them. Are there barriers to success?
  • Early impressions on the football program? He spent an hour with Ryan Day on Monday. Didn’t know him personally. “Brilliant mind in the game of football.” Knows what championship football looks like. They talked about the Michigan game and everything else. Bjork’s job is to help with any barriers. “I’m a football guy and I’m gonna help.” “Coach Day, he’s gonna get it done. And it’s gonna be a lot of fun when we win those championships.”
  • What makes a good fundraiser? If you are organized and accessible and have a well laid out plan, you don’t always have to ask. Donors will want to help make things possible. It’s really about relationships and trust and do the donors see the vision. Then it’s their decision on where they like to give. “But it’s people. That’s the part that’s not hard.”
  • How many message board situations are there around here, three or four?
  • “Never too high, never too low.” Celebrate when you need to but it’s probably never as bad or never as good as you think.
  • What is your strategy for NIL success at Texas A&M? “Nobody really knows what reality is in the NIL space” unless they are turning in the paperwork. “We don’t really know what’s happening around the country.” You have to get the culture right first. That’s still going to matter. Then there has to be a structure around NIL. The players know who the most valuable players are. They know who is going to make the most money. If your coach is building culture and there is communication, it shouldn’t be an envy issue. “I can’t wait to see how it works here.”
  • Eventually, he thinks the university will have an NIL hub where money comes in and money goes out. They will embrace every opportunity heavily “and we’ll get after it.”
  • What do you want to learn the most from Gene Smith? “I just want to learn the people.” He’ll be around more in March. He’ll be studying all of the contracts around the university regarding vendors and partners, but it’s also going to be about interacting with the people.
  • How sustainable is 36 varsity sports in a model with revenue being shared with athletes? You would need a reallocation of money. On 36 sports: “We owe that to the people.” This is a public trust. There are unbelievable facilities, so they’re not going to sit empty. The foundations are here. “But knowing what’s king — football.”
  • The Big Ten and SEC have distinguished themselves from everyone else. There’s no doubt it’s going in that direction. He knows he’s going to have to wear a coat to games moving forward. There are still some Big Ten programs with fullbacks, which is nice. Can Ryan Day put in a fullback trap play? Day: “We can find something.”
  • The SEC and Big Ten are the two leaders nationally. “I think we have to shape it and we have to monitor what’s going to happen…” with the landscape, television, etc. Everybody is going to ask those two conferences for the last word. How soon? Don’t know. Gotta see what happens with the ACC and what’s happening with congress. “In the next three to five years, there’s going to be some major tipping points…”
  • Are you in favor of football breaking off? The first question is what does that mean? The highest-resource institutions are different and finally the NCAA has acknowledged that with Charlie Baker. There are things that can happen now that don’t take a “Czar” and to break away. December can be cleaned up a lot.
  • Jobs in the Big Ten and SEC are not for the faint of heart. “This job in particular, there’s not one like it.” This is the largest fanbase in the country.
  • Is he looking forward to “the tipping point?” He’s looking forward to having clarity. He just wants legally-defensible clarity in all things. That’s what he is looking forward to.
  • Coaching salaries: That’s all market driven. “I don’t think you’re going to see 10-year, fully guaranteed.” Those days are waning more. But if they’re talented, there’s going to be a market for that.
  • “If you follow my mom on Facebook, she has more posts about Ohio State than Texas A&M, so of course I’m aware of The Game.”

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