After 18 years at the helm of the Ohio State Department of Athletics, Gene Smith has announced he will retire next summer. In a press conference at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center on Wednesday, Smith thanked his many colleagues through the years before pointing to the timing being appropriate for a new voice to lead the department.
“I had a great opportunity to work with a lot of people here, and I just want to thank the leadership here at Ohio State during my tenure,” Smith said. “They provided me with an unbelievable opportunity to lead this program. The last 18 years, now heading into my 19th year, have been phenomenal. All the presidents and the Board of Trustees I’ve worked for have just been tremendous, and they’re just great people.
“I’ve always believed a leader seeks to be the right person at the right time in the life of an institution, and I just believe that July 2024 is the right time to welcome in new leadership and build on what we’ve already achieved. Making this announcement now affords me the opportunity to work with my colleagues and the president’s cabinet and hopefully facilitate a transition for whoever is appointed.”
Prior to coming to Ohio State in 2005 as the school’s eighth athletic director, Smith had previously served as the athletic director at Arizona State University, Iowa State University, and Eastern Michigan University. His 19 years in Columbus will have marked the third-longest tenure for any athletic director at Ohio State.
Smith’s decision comes at an interesting time for both the Big Ten Conference and the sport of college football in general. With conference realignment, the transfer portal, and NIL continuing to reshape the sport, whoever ultimately succeeds Smith will be thrust into a constantly evolving landscape. Smith insisted the timing of his decision was in no way impacted by the current happening in college football, noting conference realignment and the transfer portal are elements of collegiate sports he’s experienced well before he came to Ohio State.
“The changes in the industry are not what caused me to say I needed to step away,” Smith said. “I’ve just always felt — and my mentors have always said — I will know when it’s time. This summer, my wife, Sheila, and I sat down, and she was asking me a million questions, and I just said it was time. And I do believe what I said; there’s a right time for certain leaders at the right time for an institution. And I really believe with this presidential change, which will be highly positive whoever they hire, gives him or her the opportunity to hire their leader and make a run and build on what these coaches, staff, and student-athletes have already done.”
As for what his advice would be to the person who succeeds him and does ultimately inherit the challenges associated with guiding a premier athletic department through the hurdles ahead, Smith preached patience and the ability to have measure responses to whatever may unfold.
“In this ever-changing world we’re dealing with, you have to hit pause and don’t overreact,” Smith said. “Be patient, curious, and inquisitive. Just ask a lot of questions. And then at some point, you have to be authoritative and lead. But you just can’t overreact in this space. It’s just too crazy.
“And they need to keep the trajectory of what we do, this culture. We recruit talented and gifted young people with great character. That has meant so much to our ability to be successful in the classroom, in this community, and in the competitive arena. Character is critical, and we’ve made a significant improvement in that space … That person, whoever it is, is going to have to embrace what we’ve done.”
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.