COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Ohio State athletic director and senior vice president Gene Smith announced he will retire and step down from the position on June 30, 2024 after a more than 35-year career as a collegiate athletic director.
Smith has served as the Ohio State athletic director since 2005. Before coming to Columbus, Smith was the athletic director at Arizona State, Iowa State, and Eastern Michigan. He began his first athletic director position in Ypsilanti, Michigan in 1986.
“I have always believed that a leader seeks to be the right person at the right time in the life of the institution,” said Smith in a statement. “I believe that July 2024 is the right time to welcome new leadership to build upon what we have achieved and continue to build upon the great tradition of excellence in athletics and business advancement at Ohio State.”
The search for a new athletic director will begin once the university announces its next president. In November, Dr. Kristina Johnson announced her resignation as the university president.
During Smith’s tenure at Ohio State, the Buckeyes captured 32 team and 117 individual national championships, including winning the first College Football Playoff in 2014.
“There are so many great moments,” Smith said. “But I’m most proud of the fact that we’ve been able to create a culture where we developed a student-athlete holistically. That means so much to me.”
Smith is the first Black athletic director in Ohio State history and was one of only three minority athletic directors when he took the job at Eastern Michigan at 29 years old.
“I decided that I was just going to do my job and try to do it excellently and disregard the color of my skin,” Smith said. “That was hard because there were a lot of rooms that I walked into in the ’80s and early ’90s where there were people in the room that didn’t want me there. I knew that.
I’ve always felt that it was an honor and a privilege to be [among] the first, and I didn’t see it as a burden except that in the early years, I knew I couldn’t fail because if I failed I’d be the excuse . . . because if I failed, it would have been, ‘See, they can’t do it.’ So I’m proud of that. I’m proud and blessed to have had this career.”
He also cited the difficulties under his tenure including navigating the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2011 NCAA investigation into the football program into multiple players accused of NCAA violations involving trading signed memorabilia for tattoos and cash.
“2011 was hell,” he said. “That was painful. The student-athletes who were impacted didn’t deserve the penalties that they had to deal with. That was hard. People were effective negatively. That was a hard time.”
His retirement announcement came during a Wednesday morning press conference in what many expected the focus would be was the recent news that Oregon and Washington joining the Big Ten conference in 2024.
This is the second time in as many years Smith has discussed the Big Ten adding two teams from the Pac-12 after the Big Ten unanimously approved the addition of USC and UCLA last year. He said his retirement is not due to the massive changes in college sports.
“The changes in the industry is not what caused me to step away,” Smith said. He added that spending more time with family is the reason for his retirement.
The addition of Oregon and Washington came swiftly Friday after the Pac-12 failed to reach a rights deal with Apple TV that would have kept the conference intact. A few hours later, the Big Ten invited the schools, and both accepted.
That same day, Arizona, Arizona State and Utah left the Pac-12 for the Big 12, leaving the Pac-12 with four teams.
Even though the Big Ten has traditionally been considered a Midwest league, expansion in the past 35 years has brought Penn State in 1990, Nebraska in 2011, and Maryland and Rutgers in 2014.