Gene Smith tells The Lantern he "thought about leaving" Ohio State; others wonder why he didn't

Greg Bartram-US PRESSWIRE

"Sure I thought about (leaving), but I came to the conclusion that the best way for me to help them was to fight for them and make sure we stay on track," Ohio State athletic director told the Ohio State student paper The Lantern. Because that's not a completely self interested way to look at things or anything.

In an exclusive interview with the aspiring journalist wing of the student body, the Buckeyes' AD had many interesting things to say, amongst them on the subject of whether or not he should've resigned in the wake of Ohio State's still lingering tattoos-for-memorabilia scandal and the non-action that followed:

"I never thought that I would be dismissed by our president because I really did nothing wrong," Smith said. "I did everything that I was charged to do and accountable for. Did I ever feel that I should leave? Never. That I should resign because of the pressure I was under? Never thought that. Did I ever have thoughts that I should walk away for the betterment of the institution and the people that I work with everyday and I serve? Yeah.

"I care more about those people and our athletes than I do anything. Sure I thought about (leaving), but I came to the conclusion that the best way for me to help them was to fight for them and make sure we stay on track."

And here's where Buckeye partisans instantaneously become polarized.

Yes, Smith's been in charge during an unprecedented era of success in recent Ohio State athletic history, but the driving force in that (football and men's basketball) came with hires his predecessor, now Wisconsin-Milwaukee athletic director Andy Geiger, had made before Smith was ever even in the picture. Smith has been proactive in other areas like baseball and hockey, where changes clearly needed to occur, but the progress in those haven't been completely self evident as of yet. He's also provided a much needed jumpstart to a long dormant wrestling program and deserves a good deal of credit for that.

But then comes the many strikes against him. Few if anyone could've handled Ohio State's ineligibility scandal poorer than Smith and his boss, Ohio State president E. Gordon Gee, did. Aside from boneheaded public comments, failed press conference after failed press conference, not holding Jim Tressel accountable as Smith's subordinate in a timely fashion set the entire football program back a season plus. From the time the scandal broke, Tressel coached in the Sugar Bowl and ran a Spring Game and was involved in the day to day running of the program over a period stretching nearly six months before he was ultimately asked to step aside. If it took academic leadership almost half a year to unearth all the facts (or worse, rely on journalists to do the heavy lifting for them), there's clearly something wrong with the leadership picture.

While less egregious from an Ohio State leadership standpoint, it's still worth noting that Smith also oversaw one of the worst NCAA Tournament selection committees in recent memory in 2010/2011. VCU was a contentious selection at the time, but their Cinderella run to the Final Four in someways vindicated Smith (though there's still a strong case they didn't merit inclusion in the first place). Conference USA regular-season champ UAB, who was championed only by the criminally flawed RPI rankings, made the cut while more deserving teams like Saint Mary's, Colorado, and Alabama were left out in the cold. The seedings of many teams also drew much scrutiny, and while perhaps objectivity should be rewarded, Ohio State, arguably the best regular season team in the country that season, was given one of the least favorable tournament draws and ultimately fell in the sweet 16 to a potentially underseeded Kentucky team.

In the aftermath of Ohio State's scandal and arguably Smith's greatest shortcoming to date, Ohio State failed to self impose a bowl ban, which could've potentially allowed Urban Meyer's first year in Columbus to start properly with a tangible post season. Smith acted as such under the arrogant false pretense that precedent (which the NCAA isn't exactly consistent on any ways) would allow Ohio State to essentially have their cake and eat it too. He on multiple occasions said he didn't believe a bowl ban was coming and potentially even helped bring Urban Meyer and co. into the fold with such assurances. Instead, the Buckeyes played in a meaningless bowl between two 6-6 teams following a lost season rather than just taking their medicine early and starting over fresh with a new administration. Hindsight 's 20-20 of course and there's no way if you weren't Les Wexner or any of the other power brokers who helped secure Meyer's hire that that was in the cards, but you have to think it being the Ohio State football program the hire would've been high profile and that the resources you'd want to equip that new leadership core with you'd have wanted them to be as unadulterated/not-short handed as possible.

Smith's intentions appear at face value to have been pure enough and there's no evidence to suggest he was at fault for anything Tressel failed to reveal to him. Of course given everything that transpired, if Ohio State ran into another such incident, how much faith would you have in him to steer the program out of it? It's amazing to think that not even 36 months ago, many felt he was the best candidate to become the president of the entire NCAA. Given his handling of his own school's lowest moment and his leadership of one of college sport's biggest cash cows, it's tough to imagine how that was ever even conceivable in the first place.

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