Yesterday it was announced that Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith and the university had agreed to a contract extension that will run through 2026 and pay Smith around $2 million per year. Smith has been Ohio State’s athletic director since 2005, and currently is the third-longest tenured athletic director in school history, trailing only L.W. St. John (1912-47) and Richard Larkins (1947-70).
Smith worked his way up the athletic director ladder prior to coming to Ohio State, starting his career at Eastern Michigan before moving on to Iowa State and then to Arizona State, where he spent five years before taking the position in Columbus vacated by Andy Geiger. Smith came to Ohio State when both the football and basketball programs were soaring. The Ohio State football team made the BCS Championship Game in 2007 and 2008, while the men’s basketball team earned a spot in the national title game in 2007.
Then came “Tatgate” and the consequences of the violations. Not only was Ohio State forced to part ways with head coach Jim Tressel, the football program tried to get ahead of the NCAA by self-imposing a bowl ban in 2012. The latter action caused a huge rift with Ohio State fans because of what happened during the 2012 season.
Even though Ohio State knew they were going to be facing some sort of punishment from the NCAA, they still were able to lure Urban Meyer to take over as head coach for Jim Tressel. The Buckeyes went on to go 12-0 during the season, and would have gone on to face Notre Dame in the BCS National Championship Game had it not been for the self-imposed bowl ban. Instead, Alabama got the spot that should have gone to Ohio State and went on to beat the brakes off the Fighting Irish.
Many fans were calling for the firing of Smith, because they felt that Ohio State should have either self-imposed a bowl ban for the 2011 season instead, or they should have just not self-imposed any sanctions at all, forcing the NCAA to level any penalties against the Buckeyes. Had Smith not made the decision about the 2012 season, the Buckeyes might have won two football national titles during the decade.
Even though he made a mistake with how handled the “Tatgate” sanctions, I’m still a huge fan of what Gene Smith has done at Ohio State. Not that the athletic department wasn’t already a big cash cow for the university, Smith helped take it to a new level. While at Ohio State, Smith has raised over $100 million for construction of the Covelli Arena, Ty Tucker Tennis Center, Schumaker Complex, and a renovation of the Woody Hayes Athletic Complex.
What has helped Smith to raise so much money for Ohio State’s projects is the success that many of the school’s programs has achieved. Ohio State teams have won over 100 team titles, and 330 individual championships in the Big Ten. Nationally, the Buckeyes have 24 titles and over 100 individual championships. Ohio State has 36 fully-funded varsity sports and more than 1,000 student athletes.
While many will focus Smith’s mistake with the 2012 postseason ban for the football team, in my eyes that has been forgotten because of a lot of other great decisions that he has made. Not only did Smith start off his Ohio State career by hiring Thad Matta, he was able to replace Matta with Chris Holtmann, which has been a great move so far.
Even more important than the Matta and Holtmann hirings are what Smith has done with the football coaches. Smith hit a home run by hiring Urban Meyer to replace Jim Tressel, and the move paid dividends, as the Buckeyes won the first College Football Playoff. The Meyer era did have a rocky end with the Zach Smith scandal, but the program hasn’t suffered one bit since Ryan Day was tabbed as the replacement for Meyer.
Recently Smith was mentioned as a possible candidate to become the new commissioner of the PAC-12. Thankfully the conference decided to go in a different direction, leaving Smith to stay in Columbus for the foreseeable future. Eventually Ohio State is going to have to find a replacement for Smith, but hopefully they won’t have to start the search for a while.
Smith has elevated the Ohio State athletics department even higher than it already was. The facilities for the Buckeyes have been greatly improved, and are only getting better. There aren’t many schools out there that have both a football and basketball program that are as successful as the Buckeyes, which helps provide opportunities for the non-revenue sports. A lot of the success can be attributed to Smith and how he has worked tirelessly to create the best possible environment for Ohio State’s student athletes.