Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith is retiring at the end of the 2023-24 academic year, he announced Wednesday morning.
Smith, who has led the Buckeyes’ athletic department since March 2005, will step down effective June 30, 2024.
“I have always believed that a leader seeks to be the right person at the right time in the life of the institution,” Smith said Wednesday at a news conference. “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.
“I am forever grateful.”
University president Kristina Johnson announced in November that she would be stepping down at the conclusion of the 2022-23 academic year, and the university is still searching for her replacement.
Smith, the eighth AD for Ohio State and the third-longest-serving AD in school history, wanted to step aside before a permanent president was chosen so they would have the runway to put their blueprint on the department.
“I really believe with this presidential change, which will be highly positive — whoever they hire — it gives her or him the opportunity to hire their leader and make a run and build on what these coaches and the staff and the student-athletes have already done,” he said.
Smith has been at the forefront of the Big Ten’s expansion efforts over the past year, which culminated Friday with the news that Oregon and Washington would also join USC and UCLA in the Big Ten next fall.
Smith said Fox “brought new money to the table” for Oregon and Washington and that the figures inside the media rights deal with Fox, CBS and NBC “stayed the same” for the schools already in the conference.
Under Smith’s stewardship, the Buckeyes have won 32 team and 117 individual national championships as well as 115 team and 369 individual titles within the Big Ten.
When asked about his biggest challenges while in charge of the department, Smith said “2011 was hell.”
Quarterback Terrelle Pryor was one of five players suspended for the first five games that season for selling memorabilia and receiving improper benefits from a tattoo parlor. Jim Tressel, who led the program to the 2002 BCS national title, eventually was fired as a result, and Luke Fickell took over on an interim basis before Urban Meyer was hired in 2012.
“That was painful,” Smith said. “The student-athletes who were impacted didn’t deserve the penalties that they had to deal with. That was hard. People were affected negatively, and that was a hard time.”
Years later, former wide receivers coach Zach Smith was fired in July 2018 after allegations of domestic violence came to light. Gene Smith and Meyer were suspended for mishandling issues during Zach Smith’s time with the program, which began in 2012.