COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith, who has spent the past 18 years at Ohio State leading one of the largest and most successful athletic programs in the country, announced Wednesday he will retire at the end of June next year.
“I’ve always believed that a leader seeks to be the right person at the right time in the life of an institution,” Smith, 67, said at a news conference Wednesday. “I just think July of 2024 is the right time to welcome in new leadership to build on what we’ve already achieved.”
The search for his successor will begin after the university selects a new president in November. Kristina Johnson resigned as Ohio State president last year.
Smith, seen as one of the most influential ADs in the country, will step down as USC, UCLA, Oregon and Washington join the Big Ten amid a rapidly changing landscape in college football in which Smith has been heavily involved.
“I’ve always embraced change,” Smith said. “Those changes were not a part of this decision. Everything that’s happening, some of it I’ve seen before. … I’ve always felt, and my mentors have always said, you will know when it’s time. You’ll know.”
A Cleveland native who played college football at Notre Dame, which won a national championship in his freshman year in 1973, Smith became Ohio State’s eighth athletic director in April 2005. He had previously been athletic director at Arizona State, Eastern Michigan and Iowa State.
Ohio State teams have won 115 team Big Ten titles under Smith. He had signed a four-year contract extension in 2021.
He said his successor will have to fully embrace the recent seismic changes in college football, including realignment, NIL and the transfer portal.
“We just need to keep evaluating how (college football) should be structured,” he said. “That relates to our scheduling as we integrate Oregon and Washington.
“Somewhere along the line we need to think differently about football,” said Smith, who once floated the idea of separating college football from the NCAA.
Smith was suspended by Ohio State for two weeks in 2018 after an investigation into what he and former football coach Urban Meyer knew about the previous domestic violence arrest of an assistant coach. Meyer was suspended for three games and retired at the end of the season.
“That was hard,” Smith said. “During my career, there have been times when I wish I could have done something different. There’s no question about it.”
Smith helped steer the football program through a down year after the firing of coach Jim Tressel in 2011. That led to the hiring of Meyer, who won a national championship after the 2014 season.
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