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Scarlet Sunrise: Part of Gene Smith's historic legacy still to be written during retirement

IMG_7408by:Andy Backstrom04/19/24


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Part of Gene Smith’s historic legacy still to be written during retirement

Gene Smith is retiring June 31 after 39 years as an athletic director, including 19 at Ohio State.

Before taking over as Ohio State’s athletic director, he served as the AD at Arizona State (2000-2005), Iowa State (1993-2000) and Eastern Michigan (1985-1993).

Smith’s 19-year tenure is the third-longest among ADs in Ohio State history. He took over as just the eighth Buckeyes athletic director. The other seven were Andy Geiger (1994-2005), Jim Jones (1987-94), Richard Bay (1984-87), Hugh Hindman (1977-84), J. Edward Weaver (1970-77), Richard Larkins (1947-70), and Lynn W. St. John (1912-47).

During Smith’s run in Columbus, the Buckeyes have won 35 national titles across their 36 varsity sports. Smith has placed on emphasis on serving student-athletes and best setting them up for success.

This past academic year, Ohio State Athletics finished third in the 2022-23 Director’s Cup standings. The Buckeyes were the top Big Ten finisher in that category, too, something they’ve done eight times under Smith.

Also in 2022-23, the athletic department featured 765 OSU Scholar-Athletes, 190 Big Ten Conference Distinguished Scholars and six Academic All-Americans. And Ohio State Athletics, as a whole, recorded its highest cross-sport, multi-year academic progress rate (APR) in school history, according to data released by the NCAA.

A member of the College Football Playoff Committee (2017-20) and chair of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Committee (2010-11), Smith has held seats on most major committees and panels.

Yet, as extensive as his legacy is, a part of it is still unwritten and will be written as incoming AD Ross Bjork begins his tenure.

“I hadn’t thought about that,” Smith said after his Q&A session at the Fawcett Center Thursday. “I probably put a significant burden on Ross with the budget because I was playing poker with football and went all in. Where we are with football, and not winning Big Ten championships, I wanted to make sure that we did everything we could to make sure football has a real chance next year.”

Smith went on: “And so when I think about my legacy, so to speak, I think about that. I hate to leave Ohio State when football’s not back to winning Big Ten championships. A little financial burden on Ross. He’s gotta balance the budget in the future because I just went berserk.”

Ohio State hasn’t won a Big Ten championship in football since the 2020 season. The Buckeyes have lost to Michigan three straight years, two of which they also missed out on the College Football Playoff. Ohio State has taken a fearless approach this offseason in terms of roster and coaching staff moves, and Smith helped make that happen.

Additionally, Smith put the wheels in motion for new Ohio State men’s basketball head coach Jake Diebler. While Bjork chose Diebler to be the program’s next lead man, Smith was the one who made Diebler the interim coach on Feb. 14 after deciding to fire seventh-year Buckeyes coach Chris Holtmann midseason.

Smith said at the time he was looking for a spark, and he got more than that, as Diebler won six of his first seven games at the helm and had Ohio State knocking on the door of the NCAA Tournament.

How Diebler fares could, in a way, affect Smith’s legacy as well.

“My blessing with working with Ryan was really watching him over the years grow as a leader,” Smith said, reflecting on an interim-to-full-time head coach transition. “Remember, he wasn’t a head coach before. And all of you watched it and was a part of it in so many different ways. Watching him grow as a leader now, I think I was at practice whenever it was and watching him and Chip Kelly and Jim Knowles standing out there on the field, and I’m like, ‘OK, we’re there.’

“The same thing will be true for Jake. While Jake is phenomenal in so many different ways, there’s gonna be a lot of things along the path from a leadership point of view that he will have to learn and ultimately need support around.”

Smith added: “I think Ross thinks Jake’s gonna be awesome. I think just being there to help him develop as a leader is gonna be critical.”

Smith has accomplished so much over the last 19 years — and so much outside the realm of winning — but what happens in the next few years will also reflect on some key decisions he made leading department late in his tenure.

ICYMI: Gene Smith discusses potential renovations, additions to Woody Hayes Athletic Center

Spring Superlatives: Picking best from Buckeyes defense in spring practice

Ohio State returned eight draft-eligible and starter-level defenders this offseason: defensive ends Jack Sawyer and J.T. Tuimoloau, defensive tackles Tyleik Williams and Ty Hamilton, linebacker Cody Simon, cornerbacks Jordan Hancock and Denzel Burke and safety Lathan Ransom.

Plus, the Buckeyes added arguably the best safety in the country, Caleb Downs, who transferred in from Alabama following the retirement of legendary coach Nick Saban.

Now in Year 3 of Jim Knowles’ run as defensive coordinator, the Buckeyes could be historically great on that side of the ball in 2024.

They controlled the first half of the spring game last weekend. And now Lettermen Row is highlighting the best from the unit in another edition of “Spring Superlatives.”

Check it out here.


With Chip Kelly coordinating offense, Ohio State fearlessly incorporating QB run

Ohio State hasn’t consistently used the quarterback run in its offense since the 2020 season when Justin Fields was still starring for the Buckeyes.

But head coach Ryan Day, as well as new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Chip Kelly, have made it clear that, this season, Ohio State will be leaning into the dual threat of its five signal callers jockeying for position in an ongoing offseason competition.

Although running the quarterback comes with an increased injury risk, the Buckeyes are willing, and prepared, to take that risk.

“With the quarterbacks having the ability to run, we haven’t done that a lot here. Justin’s probably the last one. Boy, he really kind of limped into the last couple games because of that,” Day said last week, leading up to the spring game. “And so we’re going to need guys.”

Day continued: “It’s not about maybe in the past where it was like, ‘just be quarterback,’ and we we’re gonna kind of keep him upright. This year, we’re gonna [run the quarterback] with Chip. So we need depth in that room.”

For the full story, go here.


Counting Down

Buckeyes vs. Akron: 135 days
Buckeyes vs. Michigan: 226 days

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