Andrew Holleran / Photo editor
Perhaps more than anyone else, Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith has had a lot on his plate since the university’s “Tattoo-Gate” scandal began in December 2010. In an interview with The Lantern, Smith talked about thoughts of leaving OSU, the school’s revamped compliance department, football coach Urban Meyer’s first season in Columbus and the possibility of a 2002 national championship reunion including former OSU coach Jim Tressel.
Thought about walking away
It has been more than 18 months and there are still plenty of OSU fans who think Smith should have lost his job because of the “Tattoo-Gate” scandal that led to Tressel’s firing.
Smith said there was never a moment he thought that was a possibility, but he did consider walking away for the sake of those around him.
“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.”
Those disappointed by that decision will likely not see a change anytime soon. Smith said he has not considered retirement and is very content with his situation at OSU.
“There’s no other job I’d rather have,” he said.
Random audits to ensure compliance
As part of an 805-page report Smith and OSU sent to the NCAA, Smith said the athletic department will conduct random audits to make sure the players still have various Buckeye memorabilia given to them.
“First of all, we retain a lot of things so we build a locker room in our equipment room, so, for certain jerseys and helmets, we keep those there until you graduate. Or your eligibility expires because, you know, somebody may leave and we give them their stuff,” he said. “But also your rings, your gold pants, if you have them, there’s times where you have to bring them in to certify that you’ve retained them or certify where they are because you may give them to your mom.”
Smith said the audits – which are a brand new idea – will be random.
“It’s a random process. It could be tomorrow,” he said. “So it’s kinda like drug testing.”
The process, however, isn’t just limited to keepsakes like rings and gold pants. It also applies to cars, Smith said.
“You have a car, you register that car with us,” he said. “We check it every now and then just to make sure there’s no change.
“So we’ll go over to a parking lot, walk around, check cars, check the numbers, things of that nature, just to make sure nothing has changed or see if there’s any new cars that pop up and say, ‘OK, who’s car is that?’ Might be (OSU spokesman) Dan Wallenberg’s, might be you visiting, but we check them all out just to be sure that nobody got a loaner car that they shouldn’t have.”
Big Ten Woes
There’s no denying the Big Ten struggled during its non-conference football schedule. The conference lost three games against the Mid-American Conference, lost three of four games against the Pac-12 and only has three teams ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll.
At No. 12, OSU is the top-ranked Big Ten team with Nebraska (No. 21) and Northwestern (No. 24) also representing the conference.
Smith did not skirt the issue.
“We’ve struggled, we’ve got to win games,” he said. “There’s no question that the Southeastern Conference has dominated and rightfully so. But that’s not what bothers me as much as we’re losing to other conferences and other programs that frankly we shouldn’t.”
Smith isn’t panicking, though. Conference strength is cyclical, he said, and what he is really concerned about is making sure the struggles don’t become a pattern.
“It doesn’t surprise me periodically that a team emerges and beats people, that’s happened in the Mid-American Conference for years, jumping up and biting somebody,” Smith said. “But that’s happened more this year than normal. So I’m interested in seeing how things go this next year and make sure this is not a trend.”
After Michigan State received altered game tape before its contest against the Buckeyes last Saturday in East Lansing, Mich., Smith said Spartans athletic director Mark Hollis informed that they did not receive the full video.
“I hung up and contacted our video guys and said, ‘Send them the full video. Get it done,'” Smith said. “And we sent them the full video.”
The issue is “done,” Smith said.
“Urban had no clue, so we should’ve sent them the full video from the beginning,” he said.
OSU will honor its 2002 national championship football team during the Buckeyes’ game against Michigan this year, and there is some disagreement as to whether the leader of that team, fired Tressel, should be on the guest list.
Smith said he would have no problem seeing his former co-worker.
“I don’t know if he’ll come back for that recognition,” Smith said. “If he does, we will recognize him like everybody else.”
Meyer fulfilling his family’s contract
At Meyer’s introductory press conference in late November, he pulled out a crumpled pink piece of paper from his pocket from behind the podium.
It was a contract written by Meyer’s family and, specifically, his daughter, Nicki, to ensure that her father would take care of himself in ways he often failed to do so while at Florida.
Smith told The Lantern Meyer is indeed abiding by his family’s contract.
“He and I’ve talked about that a lot during the summer and at the beginning of the season and I hit him every now and then with it,” Smith said.
Smith said he went into the Woody Hayes Athletic Center to see Meyer this past Sunday after the Buckeyes’ game against the Spartans.
Meyer, though, was at his son Nate’s football game.
“I was like, ‘That’s what you want.’ You know, so he takes his time on Thursday nights, takes his time on Friday mornings, you know, with family,” Smith said. “Not sleeping in the WHAC overnight like he had slept down at Florida some nights. So I think he’s there balance-wise and doing what he’s supposed to do.”
OSU announced Tuesday that it scheduled Texas Christian University for a home-and-home football series with games in 2018 at Fort Worth, Texas, and 2019 in Ohio Stadium.
Smith said the series represents a change in mentality for OSU when it comes to non-conference scheduling.
Each year Smith said he looks to schedule “one top 10 or top 15 (team), hopefully two (teams) that are in the top 30 to 40 and then another BCS team. That takes us away from playing two Mid-American Conference teams a year or three in some cases.”
Meyer hitting the mark
After hiring Meyer almost a year ago, Smith said the first-year coach has done a “great job” so far in his inaugural season in Columbus.
Smith didn’t limit his praise to just Meyer’s on-the-field endeavors, either.
“You know, I think everyone is focused obviously on wins on the field and how the team is executing, but I look at that as well like everybody else,” Smith said “but I look at also how he handles his staff, he handles the players relative to academics, how he interacts with other coaches in the league and just how we communicate relative to issues and, so, he’s just doing a great job.”
Communication between Meyer, Smith
Smith said he normally tries to pop in to the WHAC once a week to see Meyer.
“We don’t have – during the football season – we do not have formal, set meetings unless there’s an issue we need to do that with other people, but I pop in – Sundays, I usually I try and get in on Sundays – and walk around,” Smith said, “and this particular year, congratulate the coaches and then I usually go meet with the trainers, pop into his office.”
And what if Meyer’s not there?
Smith said he and the former Florida coach are “big texters.”
“You know, he texted me today on one issue and I texted him back so we’re big texters. I kinda know his schedule when they’re in meetings, so, I know when he’s on break. So if I’m on break and I need to go see him about something, I go see him,” he said. “So it’s nothing really formal. But it’s almost every day.”
Meyer’s undefeated (5-0) squad faces Nebraska at 8 p.m. on Saturday.