This is the last card Gene Smith is looking to play.
The newly promoted vice president and current athletic director of Ohio State told The Lantern Wednesday Columbus is the final destination for both he and his family — cemented with his recently announced advancement in the school’s line of control.
Staying put at OSU, though, wasn’t entirely his decision, Smith said.
“I know I’ve been doing this for a long time and my wife and I decided that this is our last stop,” Smith said. “I actually say that tongue-in-cheek because I didn’t make that decision, she actually did.”
Regardless of who actually decided Smith would stay in Columbus until his college administration days come to an end, the vice president and athletic director is slated to be working at OSU until at least June 30, 2020, after his four year contract extension and a nearly 12 percent pay raise was announced Tuesday.
Smith sat down with The Lantern to talk Buckeye football and basketball, the recent additions to coach Urban Meyer’s staff and his goals for his new job.
On being ‘Vice President and Athletic Director Gene Smith’
OSU Interim President Joseph Alutto announced Smith’s new title and updated contract Tuesday, giving him almost a 12 percent raise in salary — to $940,484 from about $840,484 — effective July 1, 2013. Smith said he is “excited” about the future and what he wants to accomplish in his new position.
“I wanted to have an opportunity to see the vision that all of us have in the athletic department come to fruition, and that takes stability,” Smith said. “Joe was kind enough to listen and forward me that opportunity.”
Smith said he has been involved in the business side of the vice presidency “for little over a year now.”
“Really the vice president and that is formalizing those responsibilities I already have,” Smith said.
Following a 6-7 season in 2011, Smith pursued and hired Urban Meyer to bring the program back to the nation’s elite. OSU is 24-2 since Meyer took over the reigns of the program in 2012, including winning 24 straight games as part of back-to-back undefeated regular seasons. But the Buckeyes faltered in their biggest games of this past season, losing, 34-24, to Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship Game Dec. 7 and then to Clemson, 40-35, in the 2014 Discover Orange Bowl Jan. 3.
Aside from the two losses, Smith said he is pleased with the job Meyer is doing.
“I know Urban and his staff have done a great job transitioning in, in the first year and obviously going undefeated. But they’ve created the right culture,” Smith said. “We have young men who understand what their primary objectives are … Every game we have a chance to win, and ultimately we’ve won a lot of them. Even the games we lost, we were in the position to win.”
OSU’s football team is set to start its 2014 campaign Aug. 30 against Navy at M&T Bank Stadium.
OSU’s other major revenue sport, the men’s basketball program, began this season on a 15-game winning streak, but lost four straight over the span of two weeks. The Buckeyes seemed getting back on track, winning their last game, but fell to Penn State, 71-70, Wednesday. Smith had a bit of simple advice for the team down the road: stop thinking and just play. That could help the team stack up with the nation’s best.
“I think we have it in us,” Smith said. “I think we have to get away from thinkin’ when we’re playing, and just go play. Just go play. We have to relax and shoot the ball.”
New football assistant coaches
Meyer added two high-profile assistant coaches in the last month in former Penn State defensive line coach Larry Johnson and former Arkansas defensive coordinator and secondary coach Chris Ash.
Both men are expected to bring stability to a defensive unit that finished 112th in the nation in passing defense, giving up 268 yards per game. Smith said Meyer had a “short list” of candidates he wished to go after to fill the open positions, and Smith is looking forward to seeing what each coach can bring to the table.
“When Chris Ash’s named popped up, I was excited because he was with me at Iowa State,” Smith said, referring to when he was athletic director at Iowa State and Ash was a defensive graduate assistant. “Then Larry Johnson … here’s a guy with multiple years of experience at the age of 60 or 61 and will bring a lot to the table for us.”