Gene Smith, Arizona State University’s athletic director since July 2000, has emerged as the leading candidate to become the new AD at Ohio State, according to a story in today’s Columbus Dispatch.
The Dispatch reported on its Web site Thursday afternoon that sources point to the 49-year-old Smith as the Buckeyes’ No. 1 choice, and he could be announced as the replacement for outgoing AD Andy Geiger as soon as today.
If that’s the case, he could be introduced Sunday when the Buckeye men’s basketball team faces undefeated and top-ranked Illinois at Value City Arena in Columbus.
Smith would remain in Arizona until Saturday night, sources told the Dispatch, so he can attend the ASUArizona basketball game — which tips off at 4 p.m.
Smith declined to speak with the Tribune on Thursday but released a statement through an ASU spokesman indicating he knows nothing about the report and denying any personal contact with the Buckeyes.
"I have not interviewed for (the job) and I have not spoken to (Ohio State),’’ Smith said. "My name comes up in these searches from time to time.’’
But the Dispatch reports that Smith, who has strong ties to Ohio and the Midwest — he is a native of Cleveland, a graduate of Notre Dame and former athletic director at Iowa State — has been identified as the top choice to replace the embattled Geiger, who will retire on June 30 with a year left on his contract.
Craig Littlepage of Virginia, Joe Castiglione of Oklahoma, Eric Hyman of Texas Christian and Kevin White of Notre Dame — the man Smith replaced as ASU’s athletic director — have all been mentioned as candidates since Geiger announced on Jan. 5 that he would be resigning.
Geiger, 65, was riding high when the Buckeye football team won the national championship with an overtime victory over Miami in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl. But the last two years have been filled with NCAA investigations involving the football and men’s basketball programs, accelerating his decision to resign.
If Smith leaves, money won’t be the issue. While Geiger is making $284,340 for the 2004-05 school year, Smith earns a base salary of $290,000 at ASU and, according to Tribune calculations, earned $365,000 in salary and bonuses in 2002-03.
Smith’s original five-year contract has been extended through 2008.
Smith inherited a budget deficit approaching $4 million from White in 2000 and has all but wiped out the red ink during his tenure. In 2003, Sports Illustrated ranked Smith as the seventh-most influential minority in college athletics.
Taking the Ohio State job would be a step up in profile. The Buckeye athletic department has a $90 million budget and fields teams in 36 sports — almost three times the $35 million budget of ASU, which fields 22 sports teams.