Less than 24 hours after saying he hadn’t spoken with Ohio State University about its athletic director position, Arizona State athletic director Gene Smith was in Columbus Friday, agreeing to leave the Sun Devils and join the Buckeyes for a big bump in prestige and pay.
Sources in both Ohio and Arizona confirmed Friday that Smith will be introduced as the first black athletic director in school history today at a noon (Arizona time) news conference. The Columbus Dispatch, citing Ohio State sources, said Smith will receive a compensation package worth between $500,000 and $600,000 — about double the $290,000 he made in his fifth and final year with the Sun Devils.
The pace of the hiring was quickened so Ohio State could have Smith on hand for his first public appearance, Sunday’s nationally televised home basketball game between the Buckeyes and undefeated and top-ranked Illinois.
The only official comment from ASU came from vice president of communication Virgil Renzulli, who confirmed Smith was in Ohio but said Smith has not informed the school of any decision regarding a job change.
"As far as I know, we’re doing everything we can to keep Gene here,’’ Renzulli said late Friday afternoon — hours after word of Smith’s hiring had already been leaked to the media.
In addition to the huge salary increase, the 49-year-old Smith has strong ties to the Midwest. A native of Cleveland, Smith graduated from Notre Dame and was the AD at Eastern Michigan for eight years (1986-93) and at Iowa State for seven more before coming to ASU to replace Kevin White in July 2000.
At Ohio State, Smith succeeds the beleaguered Andy Geiger, who has already announced his retirement effective June 30 — with one year left on his contract — citing burnout. Geiger’s final two years on the job were plagued with NCAA investigations involving the football and men’s basketball programs. The basketball team is ineligible for the NCAA tournament this year, among other sanctions.
In contrast, the Sun Devils stayed clean during Smith’s five-year tenure, with only minor, isolated problems cropping up in the football program. He also wiped out a $4 million budget deficit — with a combination of expense cutting and getting the football program back on solid footing under coach Dirk Koetter.
Even though Ohio State has a $90 million budget to run its 36-sport athletic department — and reportedly grossed more than $100 million last year — money is still a concern for Smith in Columbus. The department has a debt service on many new capital additions — including the Value City Arena for basketball — and needs to keep football and basketball attendance high to meet those budgets.
With the AD job now open at ASU, there is a chance an interim director will be installed to finish out the school year. Senior associate AD Tom Collins and former interim AD Christine Wilkinson would be the likely candidates.
Possible replacements for Smith include Collins, longtime ASU administrator and current Hawaii AD Herman Frazier, and the athletic directors at the University of Texas-El Paso (Bob Stull) and Utah (Chris Hill).