"I am sure that the people of Ohio will agree that we have found the best possible person to be the next athletics director at The Ohio State University," Holbrook said in introducing Smith.
Smith, 49, succeeds Andy Geiger, who announced his retirement Jan. 5.
"Hello, everyone, how are you doing?" Smith asked as he was joined by his wife, Sheila, as well his children, son Matt Young and daughters Lindsay, Nicole and Summer Smith.
Smith is a native of Cleveland, graduating from suburban Bedford St. Peter Chanel High School in 1973. He then played defensive end at Notre Dame before going into coaching and, subsequently, athletic administration. He served terms as the AD at Eastern Michigan and Iowa State before landing at ASU in 2000.
"I'm excited to be here," Smith said. "I'm excited to be a Buckeye. It's great to be home. There is so much rich tradition and history at The Ohio State University, both academically and athletically.
"My whole mission, our goal, is to create an environment for those student-athletes to be successful – academically, athletically and socially. The number one goal is to get an education and get a degree. Secondly, God gave them a gift and we want to develop that gift. We provide them an opportunity to express that gift and, hopefully, maximize the potential they have within themselves."
Smith receives a seven-year contract with a base salary of $450,000 annually. He will receive a maximum $125,000 annually in incentive pay for meeting athletic and academic performance goals that Holbrook will specify. The university will also contribute $50,000 a year to a deferred compensation fund Smith will receive if he stays the entire length of his agreement.
He inherits the nation's largest college athletic program with nearly 1,000 student-athletes participating in 36 varsity sports. The $91 million annual operating budget is the nation's largest. But he also comes in with the school's football and men's basketball programs under NCAA investigation.
"This is a great program," Smith said. "It is a place where, across this nation, we can have a significant impact on the direction of intercollegiate athletics."
Smith paid homage to Geiger, who did not attend the press conference.
"The thing that intrigued me the most about Ohio State University was what Andy Geiger had accomplished," Smith said. "I have the utmost respect, admiration and loyalty to Andy Geiger. I was fortunate enough to be blessed to be an athletic director at the age of 29. Over the years, I continually watched Andy operate at the institutions he was a part of. I'm privileged to have a chance to follow a great footprint he has put forward."
Smith's official start date will be April 15.
"I'm ready to rock and roll," he said.
Smith was asked if he was briefed on the progress of the NCAA investigations and if those were the two biggest challenges he will face.
"One of the things I am excited about is coming into an environment with outstanding coaches and an outstanding staff," Smith said. "Within the university community, there are significant resources relative to intellect and knowledge. I intend to take advantage of that.
"Let's keep in mind something – The Ohio State University outside of Columbus is still thought of in a great way. I understand there are challenges here and the pressures that exist. But nationally, The Ohio State University has a great reputation. My goal, coming in, is to see if I can enhance that reputation. We'll do everything we can to avoid those issues in the future."
Regarding the investigations, he said, "I think it's important that we keep them in perspective. Regardless of the outcomes, there is a great deal of integrity here. When you go through the list of coaches, when you look at the great tradition, when you spend time with President Holbrook … these issues are single issues in a small situation. They are not something that will damage the integrity or the long-term health of the athletic program.
"When you look at the people – I sit here I look at Jim Tressel, I look at Thad Matta, I look at Karen Holbrook – I'm not an individual that focuses on single incidents, relative to 300 people or 1,000 student-athletes. This president has great integrity. Jim Tressel has great integrity. These trustees have great integrity. It is all about the people."
Smith's hiring came about very quickly.
"I was contacted about 10 days ago," he said. "I did interview in Dallas with a small part of the search committee. I came to town Friday morning and interviewed with the entire committee and others and last night I was offered the job and accepted."
Holbrook added, "The search committee interviewed more than I did. They presented two to me. It moved very fast.
"On a personal note, I had the pleasure of meeting Gene three years ago and I have watched his success at Arizona State over the years. I was absolutely delighted when the search committee recognized him as the top candidate.
"I think I can state unequivocally that he and his family will be a tremendous asset, not only to the university but to the entire community of Ohio. Gene was tailor made for this job. Gene, we are really thrilled that you have chosen to return to your roots here in Ohio.
"Gene is going to very quickly the degree of loyalty and enthusiasm that Ohio State fans feel for all of their sports teams. He has a true commitment to athletes to be successful in their sport and also to meet their academic challenges and graduate and receive the lifetime benefits of an Ohio State degree."
Regarding his management style, Smith said, "I'm just a people person. I'm pretty simple. I'm a blue collar guy. I will probably put more focus on the positives than the negatives. I understand that the negative has been top-of-mind. But that's not why I chose to come here. This institution did not attract me to come in and clean up issues with an investigation or to deal with a small microcosm of individuals who have tried to breach the integrity of an unbelievably historic institution."
Smith was a three-sport standout at Bedford Chanel, lettering in football, basketball and track. He is a member of that school's Hall of Fame.
During the course of the press conference, he discussed how he and Warren Harding standout Ross Browner, also a defensive lineman, went to Notre Dame as a package deal.
"But Woody Hayes was in my living room," he said regarding OSU's recruiting efforts.
Smith said he planned to attend OSU's gymnastics meet and hockey game today and the men's basketball game with Illinois Sunday before returning to Arizona.
Here were more comments from Smith on a variety of subjects, including:
* Where the OSU AD job stands -- "I look at it as the pinnacle, by far. This is the best athletic program in the country. I never aspired to be anywhere other than where I was. I just worked hard and when opportunities presented themselves I wanted to be ready for them. I listened to what Ohio State University was looking for and I realized I was a fit."
* How he will improve OSU's academic profile, which was rated low in recent NCAA reports -- "I need to have some time to come in and assess and understand the culture. We do have great academic performance in a number of areas. We will look at the areas where we have some challenges. But we do have a number of sports where we are performing extremely well."
* The transition with Geiger -- "I am hoping to meet with him next week, as he travels and I travel. I want to sit down with him. I'm sure there will be a lot of phone calls. I anticipate coming back here before my start date. I want to pick his brain and let him tutor me."
* On OSU's $200 million of debt on the Ohio Stadium and Schottenstein Center projects -- "That scared the lights out of me. It's huge. But from what I understand, there is a long-term financial plan. The revenue that is needed to cover that debt is in place. I'm going a little bit on blind faith. When I went to Arizona State, I was unaware there was a $4.3 million deficit I inherited. I am confident Andy, based upon what he has shared with me, had a plan in place. My plan is to come in and work the plan."
* On being OSU's first black AD -- "Years ago, I felt like I was a pioneer when I became the athletic director at Eastern Michigan University at 29 years old. There were only three or four athletic directors. For 10 or 12 years, there may still have been only three or four. There are more today. I just want to do my job. It is an honor as an African-American to be the first here."
* On the one important team he never lost to as a coach -- "In my years of coaching at Notre Dame, I never lost to Michigan."
Speaking Of Salary
In a climate where college leaders want to put athletics in the proper perspective, eyebrows were raised when it was revealed that Smith would make more than Holbrook (estimated salary at $400,000) and Geiger ($325,000).
"I'm being paid what the market is," Smith said. "I'm being compensated for the responsibility I have and the pressure I have. Whatever the market is – just like you guys – I just want to be compensated consistent to that."
Holbrook confirmed that Smith's salary level was well researched.
"He actually makes more (than the president)," Holbrook said. "I think it's a whole different story. If you looked at the (OSU) Medical Center, you would see salaries much higher than mine. It's a market situation. We tried to get the best person we could and bring him here with the resources and confidence that he can get the job done well.
"The athletic program is so important here. It means so much to the state and the nation. He has to keep that going. He has a real challenge to connect with the students and make sure they have all of the support they need to be successful in life. That's really what he is emphasizing and I think that's why the search committee was so excited about him, not only his commitment to winning on the field but winning academically.
"I think he has a very human, personal approach … more than a business approach. That doesn't mean he won't be good with the business aspects. But I think he really is concerned with people."
Below is OSU's press release on Gene Smith's hiring as the new AD:
President Karen A. Holbrook today announced that Gene Smith will become Ohio State's eighth athletics director on April 15. Smith, currently athletics director at Arizona State University, succeeds Andy Geiger, whose retirement Holbrook announced Jan. 5 after his 11 years in the position.
Holbrook said she sought to bring in someone who would not only maintain Ohio State's tradition of excellence but help guide the department to even higher levels of academic and athletic accomplishment.
"In Gene Smith, Ohio State is hiring a well-respected A.D. with a track record of success in all facets of athletics management and student-athlete achievement," Holbrook said. "He is a nationally respected A.D. who will be a tremendous leader for our program."
Born and raised in Cleveland, Smith has a 19-year career of leadership and service in Division I-A athletics, serving the past five years as the athletics director at Arizona State University and in previous posts at Iowa State (1993-2000) and Eastern Michigan universities (1986-93). Smith has revitalized the 22-sport Sun Devils program, hiring nationally regarded coaches and developing competitive teams.
Arizona State also achieved academic success under Smith. In spring 2004, the Sun Devils ranked seventh nationally and No. 1 in the Pacific-10 Conference in the number of student-athletes who attained Academic All-America honors since 2000. Sixty-one percent of ASU student-athletes were Maroon and Gold Scholars in 2003-04, earning a 3.0 GPA during fall or spring semester. Forty-two percent of all student-athletes earned a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or above. The graduation rate improved to a record level, rising 11 percent over the previous mark and 13 percent higher than the university average.
Smith said he is eager to begin work as Ohio State's next athletics director, and praised outgoing A.D. Geiger for his leadership. "I am honored and appreciative to inherit a program that Andy Geiger led. He is one of the most respected A.D.'s in this country, and I have always admired his style.
"I am really looking forward to joining this Athletics family and serving these kids. These student-athletes are very special. And, obviously, being from Ohio, I can't be more excited about coming home," Smith said.
Driven by his commitment to provide student-athletes every opportunity to be successful academically, athletically and socially, Smith directed the completion of a $30 million capital campaign that helped fund the construction of a $19 million state-of-the-art student-athlete fitness and conditioning center, completed in May 2002.
Identified in the March 2005 issue of Black Enterprise magazine as one of the "50 Most Powerful Blacks in Sports," Smith currently serves on the NCAA Football Rules Committee and Committee on Infractions, as well as the NCAA Management Council, the BCS Athletic Director's Advisory Committee and the Fiesta Bowl Board in Tempe.
Smith leaves his current duties on several Pac-10 committees, including vice president of the Conference Executive Committee and chair of its Football Officiating Committee and as a member of the conference's Selection, Athletics Directors' Revenue Sharing, Rose Bowl Management and Bowl (Ad Hoc) committees.
The consummate student-athlete, Smith earned his bachelor's degree in business administration from the University of Notre Dame in 1977. He earned three varsity football letters as a defensive end and was a member of the Associated Press 1973 national championship team.
Smith also served as an assistant football coach for the Fighting Irish from 1977-81, helping to guide the squad to its 1977 undisputed national championship. He then spent two years as a marketing representative for IBM prior to joining the Eastern Michigan staff in April 1983.
Gene and his wife, Sheila, have four children - Matt, Nicole, Lindsey, and Summer - and two grandchildren, Marshall and Steele. Sheila, a 1976 Canadian Olympian in basketball, holds a doctorate in Higher Education Administration.
Joe Alutto, dean of the Fisher College of Business and chair of the search committee, said the group was impressed with the breadth and depth of Smith's experience and success in athletics management.
"When we began looking at the potential pool of candidates, Gene surfaced right away. At this time in the history of our university, he has all the appropriate skills to move Ohio State's Athletics program forward. Indeed, he was made to order," he said.
The basic terms of Smith's hiring agreement include a base pay of $450,000 annually for seven years. He will receive a maximum $125,000 annually in incentive pay for meeting athletic and academic performance goals that President Holbrook will specify. The university also will contribute $50,000 a year to a deferred compensation fund that he will receive should he stay for the entire length of his agreement.
Smith will lead one of the nation's most comprehensive and successful athletics programs, with a $91 million operating budget that is completely self-supporting. More than 900 student-athletes participate in 36 varsity sports. And the department is nearing the completion of an aggressive schedule of both new construction and renovation of existing facilities, including renovation of the historic Ohio Stadium and construction of the Jerome Schottenstein Center.
In addition, Ohio State athletics attracts more than $100 million annually to the greater Columbus region. In the last 10 years alone, the Athletics Department and the city of Columbus have hosted thousands of fans and hundreds of teams for more than 60 national, regional, and conference championship events in 21 sports.
Each year, NACDA rates the accomplishments of college athletics programs and awards the Directors' Cup to recognize those achievements. Ohio State achieved its highest level of overall success in the 2002-03 season, earning third place, and finished fourth last season. The program has placed among the top 15 teams nationally in each of the past six years.
A comprehensive network of student-athlete support services has contributed to more than 800 student-athletes over the last two years being honored as Ohio State Scholar-Athletes for maintaining a cumulative grade point average of 3.0 or better. A record 414 students were honored in May 2003. Nearly 1,600 student-athletes have received Academic All-Big Ten honors over the past seven years.
During spring quarter 2004 commencement, 108 student-athletes earned Ohio State degrees. Additionally, 67 percent of aided student-athletes went on to receive degrees.
Geiger praised the selection of Smith to replace him. "I congratulate Dr. Holbrook and the university for its selection of Gene Smith. He is a good man with a strong record of leadership in our business. I am grateful for the opportunity I had to lead the Ohio State Athletics Department and I am comforted to know that its future is in very capable hands."
There have been seven previous directors of athletics at Ohio State, including 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).