"Gene Smith is an impressive gentleman," Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel said. "Obviously he knows a lot about what intercollegiate athletics is all about. As he eloquently put it, it gave him an opportunity to do and be what he wanted to be. It's been a lot of fun listening to him and having the chance to get to know him some."
Tressel did not know Smith very well prior to Smith's arrival at OSU.
"I've known him from afar," Tressel said. "When I was at Youngstown State, he was at Eastern Michigan, and we had played one another and that type of thing."
Tressel and Smith have not spoken about any NCAA investigations regarding OSU's football program.
"No, I really haven't discussed that with him," Tressel said. "The only thing I've really discussed with him are general pleasantries. Great you have you here and that type of thing."
In addition to his time as an athletic director, Smith has experience working on the NCAA's infractions committee. That is something that can only help OSU's relationship with the NCAA.
"His expertise in all those areas is impressive," Tressel said. "Whether it be the infractions committee, or building programs. The thing I like about his background is that he worked his way up through the steps. He's obviously had some tough tasks to do at various places. He's just very impressive to me."
Smith expressed confidence in Tressel during the press conference. He specifically said that Tressel is a man of integrity.
"Well, sometimes when you have someone that shows that type of confidence from afar, it makes you feel good," Tressel said. "We're all aware of the intercollegiate athletics world and what it's about. And for a fella with his background in all those various areas to come in and say what he feels about Ohio State – I don't think he was up there pretending to know everything about Ohio State – but what he feels about Ohio State, I thought that was a great thing."
And it must be comforting for Tressel to have an AD with a football background. Smith played and coached at Notre Dame. He was a defensive end on its 1973 national championship team.
"Well, you know, I think first and foremost it's comforting to have a good guy," Tressel said. "And the little bit I know of him – I've watched him from afar as he's gone up the ladder – he understands what our student-athletes go through. He knows what can happen if you do what you're suppose to do. He does have a solid football background like you said, and that is great, but he has outstanding qualities across the board."
Smith's experience at a football-school like Notre Dame can only help his understanding of the machine that is Ohio State football.
"He has a great background and Notre Dame is a place where athletics is very important and it has a role in the entire institution," Tressel said. "So, I think if you get a guy with that background, you know he knows it's important to the school."
* Brandon Mitchell, a junior safety on the football team, was a member of the search committee and explained some of his duties.
"We started out trying to figure what we wanted in a candidate," Mitchell said. "Our basic responsibility was to pick the best few candidates for President (Karen) Holbrook. And she ultimately made the final decision. We were kind of a buffering process between President Holbrook and the candidates."
Mitchell is wise beyond his years. He doesn't talk like a young college student. Being on the search committee was quite an experience for him.
"Yeah, I'm 21," he said. "You work a while with the great people we had on the committee, you just learn so much from them. You learn so much about the interview process and good characteristics when you're being interviewed, or when you're interviewing someone else. It was an amazing experience for me to be a part of."
Mitchell couldn't be happier with the choice of Smith.
"He's incredible," he said. "I had the great opportunity to sit down with him for about an hour (Friday) and met with him. His attitude and his determination and his experience are just so impressive. Everyone around him – we were sitting at kind of a roundtable talking to him – everyone was like, ‘Wow, this guy is incredible. He's the type of guy that we need here at Ohio State.'"
Mitchell sees a role model in Smith. He likes the fact that he has a football background.
"Yeah, he knows what it's like to be a college football player," Mitchell said. "If I'm having a hard time in class, or at football practice, I can go in his office and talk to him. He said that. He said he would sit me down in his office and call my parents and work through the problem. Just knowing that he is that accessible, not just if I'm in trouble, but if I need to talk to him about something, I can go off of his experience because he's been through some of the same things I've been through."
* Two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin also seemed very pleased with the hiring of Smith.
"I'm looking forward to his stint as athletic director here at Ohio State," Griffin said. "I think he's going to do a wonderful job. He's got good credentials, great experience and I feel like things are in place that he's going to do an outstanding job here."
Griffin doesn't put too much stock in Smith's football background. He says it's a perk that he has experience in football, but nothing more.
"Well, to me, it really didn't make any difference whether his background was football, basketball, baseball… Andy (Geiger) was a crew guy," Griffin said. "So, I mean, it didn't make any difference. The main thing is how he gets the job done and I think Gene will do a terrific job. It's a nice little bonus that he has a football background."
But can Griffin get past the fact that Smith was a Notre Dame player and coach?
"Well, I have to get past that fact," he said with a laugh. "No, we didn't get an opportunity to get to play against Notre Dame, so I can't really hold any animosity towards Notre Dame. I really don't.
"So, the fact that he has been at Notre Dame shows that he knows the magnitude of our football program here. He has a very good understanding of the culture here because of that."
Griffin served as an associate AD under Geiger. At one point, it appeared as though he was the obvious successor to Geiger. However, Griffin accepted the job of president of Ohio State's Alumni Association a little more than a year ago and is very happy in that role.
"Oh, at one point, being the athletic director here was my dream job," Griffin said. "There is no question about that. I took the Alumni Association job just a year ago and we've started programs and we're right in the midst of those things and the timing definitely was not right for me to become athletic director. I've got responsibilities with the Alumni Association with our wonderful staff and I'm enjoying it."
* Former Ohio State All-American lineman John Hicks was also in attendance. Hicks was the 1973 Lombardi and Outland Award winner and could not hide his excitement that Smith was taking over the athletic department.
"It is absolutely wonderful," Hicks said. "It's great. I've known him since he was 13 years old. This is a great day for Ohio State."
Hicks obviously likes the fact that Smith has a football background.
"Oh, of course, but there's a lot of academic people standing around us, so be careful with that," he joked. "No, what's not to like about him? He's got excellent experience, he knows college athletics, he understands big-time college football. You saw what type of person he is when he was speaking up there."
* Smith's wife – Shelia Smith – also has a background as a college athletics administrator.
She explained how she met her husband.
"We met in 1991 and we married in 1996," she said. "We met while he was still at Eastern Michigan and I was at UNLV (as associate athletic director). We met at the National Collegiate Athletic Directors Association conference. We met while doing work. Very romantic."
Shelia Smith was asked about the contrast in weather in Tempe, Ariz., compared to Columbus.
"You know, I'm actually from Vancouver, British Columbia in Canada, and I really love the four seasons," she said. "So, I'm absolutely delighted to be here. As nice as it is in Arizona right now – it's about 71 degrees – it gets a tad warm in the summer."
Shelia Smith was intrigued when her husband first told her last week that he was being considered for the Ohio State job.
"I thought it was an incredible privilege and I was extremely proud of Gene," she said. "He's worked very hard. I thought he did a great job answering his questions today, literally, that he has worked his entire career to have the privilege, maybe one day, to lead a program that has the kind of assets that this institution and this program has. I think he is extremely proud to even be considered, and delighted to have been appointed."
Shelia Smith is a former athlete.
"I am," she said. "I played basketball in Canada in the collegiate level, and I played center for Canada in the 1976 Olympics.
"We came in sixth and we hosted in Montreal. It was an absolutely life-altering experience. I made the team when I was 17 and traveled the world and it was fabulous."
Shelia Smith will be hard to miss on football Saturdays. She is a tall blonde lady and the early guess was that she stands about 6-3.
"I'm actually 6-2 in bare feet," she said. "And I'm shrinking, unfortunately."
The Smith's have not started looking for a house in the Columbus-area as of yet.
"No, we have not," Shelia said. "We are probably going to come back and take care of that. We are flying out (Sunday) back to Arizona and we will come back in short order and figure out where to live. We've had a whole host of suggestions of where to live and I have no idea where any of the places are."