Smith Meets Media On First Day As OSU AD

We had a chance to sit down with new Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith late this afternoon. He answered questions on his transition from Arizona State to Ohio State as well as on issues he will face in his new job.

Gene Smith, Ohio State's new athletic director, enjoyed a full first day on the job. From waking up to find his picture on the front page of The Columbus Dispatch to spending the late afternoon at OSU's football practice and talking to the team and head coach Jim Tressel, it was a complete day for the new AD.

Here are excerpts from an interview session Smith conducted with the media in his office at St. John Arena:

Q. How has your first day gone?

Gene Smith: "This morning, after I got up and worked out, I went up to the Caribou Café and had some hot tea and read The Columbus Dispatch. I saw that ugly mug on the front page. Then, I met a few people there, a couple of locals. That was nice and some good conversation.

"Then, I came in here and got my day started. I had some office time with my assistant, Beth (Mullinix), to try and get me organized. Then, we had a senior staff meeting for an hour and 45 minutes. We talked about a number of issues and I had a lot of one-on-one meetings. Now I'm meeting with you guys."

Q. In terms of your senior staff meeting, do you have an agenda you are trying to get across or just trying to get acquainted?

Smith: "That was two-fold. First, it was to get acquainted. It was more to get acquainted and then to be sure to talk about a couple of things I wanted to be sure to address. My priority is to focus internally first. We have about 300 employees. Any time you have a change in leadership, there are all kinds of emotions and anxiety and uncertainty. I want to be sure that we settle with our family internally.

"I am a big believer in collaboration and communication. I think the most successful organizations do not operate in silos. Everybody is totally integrated, so I wanted to talk about my philosophy there. I wanted to make sure we had strategies to include people in our process. People tend to support what they build. I wanted to talk about that a bit."

Q. What is your first order of business from here and your first big task?

Smith: "I can't have one – there's not one big task. For example, this morning I also had a budget meeting to go over the budget. In this position, you have to be a multi-tasker. There are a number of priorities. If I had to answer your question, I would say I need to be patient and take the time to assess. There is a lot to learn here. It is a very complex organization. I need time to learn the culture. I'm going to take my time, due my due diligence and assess things from there."

Q. From your review of the budget, would reducing sports or some coaches be off the table?

Smith: "I am a person that believes that what has been built here is just unbelievable. The program is a broad-based program. It affects the lives of over 900 student-athletes and a department that provides a quality of living for about 300 employees. I see no need to make any changes in that regard. My goal is to protect that opportunity. That's my focus going in and what my cursory glance coming in in about 45 minutes of looking at about a $97 million budget. I don't see changes in that regard."

Q. What did you learn from the Loren Wade situation that will make you a better administrator? You made the comment after that incident that there were no warning signs to indicate he was potentially violent. It then came to light that you and Coach (Dirk) Koetter were aware of a threat he had made. Can you explain why you thought he would not be a threat?

Smith: "To answer your first question, we are all the sum of all of our experiences in life. That experience has strengthened me in a number of different ways. I will be a better administrator for it and be a better person for it, just like any other experience I have had in my life. Except this one was a tragedy and it hit real deep.

"I'm not going to sit here and discuss that situation. I think it has been well chronicled, well talked about. (I've) read everything there, and, quite frankly, I'm just not going to get into that discussion."

Q. Will you be involved in any way with wrapping up the NCAA investigation into men's basketball?

Smith: "A lot of that is pretty well down the track. My engagement now and the way infractions cases work – speaking from the other side as a former infractions committee member – that train is pretty much down the track. My effectiveness is dealing with that issue at this time is minimal. I will do whatever I can as I continue to learn about the case.

"But there's not a whole lot … all the interviews have been done. It's difficult for me to have any effect on it."

Q. Will you try and lobby the NCAA for the best possible deal for OSU?

Smith: "I can't say yes or no yet because I haven't sat down and gone over that case. That was not a priority for me today. I will meet with Andy (Geiger) sometime next week and we will go over that. I am not engaged enough to go over that."

Q. At your introductory press conference, you made a lot of friends by saying that when you were coaching at Notre Dame you never lost to Michigan …

Smith: "I made a big mistake. We lost to them, obviously. I could remember was the wins. I made a big mistake."

Q. You don't remember losing to them two out of the four times you played them?

Smith: "No. I made a big mistake."

Q. Did you know it was wrong when you said it right away?

Smith: "No, I didn't. In fact, I didn't even remember that Bill Myles was at Nebraska when he was recruiting me. I think I said something to Bill that `I finally hooked up with you.' I was thinking he was at Ohio State. Actually, it was Dick Walker. Things happen to you when you get old (laughs)."

Q. What is your feeling on the 12th football game?

Smith: "I love it. I love the 12th game. I am a supporter of it. I know Andy was and the university was a supporter of it. I have no clue who a (12th) opponent would be."

Q. Were you on the NCAA management council that sort of pushed things in that direction?

Smith: "Yeah, I'm no longer on that council. Since moving to the Big Ten, I had to give up my seat. It did pass at the last management council meeting and it goes on to the NCAA board of directors April 29-30. I would be shocked if it doesn't pass."

Q. Why do you feel strongly about that being a reality?

Smith: "I have been a long, strong believer that we needed more revenue opportunities for a lot of our programs across the country. Obviously, an additional football game provides that. Secondly, players like to play. Right now, in some years we play 12 and some years 11. When you look at the football season, practice toward the end of the year dwindles down. Football also misses the least number of classes of any of the sports because they play on Saturdays, travel on Friday afternoon and are back on Sunday at the latest. I've been a big believer in providing them another platform to play, but the driving force has been the money."

Q. What is your stance on a football playoff?

Smith: "I am always open to listening to that discussion. I can't say that I've been a supporter of a football playoff. I'm old school, guys. I have a real affinity to the bowl system. I've always been one to hang on and say, `How can we make that work?' But this is a changing world and every year we can't close our eyes and ears to something different down the road. If something that makes sense comes open, we've got to listen to that. But I'm one of those old school guys that likes the bowl system."

Q. Has anybody mentioned anything to you about looking at the seating situation for basketball at Value City Arena?

Smith: "No question. That has been mentioned to me. I have received e-mails on it and I have received letters on it. That is something I would have to look at. I'm not sure what the total challenge is, but I will have to look at it. I need to see what is reality and what is not reality."

Q. Would your objective to be to foster the best home environment? Is that a fair statement?

Smith: "I don't know if we have that or not. We may have that already. No question that will be one of the goals, but we may have that now. I don't know. We will have to assess."

Q. What's been going on these last six weeks since your hiring? Have you been kept abreast of all of this?

Smith: "A little bit, but not a lot. Probably the primary communications have been with Susan Henderson in terms of the budget and financial affairs, looking at the organizational chart and the personnel in the department, getting background on a lot of people. People are my primary focus. You have to look at the budget, the job descriptions and things like that to understand the people who make up the organization."

Q. You discussed the basketball investigation. Do you have any insight how far along the football investigation is?

Smith: "No, I don't really know."

Q. Is there any level of excitement to be back in Ohio?

Smith: "Jacked up. I am going to run up and see my parents on Sunday at some time, which was not something I could do in Arizona. That's going to be nice. I drove up through Delaware and Marion Thursday morning and did a lot of reminiscing to be back in this part of the country. I like the agricultural environment. When I got up in that area, it was kind of cool to see open fields.

"I'm not going to lie to you – I'm not anxious to see the 30 inches of snow I heard about this past year. I love this part of the country. The trees are starting to blossom. The grass is green. I can get my wedge out and chip in the yard. I couldn't do that in the desert."

Q. Do your parents still live in Bedford?

Smith: "Cleveland, they are still there just next to Bedford in Cleveland."


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