"Once I had to go in to see Gene at 8 o'clock in the morning, when it happens that quickly a decision has been made," he said.
And that it had. Ohio State announced Tuesday afternoon that Markell's contract, which expired at the conclusion of this year, will not be renewed. Thus ends 15-plus seasons behind the OSU bench for the Cornwall, Ontario, native, who compiled a 280-267-56 record since taking over for Jerry Welsh midway through the 1994-95 campaign.
"We appreciate John's service to the institution but most importantly the young men he mentored," Smith said in a statement. "He is a class person with great integrity. We wish him the best as he pursues his next opportunities."
OSU was eighth in the CCHA this year with a total record of 15-18-6, losing a three-game series to rival Miami (Ohio), the CCHA champion, in the league playoffs to end its season. The Buckeyes took the RedHawks to the brink in that series, falling in the deciding game Sunday by a 2-1 score after forcing the third game with an overtime win Saturday night.
Afterward, Markell spoke glowingly about the future of the team, noting that it found its identity in the second half of the year and was poised for a successful 2010-11. The coach was hopeful he'd have the chance to skipper that team, but OSU has chosen to go another direction.
He delivered the news to his players Tuesday morning.
"I said this is part of the process that you go through in life. This is why we try to help you make good decisions because you never know what can come," Markell said. "Some of them are disappointed but they understand it's part of life and part of a hockey program.
"It's a high-profile program that they're at. I'm glad I raised it to the level that there's expectations from Ohio State, and they kind of found out the hard way that those expectations are to be met. But it's still about the crest on the front of the sweater."
This past season was the fifth straight the Buckeyes fell short of reaching the league semifinals in Joe Louis Arena. OSU started three of those years, including 2009-10, ranked in the national top 20, but the quintet of seasons yielded only one NCAA tournament appearance.
Those disappointments came after Markell put together almost all of the major accomplishments in program history. After two sub-.500 seasons to start his career, Markell led OSU on a miracle run to the 1998 Frozen Four in Boston, a program first.
That was the first of six NCAA appearances, though the Buckeyes have not won a postseason game since that Frozen Four season.
Markell was also behind the bench for the 2004 CCHA postseason championship, the Buckeyes first league title since 1972. OSU defeated Notre Dame, Miami and Michigan in a row during the dramatic weekend to lift the Mason Cup.
The next season was among the best in OSU history, as the Buckeyes won 27 games and finished runner up in both the CCHA regular season and playoffs. OSU hoped to play in the Frozen Four that year in its own building but lost a heart-breaking NCAA tournament opening game to Cornell.
OSU started the next season ranked in the national top five but instead crashed to 10th in the CCHA, starting the run of recent disappointing seasons. As the on-ice product has suffered, so has fan support; attendance bottomed out at 3,096 this season, and Markell could never be described as a popular figure among fans.
"I feel like I've done a lot of good things here and I'm feeling good about having the opportunity to touch so many peoples' lives and be a part of Ohio State hockey and the Ohio State program," Markell said. "Hopefully I left it in a better place than what it was. Obviously, it comes down to wins and losses, and I just didn't win enough."
Still, the Buckeyes excelled in the classroom, not having trouble with the NCAA APR rate and posting a grade-point average of above 3.0 last year with 12 OSU Scholar-Athletes.
Many Buckeyes have turned professional over the years – Markell protégé Ryan Kesler just stood out at the Olympics, while more recent players like Dave Steckel and Rod Pelley have become NHL regulars – and others have gone into successful careers in other fields.
"Our kids are a part of young kids' lives and we've helped develop hockey in Columbus," Markell said. "They pay attention to the rules. They're good kids. We're very proud of that in this day in age. I'm very happy to have had the opportunity to coach them and be around them."
Markell said he hopes to stay in hockey, noting there are a number of openings in college hockey. As for assistants Steve Brent and JB Bittner, both multiple-time OSU captains, and his support staff, Markell gave a vote of confidence.
"With the circumstances we had at a large institution like this, hopefully the new coach will take a look at them," he said. "There has to be some continuity with the kids that are here. I think it's very important that two ex-Buckeyes that are bleeding scarlet and gray are given every consideration to be here."
Stay tuned to BuckeyeSports.com for more as the day continues.