Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith gets contract extension

Joey Kaufman
Buckeye Xtra
Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith, here greeting fans during the Ohio State Alumni Association Buckeye Bash at the Rose Bowl in 2018, will make more than $2 million a year.

Gene Smith is receiving a four-year contract extension that would keep him in place as the athletic director at Ohio State into 2026.

The new agreement, which was obtained by The Dispatch, was approved Wednesday by a talent, compensation and governance committee of the university's board of trustees and a vote by the full board was scheduled for Thursday. It was signed in March by Smith and president Kristina M. Johnson.  

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Smith had one year remaining on his contract following a two-year extension that took effect last year. It now runs through June 30, 2026.

"It's an honor to continue to serve the flagship university in my home state," Smith wrote in a text message. "I appreciate the support of President Johnson and the Board of Trustees."

Under new terms that begin in July, Smith will make more than $2 million each year, receiving an annual base salary worth $1.58 million and supplemental compensation for media, promotion and public relations totaling $480,000.

Other benefits could add hundreds of thousands of more dollars to his income over the 2021-22 academic year.

By remaining as athletic director through June 2022, he becomes eligible for a $300,000 retention bonus and a $200,000 life insurance premium payment by the school. In July, he’s also owed a $125,000 lump sum payment.

As outlined in further provisions, he is to receive a fringe benefits allowance worth $30,000 next year and $12,000 for his wife to travel for road games. Performance bonuses are set at a maximum of $250,000.  

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During the current fiscal year that ends June 30, Smith is paid $1.47 million between his base salary and supplemental media-related compensation.

The figure includes a voluntary 5% pay cut he took last fall as a measure to help the athletic department manage significant financial losses following the coronavirus pandemic. The Buckeyes played a reduced football schedule that began in late October and permitted no fans to attend games at Ohio Stadium, leaving it without tens of thousands of dollars in revenue from ticket sales.

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As one of the veteran administrators within college sports, Smith had been the subject of speculation surrounding the Pac-12’s search to replace Larry Scott as its commissioner.

But Smith had said he was not a candidate, and the conference ultimately hired sports entertainment executive George Kliavkoff last week.

While Smith turned 65 in December and has been at the helm of the department since 2005, he has not hinted at any plans to retire.

In an interview earlier this year, he said he would remain in his role for as long as Johnson, who took over for former president Michael V. Drake last year, wanted him.

“I’ve never thought about how I'm going to retire on X date,” Smith said. “I've been blessed. I’m healthy. So I’m just going to continue to work, and if the boss wants to make a change, then I’ll respond to that.”

When the new contract ends in June 2026, Smith will be 70, and he would be the first Ohio State AD since Dick Larkins to spend more than two decades in the role. Larkins was at the helm of the department from 1947-70.

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Gov. Mike DeWine talks to Ohio State director of athletics Gene Smith and university president Kristina Johnson as he tours the COVID-19 mass vaccination facility set up at Ohio State's Schottenstein Center in Columbus on Tuesday, March 9, 2021.

In a presentation prepared for Ohio State’s board of trustees, a points of pride document highlighted some of the athletic department’s recent accomplishments during Smith’s tenure, pointing to rising graduation rates, success in football that included reaching the national championship game and increased fundraising.

Smith tapped Ryan Day to succeed Urban Meyer following the coach's retirement in 2018. In two seasons, Day is 23-2, the only losses occurring in the College Football Playoff.