OSU's Gift to Corporate Media

By Kyle Lamb on May 25, 2012 at 10:00a
62 Comments
Gene Smith opened mouth, inserted foot

When life hands you lemons, make lemonade. When Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith hands you those lemons, you hop online and blog about the bitter taste on thy tongue. 

This Wednesday, Smith gave reporters and bloggers the gift that keeps on giving in an interview with The Lantern: diarrhea of the mouth. Facing intimidating student reporter Pat Brennan, Smith managed to allow an innocuous comment turn into a tsunami of more unwanted publicity for OSU athletics. 

Such is the Midas touch of Smith. 

The latest tidal wave began last week when the Cleveland Plain Dealer found that Ohio State self-reported 46 violations in the past academic year. Smith was in the process of describing the nature of those violations, as well as 12 "pending" possible mishaps the NCAA is currently examining. The savvy Smith added a contextual goldmine by noting the violations, "may turn out to be secondary. (They) may not."

Before the virtual ink had dried on the interview, the sharks smelled blood in OSU's violation-infested waters. ESPN linked the fools gold on the front of its website. Before Brooks Melchior of Sports by Brooks fame could quickly concoct an additional twist on evil OSU athetics, Brennan had gone into full-on defense mode proactively releasing the audio of his conversation to prove he was not misquoting Smith. 

No one ever needed audio confirmation of his ineptitude, but Brennan gave it to us anyhow. 

The implication of Smith's comments was that Ohio State might be facing more major sanctions by the governing body. As it turns out, the audio confirmed Brennan wasn't in the business of being an aspiring shoddy hack, although his future with the Worldwide Leader in Sensationalizing Sports might be bright. Smith said what Brennan claimed, but in the defense of the lame duck P.R. blunder robot, he likely could have meant they might not even be violations at all. 

It's his skillful craft at making a story bigger than it is in reality as to why OSU needs to cut bait. 

The most ironic part of the Gene Smith story is that he was hired by OSU to guide the university through the complexity of ongoing NCAA sanctions in 2005. The former Arizona State AD had formerly served on the infractions committee, and allegedly his contacts within the NCAA hierarchy would keep OSU from being lined up in front of the NCAA firing squad. 

Oops.

As it turns out, either his influence was embellished or he needs to cash-in the warranty on those faulty connections. 

Head coach Jim Tressel was fired resigned last spring over the snowballing media impact of learning he had been privvy to possible violations committed by six players in a tit-for-tattoo scandal. In literal terms, the players received cash or discounted tattoos in exchange for autographs and persona memorabilia. A tipster, now known to be attorney Christopher Cicero, alerted Tressel of the players' items turning up in a raid of the apartment of then-alleged criminal, Edward Rife. 

The players had been suspended for five games in the previous December, although much to the public's chagrin, they were allowed to play in the now-vacated Sugar Bowl victory against Arkansas. A month later, the grim reaper of NCAA violations -- Yahoo! Sports -- found that Tressel knew about the possible violations and did not report them. Tressel survived the initial onslaught of unwanted attention with President E. Gordon Gee going so far to add, "I hope he doesn't fire me." 

Eventually, though, pressure mounted. SI's George Dohrmann published a stunning exposé on Tressel rigging ticket raffles and preaching the Gospel from his ringside seat in baby-snatching. The non-revelations from the Pulitzer-winning author, though, was enough for OSU to part ways with the man that Dohrmann concluded could not part the Red Sea. 

Tressel was a victim, in part, of Smith's verbal machinations

Tressel was out. Eventually, Urban Meyer was in.

Unfortunately, one can't even really give Smith too much credit for the hiring of Meyer as he was mostly a figurehead (reportedly). Smith's contribution to the hiring of Meyer consisted of signing a dotted line, showing up at the press conference and memorizing a rehearsed timeframe for when contact was [allegedly] first made. It was a simple task that even Smith could not screw up. The deal had been put together by OSU trustees and couriers, most especially billionaire Leslie Wexner.

OSU returned monies generated from the Sugar Bowl appearance and imposed scholarship restrictions in hopes the NCAA would not punish them further. That appeared as if it was going to work, until they were slapped with an additional Failure to Monitor charge by the NCAA in November on account of $2,405 in impermissible benefits provided to athletes by ex-booster Robert DeGeronimo. Smith and Ohio State procrastinated with their response to the NCAA on the allegations, causing the entire timetable of the simultaneous case to push late into the football season.

It was at that time Smith needed to hedge his bets and self-impose a bowl ban for the 2011 season while there was still time. Instead, he relied on his keen intuition and impeccable sources within the NCAA expecting OSU would be in the clear. This was in spite of some experts believing a bowl ban was at best a coin flip, if not a mathematical probability. 

Smiths' game of roulette backfired. Ohio State suffered a self-inflicted gunshot wound and was given a bowl ban in December. Because it was so late in the process, the penalty would not be enforced until this upcoming season. 

When Urban dons the Scarlet windbreaker for the first time this fall, he'll do so without any hope of a postseason appearance. 

While blaming Smith is as fashionable as blaming ESPN, the Illuminati or Kim Kardashian, it's hard not to justify doing so. He has an ability to urinate into a brush fire with gasoline and turn it into a raging forest inferno. Major universities, not unlike major corporations, are supposed to have gifted spokespersons capable of downplaying and minimizing a public relations nightmare. Instead, Ohio State has people skilled at turning an ordinary daydream into a such a nightmare. 

To this day, some levy allegations that Tressel fell on a sword to protect Ohio State; namely Smith and higher-ups in the athletic department knew of the allegations well before they were ever made public. Such allegations would be damning and it implies severe institutional culpability. Fortunately for Ohio State, no such insinuation has ever been substantiated. Nonetheless, either on purpose or by accident, Smith shares a large portion of blame in this mess. 

Perhaps that he still has a job is an indictment that he knows where the bodies are buried. Maybe Gee just hopes Smith doesn't fire him either. Whatever the reason for his continued employment, OSU is losing a daily battle against public perception. As long as perception is reality, Smith is turning into a flesh-eating virus and is helping create what he was hired to avoid. 

When seasoned spin doctors of the national media manipulate a story, one can understand if Smith is seen as a victim. After all, the press can be a vindictive, hungry pack of wild animals. But when student reporters begin to create mountains out of molehills, it's clear Smith is overmatched. Teenagers aren't supposed to take down the AD of the second-largest athletic budget in America. 

Things will only get worse before they get better. As long as Ohio State is a nationally recognizable brand and moving target, they'll be in perpetual state of despair. In a world where social media is ready to prey on its next victim with any minor snafu, OSU needs an athletic director that can minimize the damage rather than add to it. This latest blunder is proof positive that the smallest misstep can turn into a mishap of gargantual proportions. 

It's too late for Tressel. It's too late for Meyer at least for this season. And no matter what OSU does going forward, it cannot undo the last 18 months of relentless media scrutiny. That's not to say Ohio State is without recourse.

Looks like it's time to dose the lemonade with cyanide. 

62 Comments

Comments

mharding's picture

Does tOSU not media train its leaders? It's a simple process. Question is asked. You respond with a statement, provide evidence, wrap with a conclusion, and then be silent. Until the next question. Mr. Smith seems to be unaware of this approach or incompetent when he attempts to practice it. Neither situation is acceptable.

LABuckeye's picture

Smith wouldn't make it very far in politics. In a job like his, you either have to keep your mouth shut or fully and clearly explain what you are saying. He has a penchant for partially saying things, which leaves what he says open to interpretation and causes speculation to run rampant. 

OSUBias's picture

Someone in a different forum yesterday said something along the lines of "you can't fire him for secondary violations". I submit this work as the response to why he can be (SHOULD BE) fired.
He also deftly sidestepped any responsibility in some shady business at ASU while he was there (i believe some violations along with a football related murder that they were pretty negligent to the leadup to: handily enough he "was not informed of" the situation by the head coach. Color me skeptical/cynical that he's telling the truth in both of these cases.
Honestly the only reason to give him the benefit of the doubt was that he hired Meyer, who was really the only person on earth buckeye nation would have tolerated as the head coach. Now that he apparently didn't have much to do with that, let's just cut our losses and move on. This guy is overmatched.
If we're going to keep him (please no), can't we at least get a press secretary to handle any/all media interaction? Or some duct tape to further muffle the mumbled, mindless drivel?

Shitter's full

Heartless_Scarlet_Army's picture

I see this as an honest mistake made by GS. I dont think he expected his words were going to blow up the way they did. If we are going to start firing people for freudian slips, we would have to fire our boy Gee also.

tennbuckeye19's picture

Yes, firing him for this incident alone would be silly.
But, given the mounting evidence of his lack of competency for his job, as outlined in this piece, it certainly makes me (and many others) wonder how Geno is still OSU's AD.

Heartless_Scarlet_Army's picture

I wonder that also. But IMO (just mine). I think he handled tatgate the best an AD could of handled that shitstorm. Yea we got a bowl ban (so what), but it could of been so much worse if he stuck with coach tress. Now we got coach Urbz and looking at a 2nd straight top 10 recuiting class along with a talented young group of current Buckeyes. Just keep Gene from speaking to the media and all will be fine.

tennbuckeye19's picture

I'm actually not advocating firing the guy. I am just wondering how he is still employed. Schools have fired AD's for much less. 

ThirdLegLouie's picture

Actually, we're looking at a third straight top 10 recruiting class. 
And on GS- there's no way you could read this article and still think "he handled tatgate the best an AD could". He was slow in his response to the situation, expecting things to sort of die down when BAM (SI article), he was slow to respond to FTM charge, and he was terrible in anticipating the consequences (bowl ban). The FTM charge would NOT have happened with any good AD because the program would have been in lock down mode after tatgate. GS did absolutely nothing well. 

If you ain't a Silver Bullet, you're a target

 
Ramzy Nasrallah's picture

Gene knows where all the bodies are buried. He could show up pantsless to a press conference and keep his job. Tressel had teflon; Gene is bulletproof.

Also, that's a photo of Gene Smith, Arizona State AD - when Ohio State had Andy Geiger (sigh). I see what you did there, Kyle.

flipbuckeye's picture

Great read. That is all.

Riggins's picture

I think Smith can do better too, but the media is absolutely ridiculous. 
I personally think it was shitty journalism.  In the media's frantic rush for pageviews, they lacked the integrity to ask the single f------ question for clarity that would have stopped the whole thing.  They didn't ask a follow-up question to clarify what Smith meant because they didn't want to know.  Nothing sells like even the slightest possibillity of scandal. Nothing sells like Ohio State.  They were ecstatic with the ambiguous answer because they knew they could run with it. It's sad that today's 24-hour media is more concerned about being first than being right. 

pcon258's picture

one of my biggest issues with smith is that he tried to pretend he didnt actually say "they might be secondary." he claimed it was falsely attributed. props to pat brennan (who btw is a great writer, if this site could poach him from the lantern haha) for releasing the audio with both his middle fingers up

rdubs's picture

As his lone supporter left... <insert obligatory comment about how Gene Smith is the best AD in the country>
See numerous other threads for supporting documentation.

FLAMikey's picture

"No one ever needed audio confirmation of his ineptitude, but Brennan gave it to us anyhow"
-Classic!
Smith continues to solidify his status as a highly compensated a-clown.

RBuck's picture

I think when it gets to the point where Meyer wants him gone, he'll be gone.

"It's just another case of there you are". ~ Doc (1918-2012)

Heartless_Scarlet_Army's picture

STOP GIVING INTERVIEWS TO THE LANTERN PLZZ.

phxbuck's picture

I refuse to ever believe that Jim Tressel was a victim of anything. 

Poe McKnoe's picture

Tit-for-tattoo
...Who got the tattoos and who got the tits?

Kyle Lamb's picture

I'd answer that, Poe, but this is a family-oriented site ;)

 

RedStorm45's picture

This obviously got blown out of proportion.  Smith could have easily clarified secondary violation or no violations at all.  The Lantern could have asked for clarification before publishing.  After that, you can't really blame ESPN or Yahoo for picking up the story.  Now, they will of course duck any kind of retraction or take the blame, instead they just add on to their article.
I was fine with Gene staying through the handing down of the sanctions.  It doesn't make a lot of sense to fire an AD partway through an NCAA investigation.  That said, his continual defiance of the NCAA (we don't anticipate a bowl ban, there is no precedent, etc.) was stupid and his botching of the Bobby D stuff was horrible.  Did he forget we were repeat offenders in the eyes of the NCAA?  He is a PR nightmare and handled the major violations poorly, at best.

baddogmaine's picture

Smith wasn't simply commenting on violations by others, he was commenting on a video he made with Archie Griffin, a video that is not a non-violation and as something the AD participated in might anger the NCAA.
The bowl ban debacle is no laughing matter, either.

It was at that time Smith needed to hedge his bets and self-impose a bowl ban for the 2011 season while there was still time. Instead, he relied on his keen intuition and impeccable sources within the NCAA expecting OSU would be in the clear. This was in spite of some experts believing a bowl ban was at best a coin flip, if not a mathematical probability.

Some few of us were saying this last year. 11W was playing it both ways, with too many (as I recall) defending Smith on the "we don't really know what might happen" theory. Yes, we did, as Kyle only now states clearly. We had a choice between mybe going 7-6 and maybe giving Meyer a chance to shoiw off for a national audience in his first year. Ending up 6-7 was absolutely the wrong option in that situation. And Smith should have known it.
Smith is over his head. He is in one of the most demanding athletic positions in the country and he just isn't up to it. OSU has too much at stake financially to let someone unqualified remain in charge. Unless the university wants to have to continue trying to malke the best of bad situations it needs to find someone who wants to work 16 hours a day for the scarlet and gray. This is not like coaching where few Meyers exist - ADing is paying attention to technical details and making sure everyone else does too. Such people  are around, and it is time OSU started looking for one
 

741's picture

I think it was lazy of Brennan to not ask for clarification, and instead run with a story implying that some of the pending violations could be primary, not secondary. I view this as tabloid style reporting from a student newspaper. Sorry to be critical of a Buckeye, he is probably a nice guy, but there are enough lazy journalists on the planet - do better.
That said, I am not a Gene Smith apologist.

Kyle Lamb's picture

It's possible Brennan just didn't consider the other possible meaning of Smith's comment. He probably automatically assumed it could be major violations without considering it might be the opposite. 

I'll give him the benefit of the doubt, I suppose, that he just didn't think about it rather than purposely wanting to create controversy. 

Heartless_Scarlet_Army's picture

Well that would make Brennan an incompetent writer.

741's picture

In either case, when you are responsible for putting a story out there on the "official" record, one would think clarification ought to rank higher than assumption. (Note: I am not a journalist, and did not take any journalism classes in college, but I hope somewhere people are being taught to get things right rather than just be first.)

Kyle Lamb's picture

I don't disagree with you, at least mostly, but keep in mind he's still in school. There's an art to interviewing people and sometimes it comes with experience. This wasn't a grave mistake; wasn't one that was an issue of integrity. He certainly could have, perhaps even should have sought clarification, but we do have to remember he's not even out of school. The reason he's with the lantern is because he's still being taught these things. 

 

741's picture

Agreed. I'd say his editor(s) at The Lantern share some responsibility for the lack of clarification. The audio clip the editor uses to "stand by the story" is not 100% clear - the question should have been asked.
(Incidentally, his conversation reminds me how great The Wire - Season 5 was.)

Riggins's picture

Possible that he didn't consider the alternative?  Possible?
---------
From Lantern article:
Smith told The Lantern Tuesday the athletic department has 12 pending NCAA violations, and he doesn’t know if they will be deemed primary or secondary violations.
“We’ve got 12 pending,” Smith said. “It may turn out to be secondary. It may not.”
--------
He took a right on Assumption Street and headed straight for Scandal Boulevard.  Smith says nothing in that quote about primary violations.  That is 100% Brennan assuming.  A reporters job isn't to assume.  It's to report.  Whether he's still in school or not, that's journalism 101.  Hopefully he has learned his lesson, and in the future can control the erection he had for this "potential primary violations" scoop.  Unless he is trying to pad his resume for ESPN...

sir rickithda3rd's picture

Gene Smith should be gone. I said it in a Forum. Furthermore, Ive been killed for saying it before but I woulda fired Gee as well. I know he raises alot of money and is good at what he does etc. However, a university cant have people like Gee and Smith representing a university. I know car salesman who are better at answering questions than these guys.

mark may wins douchebag of the year... again

Heartless_Scarlet_Army's picture

Who would you hire as an improvement over Gee and Smith? 

William's picture

>Wants to fire the best university president in the nation.
>No valid reason for doing so.
>Mfw.

ThirdLegLouie's picture

No, you can have Gee at your institution because he's "good at what he does", as you said. I would even go further and say he's great at what he does. Gene Smith, on the other hand, isn't. HUGE difference. 

If you ain't a Silver Bullet, you're a target

 
rdubs's picture

Gene Smith is great at what he does.  Just look at our athletic program.  It is the best in the country and it didn't get there by accident.

tankman's picture

Finally calling for Gene to be fired.  Its long overdue after the JT/Pryor mess.  OSU and NCAA violations is like saying Scarlet and Grey, they just go together.  And I can't even blame ESPN or the "media" anymore. 
 

Heartless_Scarlet_Army's picture

Because they shouldn't have to get their fact straight before they run a story?

tankman's picture

What exactly did ESPN change-up from the The Lantern story?  I'm anxious to see that.
 

ThirdLegLouie's picture

You can't find any fault in ESPN putting this garbage/non-story on their home page?!?!?!?! 

If you ain't a Silver Bullet, you're a target

 
tankman's picture

No I can't.  Here's another story on the front page "Sandusky found charity eyes ok to close"  SO WHAT!!  Is this front page SPORTS news???  NO.  OSU violations (smalll or not) dug up by OSU reporters or student reporters is news.  Why do folks wanna blame the media b/c they reprint stories someone else wrote???

OSUBias's picture

@Heartless, I see a defense of Smith in your comments. I'm just curious (not trying to start an argument/fight) to hear your case for why he's not to blame for some of this stuff.
I think you can make the case that this journalist should have asked a follow up, but the onus isn't on him to help clarify the remarks, because they're not his remarks. Smith should have known as soon as those words came out he needed to clarify them. And while this in and of itself  is a "no big deal" story, it's just the latest in a recurring theme of his casual handling of matters that nobody associated with this university's athletic department should think of as casual. Considering the colossal PR failure that this whole scandal produced, and considering the widely held belief that his largest strength as an AD candidate was the ability and experience to successfully guide us through the last round of sanctions from the basketball program, it seems like he's failed pretty mightily at that task. I understand the violations weren't his doing, but they, and the coverup, and the routine PR mishandling did occur on his watch. So, I'm asking, what are the strengths he brings to the table to offset that? I'm really looking for information, not a fight. Maybe he does great things that I'm overlooking.
As to who should replace him, I think we'd pretty much have our pick of the litter from the rest of the AD's in the country. This is a dream job for any athletic director.

Shitter's full

ThirdLegLouie's picture

Could someone on the 11W staff please right another story so that Gene Smith's picture isn't the first thing I see on the home page? Thanks in advance!

If you ain't a Silver Bullet, you're a target

 
Kyle Lamb's picture

I guess now is not the time for me to serenade you with James Taylor's "Whenever I See Your Smiling Face."

ThirdLegLouie's picture

Actually, I'd be okay with a little JT. +1

If you ain't a Silver Bullet, you're a target

 
tankman's picture

Pretending this isn't a problem is what got us a bowl ban and a few less schollies.

rampageripster's picture

This is ridiculous to think we should fire Gene...  We are in a great time for OSU athletics.  The number of teams that are making deep runs in their respective NCAA tournaments is incredibly high.  The number of national championships we have won during his tenure is prett great.  He has  made some FANTASTIC hires on all levels (hockey and women's vball are two that stick out to me and the new hires have completely turned around the programs).  Heck, he just hired Urban fucking Meyer.  Plus we are making more money than ever and have drastically improved, and have major plans to further improve, our athletic facilities.  Our graduation rate and student-athlete gpa are top notch.
I know that football is the focus of this department and is really all that a majority of our fanbase cares about.  Could he have handled tat-gate better?  Hell yes.  Did he, in the end, make a VERY difficult decision in letting go a HoF quality coach?  Yes.  Did he then make the best possible hire to replace him?  HELL YES.  He may have a bit of a talent of getting bad quotes out there, but Gene has done a fantastic job overall during his time here.
And lastly, if I see another moron say that President Gee should be let go I might have to slap the [mark may] out of them.  Just pure idiocy there.

Cause I couldn't go for three

jenks's picture

This. I also like the addendum regarding Gee.

Pam's picture

Totally agree, especially with regards to Gee.

rdubs's picture

There aren't many of us left, we're more endangered than the polar bears...

rampageripster's picture

It's because people are shortsighted and can't see the rest of the forest through the trees (the rest of the athletic dept through football)

Cause I couldn't go for three

William's picture

All I care about is sum footbaw. 

yrro's picture

I'd actually be pretty happy to see him go regardless of his mis-handling of the Tressel mess and the current bowl ban.
Dude has not respect for OSU tradition or fanbase. It was pulling teeth to get him to go along with making an actual student section for basketball. He doesn't want to send the band along with the football team half of the time (there was at least one game Tressel's last season where they would have had to stay home if Tressel hadn't pushed for them to be able to come - because he knows they help pump the team up in tough games). He wants the Schott to be a pro arena, not a college atmosphere with a band and students. There is zero support for the Best Damn Band in the Land coming out of Smith's office.
At every turn, his preference is for more of a pro-style atmosphere, rather than pro-student and pro-college tradition. And I strongly disagree with that.

Pam's picture

No respect for OSU history? Whose idea do you think it was to put the Woody Hayes banner in the 'Shoe?
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Pam's picture

When the football team went to LA to play rsin '08  they did not take the band because it cost $250K to send the team.  How much do you think it would have cost to send 200+ band members? 

jenks's picture

I still submit that his job isn't to be a marketing or PR person. I think his work as an AD has been great, his work as a frontman not so much.  However, OSU's primary concern isn't selling a product (the fans are always going to love and the haters are alway going to hate).  I sincerely doubt anyone else could have performed better given what happened.

TheHannimal's picture

This is The Ohio State University, we don't need to keep dead weight around.  Surely after the past year or so Gene has proven he needs to go.  You cannot have a huge entity embarassed like we were during your watch, whether you were directly involved or not. Ignorance of the law is no excuse. We spent months being embarassed daily and cringing every time we logged on to a news site.  Again, this is Ohio State and surely there are some crafty and savvy ADs out there who can add a touch of class and media sense to this great institution.  Top talents would love to get their hands on such a powerful entity as OSU athletics.  We do not need to settle for Gene.  He was lucky Urban fell into his lap and bought him some more time...but in my book, he melted his own thin ice after his publicly botched press shenanigan last summer.
 
 

RedStorm45's picture

"This is an isolated incident."  State, move on, repeat.
"There is no precedent for a bowl ban" except for the part that we were repeat offenders.
"This is isolated, there is nothing else." How many times before he gives this up?
 
I'd say at least 75% of buckeye fans I've talked to over the last year want Smith gone.  He got us through (and botched) the NCAA violations and sanctions.  He's really one of the only remaining people left from the scandal.

JLP36's picture

Gene Smith, the great Crisis Intensification Manager, long ago proved that he should be fired for incompetence.  This last incident is just him reminding everyone that he is also just plain stupid - even when handling the easy part of his job.  Only he could turn an interview with his own school's paper into a raging wildfire - without any actual fuel!

JLP36

FLAMikey's picture

Gene Smith, CIM
Yes, JLP36 you have given Gene a title that he has truly earned.
 
 

buckeyedude's picture

I guess it's Ok when Gee puts his foot in his mouth?
Smith & Gee. Frick and Frack.
Update: but they're OUR Frick and Frack.

 

 

Poison nuts's picture

The writer could/should have done better. 
Gene Smith could/should have done better.
If only either one of them was just competent at their respective jobs - I wouldn't have spent a whole night biting my nails. The story threw the fear of God into me...
I didn't even know the story had made national news but now I get why old shit for brains Mark May sent out that ridiculous tweet.

"Death created time to grow the things that it would kill" - Detective Rustin Cohle.

WoodysGlasses's picture

It is truly incredible that some people still defend Smith.