Ohio State could replace Gene Smith by hiring one of his former assistants.
A source close to Ohio State told Eleven Warriors on Wednesday that Washington State athletic director Pat Chun, who previously worked for the Ohio State athletic department from 1997 to 2012, is a frontrunner to succeed Smith as Ohio State’s new athletic director when Smith retires at the end of June 2024.
Chun would bring over a decade of experience as a Division I athletic director to Ohio State, as he was the athletic director at Florida Atlantic for six years before becoming the AD at Washington State in 2018. He’s also an Ohio State graduate who grew up in Strongsville, Ohio, so it stands to reason that he would be interested in returning to his home state to lead his alma mater’s athletic department.
Chun isn’t the only former assistant of Smith who could theoretically be a candidate to return to Ohio State after leading an athletic department elsewhere. Heather Lyke also worked in Ohio State’s athletic department for 15 years before becoming the athletic director at Eastern Michigan in 2013 and has been the athletic director at Pittsburgh since 2017. Martin Jarmond worked alongside Smith at Ohio State for eight years before becoming the athletic director at Boston College in 2017 and has been the athletic director at UCLA since 2020.
Diana Sabau, who worked at Ohio State for more than two decades before becoming the Big Ten’s deputy commissioner and chief sports officer in 2021, is now the athletic director at Utah State – though she might be a less likely candidate given that Utah State hired her on Monday. TJ Shelton, who worked alongside Smith for 14 years at Ohio State, has been the athletic director at Case Western Reserve since January 2022. However, it's more likely Ohio State will pursue a candidate with experience leading a Division I athletic department.
By bringing in an athletic director who has already worked for Ohio State and worked alongside Smith, OSU could potentially ensure a smoother transition from the current regime to the next. Given Ohio State's success across a wide variety of sports, it’s likely that Ohio State will favor continuity over radical change in choosing Smith’s successor.
That decision, however, will ultimately be made by Ohio State’s new president. The university has not yet named its replacement for Kristina Johnson, who announced in November that she would resign at the end of this past academic year. An Ohio State spokesperson told Eleven Warriors on Wednesday that the search “is progressing according to schedule” but did not specify a timeline for when the next president could be named, though Ohio State’s Board of Trustees is scheduled to hold its next quarterly meeting next week.
While Smith says he will look to connect with the new president as quickly as possible once a hire is made to give his input on what the new president should be looking for in a new athletic director, Smith said he would not try to steer the new president into hiring a specific candidate unless he is asked for his opinion.
“It depends on the person and how my connection with them occurs,” Smith told Eleven Warriors. “It would be easy to talk about the characteristics, but I'm not going to strap them with the burden of a name unless they ask me or provide me that opportunity. They need to make their own decision.”
With nearly 11 months left in his Ohio State tenure, Smith says he will do everything to help facilitate a smooth transition to the next athletic director. That’s a big reason why he announced his decision on Wednesday, even though he’ll still be on the job for another full academic year.
“I just feel comfortable that this team and this culture and everything is right for a new leader, a transition in and not have a whole lot of bumps,” Smith said. “I've always wanted to leave a place better than I found it. But I also want to leave a place that, when the next person comes in, gives them a chance to transition in as smooth as possible. And they now have that ability with this team.”