Gene Smith Regrets Giving Chris Holtmann Contract Extension in 2022, Which Will Force Ohio State to Pay Holtmann $12.8 Million in Buyout Money

By Dan Hope on February 14, 2024 at 7:19 pm
Gene Smith and Chris Holtmann in 2017

Ohio State owes Chris Holtmann $12.8 million in buyout money after firing him on Wednesday. But it didn’t have to be that way.

The reason why Ohio State owes him that much money is because it chose to give Holtmann a three-year contract extension in 2022 that extended his contract through the 2027-28 season. While Holtmann didn’t even make it until the end of the second year of that contract, Ohio State still owes him the balance of more than $3 million per year for the remainder of that contract.

Holtmann’s original contract would have expired after next season, which would have left Ohio State on the hook for only about $3 million total. Instead, Ohio State is obligated to pay Holtmann more than four times that amount, though that amount could be mitigated by Holtmann’s new salary if he lands another coaching job elsewhere. 

Asked if he now regrets the decision to give Holtmann that contract extension, Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith – who said the decision to fire Holtmann was his even though incoming athletic director Ross Bjork will lead the search for the new coach – did not hedge his response.

“Of course you do,” Smith said Wednesday. “I have many regrets in my lifetime. I've been doing this a long time. If I could fix all the regrets that I have in my life, I’d fix them all. But certainly, that’s one of them.”

Holtmann’s contract extension drew immediate scrutiny when it was awarded to Holtmann in 2022, given that Ohio State had yet to make the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament under his leadership. At the time, Smith expressed a belief that Holtmann’s best years at Ohio State were ahead of him, citing an influx of young talent into the program after the Buckeyes signed the No. 8 recruiting class in the country in 2022. Results did not follow that contract extension, however, as Ohio State went just 16-19 in 2022-23 and now appears destined to miss the NCAA Tournament for the second year in a row.

“I have many regrets in my lifetime ... Certainly, that’s one of them.”– Gene Smith on giving Chris Holtmann a contract extension

That led Smith to Wednesday’s decision that it was time to abandon the long-term plan he and Holtmann had discussed when the contract extension was awarded two years ago.

“I think the young men have played hard, they've given a lot, but reality is, the body of work over this last year, I felt that they needed something different from a leadership point of view to give them that chance (to succeed),” Smith said. “While they're young, there's a lot of minutes on that floor. A lot. And so, they still have six home games and the (Big Ten) tournament, so I wanted to give them a shot. And that's what they have.”

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