Mondays are an important day for Gene Smith to be on campus during football season.
Because that’s Ohio State’s day off for players, it’s a good time for Ohio State’s athletic director to spend time with the Buckeyes’ football coaches, evaluating their work and giving them feedback while assisting them with anything they might need.
During the latter half of the past two seasons, however, Smith wasn’t at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center on Mondays. Instead, he was in Grapevine, Texas, meeting with the other members of the College Football Playoff selection committee to put together each week’s CFP rankings.
With an experienced head coach in Urban Meyer, Smith could afford to be away. With a first-year head coach in Ryan Day, however, Smith decided he couldn’t.
That’s why Smith decided last week that he would step down from the College Football Playoff committee, even though he still had one year remaining in his term.
“I need to be around on Monday,” Smith told Eleven Warriors in an interview on Thursday. “I want to be around on Mondays to be available to help him whenever, whatever issues that may emerge. And hopefully not, but I need to be here for that.”
As Day goes into his debut season as Ohio State’s head coach, Smith wants Day to feel as though he is always available and accessible. As such, Smith wants Day to see his face around the Woody Hayes Athletic Center regularly and be present for Day to ask him any questions that might arise.
“He knows he can call me at any time, which he does,” Smith said. “But what I’ve always tried to do, particularly in someone’s first year, is just have a presence, where they can just grab me. And everybody creates a little list, ‘When I see Gene, I’m going to ask him these things.’ So I make it a lot easier by being in that space. Or make it a lot easier to be conscious with them around the decision they may have to make.
“With Urban after his first year, I disappeared a lot,” Smith continued. “But the reality is, I just want to be around, and be available to help not just him, but the assistants as well.”
“I want to be around on Mondays to be available to help him whenever, whatever issues that may emerge.”– Gene Smith on why he stepped down from the College Football Playoff committee
Even when he was on the playoff committee, Smith would still go into the Woody Hayes Athletic Center to see Meyer and the Buckeyes on Sundays, which he will still do with Day. But he also had to spend time on Sundays watching the games that other teams played the day before in order to be prepared for the selection committee meetings – a process that would often take up his entire Sunday mornings, even with his CFP-issued iPad through which he could watch commercial-free cutups of every game.
“My Sundays, typically in the mornings I was watching games for three-and-a-half hours that were downloaded,” Smith said. “And now it gives me the flexibility to not have that burden, to say ‘OK, they just got in, let me go and be there at the beginning,’ or players are coming in from depending upon the game time on Saturday, 11:30 to 1:30, I can go in and be there. So it’s that flexibility that I need to have just to be there.”
When Smith announced his decision to leave the playoff committee last Friday, some speculated that his departure would actually improve the Buckeyes’ chances of making the playoff in 2019. Because Smith was forced to recuse himself from all discussions that involved Ohio State, his departure allows the Buckeyes to actually have a Big Ten-affiliated representative in the room for those conversations, with Iowa athletic director Gary Barta taking Smith’s place on the committee.
It is possible that Smith’s decision to leave the committee could ultimately work in Ohio State’s favor, also because Smith will now be able to be a public advocate for the Buckeyes’ playoff case. Smith said that possibility, however, did not play a part in his decision.
“I think I was blessed to be a part of it, because of the integrity and the trust, and so that didn’t cross my mind, although I recognize that’s a logical thought,” Smith said. “That wasn’t my motivator. I may have disagreed with my colleagues, some of the things that they did, but I understand their thinking. So at the end of the day, hopefully that thought is a benefit, but that was not our rationale.”
The more time Smith is able to spend around Day and the Ohio State football team this season, the more he will be able to assess Day’s leadership and provide advice, and he believes it is important that he is able to do that.
“I’m not sure what he’s going to do, but he may have a different way he wants to run things operationally – timing of practices, different things around there – and I want to be here for him if he wants to make those changes,” Smith said. “And then I want to be here to make sure I witness those changes, and help give him feedback, so he can evaluate them.”
So far, though, Smith is liking what he’s seen from the Buckeyes’ new head coach.
“He hit recruiting with the intensity that I had hoped… he really hit it hard with the level of intensity and focus that I felt we needed,” Smith said of Day. “And really pleased with his hires, they’re all great people and great backgrounds. Bringing some new, different things to the table, which is always good.”