COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Of the tasks facing Ted Carter in his first year as Ohio State’s president, one will be watched more closely than others by Buckeyes sports fans: finding an athletic director to succeed Gene Smith.
Smith has been with Ohio State since 2005 and announced his retirement two weeks ago, effective at the end of the school year.
“I’ll just say that there really isn’t anybody that’s going to replace Gene Smith. I mean, he is arguably the most prestigious, best known, most accomplished athletic director in the country,” Carter said Tuesday at his introductory news conference. “So let’s just be clear. There is no replacing a legend like Gene Smith.”
But replacing an athletic director at a high-profile program is something Carter is experienced at.
Carter will take over at Ohio State on Jan. 1 after four years running the University of Nebraska system, including its flagship institution in Lincoln, where the Cornhuskers compete against the Buckeyes in the Big Ten.
He had been at Nebraska for 18 months when Athletic Director Bill Moos announced his retirement at the end of June 2021. Winners of multiple national championships in the 1990s, the Huskers football program had been struggling in four seasons under coach Scott Frost, going 15-29. And its most recent winning season was in 2014.
Weeks later, Carter helped introduce Trev Alberts as athletic director.
“We’re going to have a whole new view of what it means to win in this program,” Carter said then. “The culture of this program, as good as it’s been historically, as good as it even is today, is going to see a whole new rebranding with Trev Alberts as our leader.”
Alberts, perhaps most familiar to sports fans as a commentator on ESPN in the early 2000s, is a former Nebraska linebacker and had served since 2009 as athletic director at Nebraska Omaha, another school under Carter’s purview. Three games into the 2022 season, Alberts fired Frost, and he later hired former NFL coach Matt Rhule to coach the team beginning this season.
“If you go back and look at what we’ve had to do in Nebraska in the three, three-and-a-half-plus years,” Carter said, “I’ve had to let go of a football coach at the Cornhuskers, had to hire new football coach, two athletic directors — one at UNO and one at Lincoln — so, I’ve been in the talent management space for a long time.”
The situation at Ohio State will be markedly different. Under Smith, the Buckeyes won a football national championship in 2015, and he has been responsible for hiring both current football coach Ryan Day and men’s basketball coach Chris Holtmann.
Ohio State lists over 100 Big Ten team championships under Smith. Several athletics facilities have been renovated or constructed, including the football training facility and a new arena that’s home to wrestling, volleyball and other programs. And a hockey arena is in the planning stages, which might be of interest to Carter, a longtime hockey player whose callsign from his days as a Navy flight officer was “Slapshot.”
“I’m excited about the opportunity to build that new team of leadership and arguably the greatest Division I sports program of any college campus in the country,” Carter said.
Smith, who joked that the next president “might not like me” when he announced his retirement, congratulated Carter in a social media post. Smith has said he’s open to how much he’s involved in selecting his replacement.
Watch: Gene Smith on the hiring of his replacement
That person will come in as the Big Ten adds four West Coast schools: UCLA, Southern California, Oregon and Washington. Carter expressed concern over the impact that travel could have on student-athletes.
“We’re bringing in four Pac-12 teams into the Big Ten,” he said. “What an opportunity for all of our sports to get exposure across four time zones to increase our recruiting capabilities. It’s going to be difficult for some of our Olympic sports. I think the scheduling there is going to have to really be thought through.
“But in terms of, you know, what it will mean for Big Ten football, I think it’s a really exciting time.”
What isn’t immediately clear is how long it might be until Carter’s current and future schools meet again in football. Since playing in 2021, a 26-17 Ohio State win, the Buckeyes and Huskers haven’t been scheduled since, with the expansion putting a 2025 date in doubt.