As Ross Bjork gets acclimated, Ohio State's Gene Smith still the boss until July

There is obviously a lot on Ross Bjork’s plate for the coming months. Announced Tuesday and publicly introduced Wednesday as Ohio State’s new athletic director, Bjork has a six-month runway leading him into his official first day on the job.

That won’t come until July 1. In the interim, as the Buckeyes work Bjork into the fold and celebrate the 19-year tenure of outgoing athletic director Gene Smith, president Ted Carter stood at a podium inside the Covelli Center and drew a clear distinction. While Bjork will soon be around with more regularity, it won’t be the Texas A&M athletic director making any decisions for the Buckeyes until he officially shoulders the title this summer.

Between now and then, those responsibilities remain vested with Smith.

“Ross will be learning from Gene, learning all the details and ropes and complexities of what we’re going to be doing here,” Carter said. “I’m looking forward to having them both here. They’re going to make a great team, but Gene will still be the boss until he steps away.”

From his seat in the crowd, Smith joked, “Any good decision is mine, and any bad decision is his.”

There are formal steps to be taken before Bjork officially joins Ohio State. He’s still currently the boss for the Aggies. Ohio State’s board of trustees will have to formally approve his hiring in February. Wednesday, Bjork said he’ll be a more visible presence around the university starting around March 1.

The goals for the next few months are to get to know the university, Bjork said, from taking a full tour to see minute details of each facility to meeting with every coach and staff member. In men’s basketball, that process began Tuesday when Bjork said he first spoke with coach Chris Holtmann. The two then met face-to-face the following morning, before his noon press conference.

“He seemed like a great guy,” Bjork said. “Seems like he’s doing a great job. Obviously don’t like losing that game on Monday (at Michigan). We talked about how does he build chemistry and culture on the stretch run? You’ve got basically two and a half months left in the regular season, and I know he’s looking to finish strong.”

In his seventh season with the Buckeyes, Holtmann is also in the second year of a contract extension signed during the summer of 2022 that will keep him at Ohio State through 2027-28. In addition to adding more years to a contract that ran through 2024-25, the new agreement increased the financial penalty should either side want to change course. And if Ohio State wanted to fire Holtmann, it would owe him the remaining balance on his contract, a figure that would be roughly $20 million through the 2023-24 academic year.

Under Holtmann, Ohio State is 135-80 (.628). He was named Big Ten coach of the year in 2017-18, his first season, and reached the NCAA Tournament in each of his first six seasons (Ohio State would have made the canceled 2020 tournament) before going 16-19 in 2022-23 and missing out on the postseason. The Buckeyes are 12-5 this year, 2-4 in the Big Ten and will host Penn State on Saturday while saddled with a three-game losing streak.

Jan 17, 2024; Columbus, OH, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes football coach Ryan Day talks to basketball coach Chris Holtmann prior to a press conference to name Ross Bjork the university’s new athletic director at the Covelli Center.
Jan 17, 2024; Columbus, OH, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes football coach Ryan Day talks to basketball coach Chris Holtmann prior to a press conference to name Ross Bjork the university’s new athletic director at the Covelli Center.

Holtmann and associate head coach Jake Diebler were in attendance for the press conference, as was football coach Ryan Day.

“He’s following a legendary figure in his field in Gene Smith and I know he’s excited to get to work,” Holtmann told The Dispatch. “I’ve enjoyed our conversations since he arrived this week and look forward to getting to know him better. Ross’ reputation around fundraising and work in the NIL space is outstanding and we are excited to have him here.”

In hiring Bjork, Carter said there were three primary attributes he was concerned with. He was looking for someone who could lead in a complex space, someone who could understand the “ever-changing landscape” of college athletics and someone who, in a Big Ten swelling to 18 members next year, “could carry the true weight of The Ohio State University” in league meetings.

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Bjork said he will learn a lot from Smith about the culture at Ohio State before starting to start making any sort of big-time decisions within the athletic department. Atop his to-do list is getting to know the people who will be working for him and also studying contracts, from those with coaches and personnel to media and Nike agreements.

“Luckily I don’t have to make the key decisions, the day-to-day decisions (for a while),” he said. “I can really, really soak myself in and learn about this place. There will be a lot of studying, but it’s all going to be about interaction with people.”

One thing Bjork said he does know, though, is what his expectations are for coaches, specifically when asked about the football and men’s basketball programs. While there’s an understanding that teams should be in the mix and recognizing that the margins for victory can be slim, victories are critical to Bjork.

“You want to win championships,” he said. “That should be the expectation. Again, this is not for the faint of heart. Be not afraid, so we will not be afraid of embracing that. The coaches understand the magnitude of all of that, so they have to have the wherewithal – the chops. They have to have the chops to deal in that environment, to understand the dynamics, but that’s Ohio State. That should be the standard.”


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This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Until Ross Bjork starts in July, Gene Smith still Ohio State's leader