Saturday, April 13, 2024

Ohio State hires Ross Bjork as AD: Ex-Texas A&M, Ole Miss administrator tapped to replace Gene Smith

Ohio State has hired Texas A&M athletic director Ross Bjork to fill the same role for the Buckeyes, the school announced Tuesday. Bjork, who has experience across the SEC, replaces longtime Buckeyes administrator Gene Smith, who announced his retirement in August 2023 after serving in the position for 18 years. Bjork will begin his tenure at Ohio State on July 1. 

“Few athletics directors have established such an impressive and strong record of success in athletics, in the classroom and throughout the community,” Ohio State president Walter “Ted” Carter Jr. said in a press release. “The bar is incredibly high at Ohio State, and we have found in Ross a highly intelligent and effective leader – not to mention a fierce competitor.”

Bjork is viewed as one of the elite fundraisers in college athletics and has overseen success at every stop. He was named an assistant athletic director for development at just 29 years old at Missouri, and he became the youngest athletic director in the FBS when he was hired at Western Kentucky in 2010. 

“I have been extraordinarily blessed to be a product of college athletics as a student athlete and fortunate to work with so many outstanding student-athletes, coaches, staff and university leaders throughout my career, and Ohio State represents the culmination of these efforts,” Bjork said in a press release. “To be a part of Buckeye Nation, along with its storied traditions and long history of achievement, is a tremendous honor and a welcome challenge for me and our family. I can’t wait to get started.”

He helped Willie Taggart turn WKU into a consistent winner before landing at Ole Miss at the outset of the Hugh Freeze era. The Rebels emerged as a national contender with Ole Miss even pulling two upsets during the regular season over vaunted SEC West rival Alabama. Bjork was hired by Texas A&M in 2019 to administrate the Jimbo Fisher era. Together, the duo helped put together an Orange Bowl season in 2020 and the No. 1 recruiting class of all time in 2022. 

However, Bjork has also overseen multiple periods of controversy during his 14-year career as an athletic director. He served in the role during the Freeze scandal and Ole Miss NCAA investigation. Freeze was ultimately fired for off-field indiscretions and the Rebels were forced to vacate 33 wins over six seasons. 

At Texas A&M, Bjork rewarded Fisher with a 10-year, $95 million fully guaranteed contract after three seasons of work. Six games into the 2023 season, Bjork and Texas A&M fired Fisher, which more than tripled the biggest buyout in the history of college football at more than $70 million. Texas A&M subsequently hired Mike Elko, Fisher’s former defensive coordinator, to lead the program. 

While Texas A&M ranks among the highest-profile athletic director jobs in the country, Ohio State has a case for No. 1. OSU ranked No. 1 in total operating revenues for the 2021-22 school year at $251 million, clearing No. 2 Texas by $12 million and ranking among one of only five athletic departments to hit even $200 million. 

Ohio State’s Smith has served in his role since 2005, overseeing one of the most successful athletic departments in the nation over his tenure, including a 2014 national championship. Smith has also produced one of the most successful trees of athletic department officials in the country. Washington State’s Pat Chun, UCLA’s Martin Jarmond and Pitt’s Heather Lyke rank among former officials who now lead major athletic departments. Ultimately, though, Ohio State appears to be looking outside that tree. 

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