Columbus Crew investor-operator Lamar Hunt announced Tuesday that team president and general manager, Jim Smith, will be leaving the organization on July 9 for a front office position with the Atlanta Falcons of the National Football League.
Smith came to the Crew from The Ohio State University in January of 2000, one season after the opening of the Columbus Crew Stadium. His tenure included recognition as the 2001 MLS Executive of the Year and the team's winning of the 2002 U.S. Open Cup title.
Hunt, whose family company, Hunt Sports Group (HSG), is the lead investor in the Crew said, "My family and the extensive group of local Columbus Crew investors want to thank Jim for his 4 1/2 years of leadership he brought to the organization. Jim enhanced the tradition and visibility of the Columbus Crew organization in the community. The Crew and the City of Columbus will miss his presence."
John Wagner, president of HSG, said, "We will miss Jim as he not only was a fine leader for the Crew organization, but he is also a good friend and respected business colleague. We all wish Jim success in his new location."
"First and foremost, I would like to thank Lamar and Clark Hunt and John Wagner for their unwavering support of both me and the Crew organization throughout the last four-and-a-half seasons," said Smith. "It is their vision and commitment to growing the sport of soccer that has been my inspiration for making the Crew professional soccer's model franchise."
As a result of Smith's departure, Wagner announced that Mark McCullers will become the interim general manager of the organization. Wagner said, "Fortunately, we have in Mark McCullers a man who can immediately step in and manage the organization in a seamless fashion." Any player personnel decisions will be made by Crew head coach Greg Andrulis, in consultation with Hunt Sports Group.
McCullers has been with the Crew organization since December 1998 and played an integral part in the development and construction of America's first soccer-specific stadium -- Columbus Crew Stadium, which opened May 1999.
McCullers will continue as general manager of Crew Stadium where he has spearheaded such memorable events as the 2003 FIFA Women's World Cup, three U.S. national team World Cup Qualifying games against Costa Rico, Mexico, and Grenada, 2001 and 2003 NCAA College Cup Championships, and numerous other special events.
Wagner concluded by saying that McCullers will definitely be considered and interviewed as a candidate for the general manager position and that the organization plans to announce a full-time replacement by the end of the 2004 season.