COLUMBUS - The Ohio State University President Gordon Gee abruptly announced his retirement Tuesday after he came under fire for jokingly referring to "those damn Catholics" at Notre Dame and poking fun at the academic quality of other schools.
The remarks were first reported last week by The Associated Press, and Ohio State at the time called them unacceptable and said it had placed Gee on a "remediation plan" to change his behavior.
Gee, 69, said in a teleconference that the furor was only part of his decision to retire, which he said he had been considering for a while. He said his age and the start of a long-term planning process at the university were also factors.
"I live in turbulent times and I've had a lot of headwinds, and so almost every occasion, I have just moved on," he said.
Howland native and Ohio State graduate Sean Stazen said Gee will be remembered by alumni for all the good he did.
"What he said was unfortunate, for sure," Stazen said. "Certainly, the criticism of those comments were justified given the circumstances, but you look at how much better academically the school has gotten over the years and how much nicer the facilities are since he took over and those things stand out to me."
Stazen graduated in 2011 with a bachelor's degree in communications. He served as the mascot, Brutus, during sports events.
"I even met Mr. Gee a few times through being Brutus," Stazen said. "He was a really nice guy and it seemed like he was always very available. He really cares about the university.
''I feel like the impact he had on the university affects so many people in a positive way. That's the way he should be remembered," Stazen said.
Gee explained away the abrupt timing by saying he was "quirky as hell" and hated long transitions.
He also said he didn't regret the way he conducted himself as a higher education leader.
"I have regrets when I have said things that I shouldn't have said, but I have no regrets about having a sense of humor and having a thick skin and enjoying life," Gee said.
According to a recording of a Dec. 5 meeting obtained by the AP under a public records request, Gee, a Mormon, said Notre Dame was never invited to join the Big Ten athletic conference because "you just can't trust those damn Catholics."
Gee also took shots at schools in the Southeastern Conference and the University of Louisville, according to the recording of the meeting of the school's Athletic Council.
Gee apologized when the comments were disclosed, saying they were "a poor attempt at humor and entirely inappropriate."
Gee has repeatedly gotten in trouble over the years for verbal gaffes.
Ohio State trustees learned of Gee's latest remarks in January and created the remediation plan. In a March 11 letter, the trustees warned any repeat offenses could lead to his firing and ordered him to apologize to those he offended. But it appeared that several of Gee's apologies came only in the last week or so as the school prepared to respond to the AP's inquiries.
In the recording of his meeting with the Athletic Council, Gee said that the top goal of Big Ten presidents is to "make certain that we have institutions of like-minded academic integrity. So you won't see us adding Louisville." After laughter from the audience, Gee added that the Big Ten wouldn't add the University of Kentucky, either.
When asked by a questioner how to respond to SEC fans who say the Big Ten can't count because it now has 14 members, Gee said: "You tell the SEC when they can learn to read and write, then they can figure out what we're doing."
Notre Dame and the SEC had no comment on Gee's retirement.
Gee also came under fire in 2011 for some offhand remarks he made during a scandal on football coach Jim Tressel's watch. Asked whether he had considered firing Tressel, Gee said: "No, are you kidding? Let me just be very clear: I'm just hopeful the coach doesn't dismiss me."
Tressel, later forced out by the university, said in a statement Tuesday it had been an honor to work with Gee.
Before coaching at and winning a national championship for Ohio State, Tressel won four national titles at Youngstown State University.
Last year, Gee apologized for saying that coordinating the school's many divisions was like running the Polish army, a remark that a Polish-American group called bigoted.
In 1992, in a moment of frustration over higher-education funding, Gee referred to then-Gov. George Voinovich as "a damn dummy." Voinovich said Tuesday there were no hard feelings and he considered Gee one of his best friends.
Gee didn't edit himself much Tuesday during a teleconference announcing his retirement, joking about the imposition of "this damn telephone call."
"I've only got a month to ruin the university," he quipped. "I've got to get at it."
Ohio State named provost Joseph Alutto as interim president.