The pair - vital to last season’s promotion to the Championship - appeared primed to stay at the AESSEAL New York Stadium as late as Wednesday morning, but the Owls swooped in with hefty financial offers that tempted them to stay in League One.
The Millers tried hard to keep both players, Smith in particular, who was made an offer that would have seen him become the club’s highest paid player.
The 30-year-old, who scored 25 goals in all competitions last season, said he would let the club know of his decision early in the summer, but the bombshell came on the eve of pre-season training.
The Millers said in a statement: “The club has been persistent in its attempts to encourage the player to sign a new deal over the summer months, making a series of contract offers which we believe were befitting of Smith's value to the team, and, whilst we are disappointed to see him move on to pastures new, we would like to thank him for his enormous contribution over the past four-and-a-half years.”
Smith was saved from the footballing scrap heap by Paul Warne in 2018 when he joined from Bury and went on to prove his worth, winning three promotions in four and a half seasons.
Ihiekew came from Tranmere in 2017 and spent much of last season captaining the Millers.
“The defender is another player who was offered improved terms with Rotherham United and has been in discussions with the club throughout the summer, but opts to pursue a new challenge,” a statement added.
“Whilst we are obviously disappointed that Michael has chosen to decline those offers, we would like to thank him for his service whilst with the club.”
The duo’s exit meant that numbers were low on the first day of pre-season training, with Conor Washington the only new signing.
The Millers will host Swansea on the opening day of the season after the 2022/23 fixtures were announced on Thursday.
They then travel to Coventry while play Sheffield United on September 10 and again on February 4 before finishing with a trip to Wigan.