When you think of NFL coaches, you undoubtedly think of men, mostly because until this week, there were no female full time coaches in the league. But that is changing. After being promoted by the Buffalo Bills, Kathryn Smith is the first full-time NFL coach. And just like that, history is made.
As the Bills announced on Wednesday, Smith will be the new special-teams quality control coach, meaning she'll be responsible primarily for analyzing and breaking down film and data. However, quality control coaches also do coach players by occasionally running "scout" team practices. And because the role provides coaches with a lot of expertise in scouting, video, and NFL personnel department, the job can be great job training for a potential Head Coach. Which is perhaps even more encouraging, though the first female Head Coach in the NFL is likely still a long way off.
Smith will be replacing former NFL safety Michael Hamlin after the Bills announced earlier this month that they would not be extending his contract.
The NFL has not been known of late for their woman-friendly policies. Following the indictment of Ray Rice on charges of third-degree aggravated assault against his then-girlfriend, Janay Palmer, the NFL faced intense criticism for its attitude towards domestic violence, particularly when Rice received only a two-game suspension. (The charges against Rice were later dismissed.) Since then, the organization has tried to revamp their domestic violence policies, but criticism has still followed. Plus, of course, most jobs in the NFL, from the players and officials through league commissioner, remain dominates heavily by men.
However, more and more women have been blazing trails in the NFL recently, too. Last year alone, we saw Sarah Thomas become the first female full-time official, Beth Mowins call an Oakland Raiders game, and Jen Welter become the first woman NFL coach. And now Kathryn Smith is the first full-time woman coach in the league.
Obviously, this is a big moment for the status of women in the NFL and in professional sports in general. However, it's also a well-deserved job for one particular woman who has worked for the NFL for over a decade. In honor of the occasion, here are six things to know about Kathryn Smith and her new job — because this is definitely something to celebrate.
1. She Started As An Intern For The Jets
Smith began her NFL career serving as a special events intern with the New York Jets in 2003 while still in college. She was a college scouting intern in 2005, and then went to work for the Jets organization full time as a personnel assistant after graduating school in 2007.
2. She's Worked For Both The Jets And The Bills
After graduating in 2007, Smith worked for the New York Jets for almost seven years as a personnel assistant before becoming the assistant to the Jets' head coach, Rex Ryan. After Ryan moved to the Bills in 2014, Smith went with him, acting as administrative assistant before her new promotion.
3. The Promotion Was Partly Inspired by Becky Hammon
Rex Ryan told NPR that his decision to promote Smith was partly inspired by Becky Hammon, an assistant NBA coach who became the first woman to act as an NBA coach when she took over a summer league team last year. Rex also says he consulted with the coach who hired Jen Welter last summer. Just goes to show that regardless of the team or the league, women making waves in one corner of the sports world has an impact for women all over.
4. This Isn't The First Time The Bills Have Been Ahead Of Their Time
The first female scout in the NFL was Linda Bogdan, the daughter of former owner Ralph Wilson, who later went on to serve as a vice president.
5. Smith Has Lots Of Support from the Bills Organization
Head Coach Ryan Rex said in a statement:
Kathryn Smith has done an outstanding job in the seven years that she has worked with our staff. She certainly deserves this promotion based on her knowledge and strong commitment, just to name a couple of her outstanding qualities, and I just know she’s going to do a great job serving in the role of Quality Control-Special Teams. ... She has proven that she’s ready for the next step, so I’m excited and proud for her with this opportunity.
And several of the players also publicly congratulated her on Twitter.
So it seems that the Bills are happy to have her on board. Which is also huge — the NFL as a whole hasn't been very welcoming to women so far, but it's great to see that at least one team is eager to have women advance in the organization.
So congratulations to Kathryn Smith!