The crystallizing moment, the one that did the most to convince Rex Ryan that Kathryn Smith “could really do this,” came in 2014.
Ryan was in his final season as coach of the New York Jets. Smith was his administrative assistant that year, the same role she held when Ryan became the Buffalo Bills’ coach in 2015. She was listening to an exchange between Ryan and his defensive coordinator, Dennis Thurman, about a “unique pressure” involving three defenders that Ryan had remembered an upcoming opponent using for one play in 2012.
“And Kathryn goes, ‘Well, Rex, we can get that up (from a video archive). We’ll call it up on their sacks,’” Ryan recalled Friday. “I said, ‘No, it wasn’t a sack.’ So I left it at that. I go out to practice, I come back in off the practice field and she has this thing already drawn up and put it on my TV screen. And she goes, ‘I believe this is the play you were referring to.’
“And I (said), ‘Oh, my goodness!’”
On Wednesday, the Bills made history by making Smith the first full-time female coach in NFL history when she was promoted to the role of quality control-special teams. The entry level position is, as Ryan pointed out, “thankless,” because of the endless hours of watching video of games and practices it entails.
However, it’s that relentlessness and keen eye that makes Smith perfect for the job.
Ryan said that Smith had additionally proven her readiness with previous work she had done with Bills special-teams coordinator Danny Crossman and assistant special-teams coach Eric Smith.
She provided them with drawings and “organizational things that Danny had her do. And she did a tremendous job that way.”
But Ryan insisted the promotion wasn’t about his or the franchise’s desire to make the sort of national media splash they did when the move became public. It was simply, just as with other recent moves made with the coaching staff, something he felt would make the Bills better.
“I hired Kathryn because I believe she’s going to do a tremendous job,” Ryan said. “The reason that I think she’s going to do a tremendous job is it starts with everything else. Just like with any profession, you’ve got to have a work ethic, you’ve got to have a passion for it.
“And I just like the way she is. She’s really all about the team – how she can help and all that. Regardless of the job we’ve asked her to do, she’s done a tremendous job in that and exceeded, I think, what we thought she would do.”
Ed Reed was at the end of the line of an NFL playing career at safety that was already destined to be recognized with his entry into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Ryan knew that, but still wanted Reed on the New York Jets’ roster in 2013. More than anything, he wanted Reed’s leadership in a secondary that included a struggling rookie cornerback, Dee Millner, the Jets’ first-round draft pick that year.
“He wasn’t the player he once was,” Ryan said of Reed Friday when discussing his addition to the Buffalo Bills’ coaching staff as an assistant defensive backs coach. “He was still a darn good player, but it was all the other things he brought to the table, all the intangibles. I saw the way those players reacted to having Ed Reed in the building.
“And from Day One he walked in, he was trying to make players better. And they knew it and they followed him. I mean, it was the Pied Piper. They just followed him. He took them to film after (practice). His thing was about the preparation after you leave the practice field. We played a lot better. He did a tremendous job.”
Ryan pointed out that Millner wound up becoming the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Month in “his last month playing alongside Ed Reed.”
Reed’s emphasis on preparation, Ryan said, ranks at the top of the qualities that made hiring him for his first coaching job an easy decision.
“I saw it first-hand,” Ryan said. “I saw it in Baltimore for all of those years I had Ed (while Ryan was on the Ravens’ coaching staff). You talk about a leader. He was such a leader, it was phenomenal.
“And that combination of Ed Reed and (returning Bills defensive backs coach) Tim McDonald working together, I think, will be really good for this football team. That’s why I hired Ed Reed. Ed obviously knows the system inside and out. He’s played in this system for two different teams, so that’s a big help. But I really think it’s what he’s going to add to our players in taking their preparation to a different level.”