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 Smith proved that she had that makes her 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.”