Kyle Smith has climbed another rung on the career ladder.
The St. Francis High School graduate recently was promoted by the Washington Redskins from director of college scouting to vice president of player personnel, the latest step on a journey the 35-year-old hopes leads to a job as an NFL general manager.
“If you're a scout and get into this league as a scout, your ultimate goal is to become a GM,” Smith said. “It's no different than a coach who is quality control. You're a quality control coach, your goal is to become a head coach. That is the ultimate goal, but right now, I've got a tremendous responsibility and opportunity in my role as it is now. And I plan on attacking it.”
As part of his role, Smith addressed the media last week during the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. Remarkably, the 35-year-old was the second of three St. Francis graduates to do that for an NFL team in Indianapolis, joining Jaguars General Manager Dave Caldwell and Chargers General Manager Tom Telesco.
“It’s crazy when you think about it,” Smith said. “Those guys, they’re a little bit older than me, but to have us all be from the same high school, working in personnel, it’s cool.”
The common thread for all three has been the influence St. Francis coach Jerry Smith has had on their lives.
“I was born and raised in this game, and the things I learned in high school from those coaches is a lot of the same things that you attack as a scout,” Kyle Smith said. “It’s discipline. It’s high energy. It’s leadership. All those qualities that you love about football players – self-starters, driven – all those things that translates to whatever profession you decided to go down, and that’s from coach Smith.”
Kyle Smith, who played football all four years for the Red Raiders, was inducted into the school’s athletic hall of fame in 2012. He graduated in 2002 as the program’s leader in career receiving yards (1,904), career receptions (132) and single-season catches (56). A team captain as a junior and senior and an All-Western New York selection his final year, Smith also played two seasons of basketball and ran track and field for three years, winning an All-Catholic title as part of the 4x400 relay team.
“He’s young enough that he wasn’t there when I was there, but I knew his dad a little bit,” said Telesco, a 1991 graduate. “He comes from good stock and he was a heck of a high school football player at St. Francis. To see him kind of come up the ranks, work his way up just like his dad did, just like I did, and to see him in a leadership position right now, it’s pretty cool.
“It’s very unusual," Telesco said. "Obviously we all got lucky — or, I got lucky because I happened to go to the same high school as Bill Polian’s kids – so I had a little bit of an advantage there. I’m biased, but we were taught the right way in high school at St. Francis, and it kind of carried over to now.”
Kyle Smith also was fortunate to have an NFL connection. His father, A.J., worked for the Bills for 14 years, starting as a scout and ending as the team’s director of pro personnel. From there, he went to San Diego, where he took over as the Chargers’ general manager after his longtime friend and co-worker, former Bills GM John Butler, died of cancer in 2003. Under A.J. Smith’s leadership, the Chargers went 97-65 from 2003-12, a run that included four consecutive AFC West championships and five playoff appearances.
A.J. Smith traveled a hard road to get his foot in the door. He worked as a gym teacher in Rhode Island for 15 years. After the school year ended, he would drive to the New England Patriots’ facility to work as an unpaid intern. That eventually led to a paid internship, which set him on his path.
Kyle Smith readily admits it was much easier for him to get a foot in the door.
“I had the easy road,” he said. “I had a dad who was a GM of 10 years who made a call and got me an internship with the Redskins.”
On that day in 2010, though, A.J. Smith had a message for his son.
“He told me that day when I got the job, ‘I got your foot in the door. What you do from here is on you,’ ” Kyle Smith said.
What he has done is go from intern to area scout to director of college scouting to his current role. In many ways, his career path has mirrored that of his father.
“I still talk to him every day about players,” Kyle Smith said. “Every once in a while he'll ask me, ‘Who are you dating? What's her name? What does she look like? OK, great, tell me about that Alabama pass rusher.’ That's kind of our relationship. I rely heavily on every scenario he's been through because he's held just about every title there is. He was an intern, area scout, pro scout, college director, pro director, assistant GM. He's been through a lot of experiences. In my position now, I'll rely on him heavily.”
Whether Smith ultimately gets promoted again with the Redskins to general manager likely will depend on his working relationship with new coach Ron Rivera.
After Rivera was hired in January, Smith met with the coach at owner Daniel Snyder’s house. He explained his job responsibilities over the past few seasons as college scouting director, and what he would do in free agency. During the meeting, both Smith and Rivera shared their visions of how to build a team. A short time later, Smith was promoted.
Rivera, who had a previous relationship with A.J. Smith, said his working relationship with Kyle Smith is off to a good start.
“Kyle has his own way of doing things,” Rivera said. “He has his own personality, and it’s been very good. Kyle is a guy that is always looking to talk about things. He’s been great, he really has, and things have been very fluid with him. We went through our roster evaluations, which we did Feb. 10. We went through the entire roster in all three phases, which I thought was very good. Then we turned around and had our little prep last week for the combine, and he did a great job with that for all the coaches, for myself as well. He’s a guy that does his due diligence. He works very hard, extremely hard, and I’ve been very pleased with it. I think our relationship is very good, very strong.”
“I love the way things are running,” said Smith in agreement. “It's very smooth. Our working relationship has been outstanding. He's really taken a step back as far as the draft was concerned and just said, 'Listen, do your thing with setting the board. Run your meetings how you've been doing it.’ "
While Rivera is expected to have final say on roster decisions with the Redskins, he has expressed an interest in making sure that the team uses a collaborative approach to making those calls. When Smith wanted to make some changes to the way prospects are graded and the color-coded system the team uses to rank them, Rivera’s response was “do your thing.”
“We're going to have the meetings, let the process unfold,” Smith said. “We believe in our process. We're going to talk through everything. Coaches value all those things. We'll set the board together in there in April. There is a preliminary board as far as the draft right now and free agency. Once the coaches come in, in April, we’ll sit in there and literally go through each thing to each situation and set it together so everybody's on the same page and everybody's working together.”
In going from intern to vice president in 11 years, Kyle Smith has remembered the words of his father.
“He taught me a long time ago when I was young, ‘Put a chip on your shoulder and let that thing grow and don't let anybody knock it off.' You've got to work like that, you've got to attack everything that you do,” Kyle Smith said. “As a player, that's how I was; as an intern, that's how I was; as a college director, area scout, and I plan on attacking this role, as well. If that opportunity comes as a GM, then it does. If it doesn't, it doesn't. I'm not worried about that right now.”