For the first time in its 96 year history, an NFL team will count a woman as a full-time member of its coaching staff after the Buffalo Bills announced the promotion of Kathryn Smith to special teams quality control coach on Wednesday.
Smith had previously worked with the New York Jets, starting as an intern and eventually becoming then-head coach Rex Ryan's assistant. Ryan joined the Bills as head coach in 2015, and Smith followed him upstate, becoming Ryan's administrative assistant.
"Kathryn Smith has done an outstanding job in the seven years that she has worked with our staff," Ryan said in a statement. "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."
Ryan wasn't the only person in upstate New York congratulating Smith. Governor Andrew Cuomo took to Twitter to offer some praise.
What exactly does a special teams quality control coach do? A lot. A quality control coach spends a lot of time watching game film and making reports for the other coaches and the players about the tendencies and styles of their upcoming opponents. It's a do-it-all job that could have a person fetching coffee before running the scout team during practice: "football’s equivalent of the mail room," according to the New York Times. It's the bottom rung of the coach ladder in professional football, but it's the same rung that gave future head coaches like Jon Gruden their entry into NFL coaching.
Smith joins a small group of women who coach in professional sports, a group that has been dominated by men. In tennis, Amelie Mauresmo is Andy Murray's personal coach. In Major League Baseball, the Seattle Mariners recently hired Amanda Hopkins as a scout, making her the first female scout in baseball since the 1950s. Last summer, the Arizona Cardinals hired Jen Welter as a defensive assistant during training camp, but did not carry her over to the staff during the regular season.
Things are a little better in professional basketball. In 2014, the San Antonio Spurs (arguably the smartest organization in professional sports) made Becky Hammon the first female assistant coach in the NBA; it's already been predicted that she will become the NBA's first female head coach. In 2015, Nancy Lieberman joined the Sacramento Kings coaching staff.
“We are a copycat society,” Lieberman told the New York Daily News shortly after her hiring. “Whether it’s fashionable clothes, or the West Coast offense. All of a sudden Becky gets hired, Jen and myself. Makes you think, ‘Yeah, this can happen.’”
If Smith is as successful as Hammon and Lieberman have been so far, things will continue to happen for her and, hopefully, a lot of other women trying to break into coaching.
David Matthews operates the Wayback Machine on Fusion.net—hop on. Got a tip? Email him: firstname.lastname@example.org