Gloria Steinem isn’t going to be putting together any parades for Roger Goodell and the NFL, but 50-or-so years after she helped spearhead the feminist movement, the league finally got on board when Rex Ryan and the Buffalo Bills promoted Kathryn Smith to a special teams quality control coach, making her the first full-time female assistant in league history.
Dr. Jen Welter was the first to break through the glass ceiling back in training camp when the Arizona Cardinals tabbed the 14-year veteran of various women’s football leagues to help with the inside linebackers. Her internship with the Cards ended after the team’s third preseason game, however, and she has since moved to the Indoor Football League’s Texas Revolution as linebackers and special teams coach.
Welter’s short stint in the NFL was a success, though, and the concern that many players would not accept instruction from a female in a coaching capacity turned out to be false.
“She’s a great lady,” Arizona inside linebacker Kevin Minter said at the time when discussing Welter. “She’s helped a lot and she’s a stickler about fundamentals and what not. She knows a lot about making you better as a person, too, with the notes she left on your locker, the words of encouragement from what she sees on film. She was like a real good person to feed off of.”
Smith now takes the baton as the first full-time female member of the coaching fraternity after serving as Ryan’s administrative assistant for the past two seasons, one in North Jersey with the Jets and with Buffalo in 2015. Prior to that she spent seven years learning the industry as a player personnel assistant with New York.
Ryan spoke to Arizona coach Bruce Arians about the job Welter did and also referenced the success of Becky Hammon, the NBA’s first female assistant coach in San Antonio under perhaps that sport’s best coach, Gregg Popovich.
“I consulted with Bruce Arians on this since he was really the first NFL head coach to make this kind of move when he hired a female linebackers coach through the summer,” Ryan said. “You can see the success some of these young ladies are having in the coaching profession, such as the young lady (Hammon) that is an assistant to coach Popovich at the San Antonio Spurs, and realize how exciting this is for women like Kathryn Smith as well as the Bills organization.”
This is no statement hire for Ryan, though, as two NFL sources confirmed to FanRagSports.com that the coach has a deep respect for Smith’s work ethic and what she has been able to accomplish in what is traditionally a male environment.
“Kathryn Smith has done an outstanding job in the seven years that she has worked with our staff,” Ryan said. “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.”
The qualities that define good coaches in the NFL — things like hard work, attention to detail and communication skills — are not inherently male attributes and it’s time for the Old Boy’s Network to recognize that.
All coaches need to get their foot in the door before they can advance and Smith has now done that. From here, it will be an interesting case study to see if she can take this opportunity and advance through the ranks.
— John McMullen is a national football columnist for FanRagSports.com and TodaysPigskin.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @jfmcmullen — Also catch John this season every day at 4:05 ET on ESPN South Jersey, on ESPN Southwest Florida every Monday at 3 PM ET; on ESPN Lexington every Thursday at 6:05 ET, and live every Tuesday from 2 to 6 PM ET at the Golden Nugget Casino in Atlantic City for the Sports Bash on ESPN South Jersey.
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