For the second time in franchise history, the Buffalo Bills are making a remarkable statement about the role of women in football and sport in general. Thirty years after the franchise hired Linda Bogdan, daughter of Pro Football Hall of Famer Ralph Wilson, to serve as the NFL’s first female scout, eventually becoming a vice president, an historic addition is being made to Rex Ryan’s coaching staff.
Kathryn Smith follows in the groundbreaking footsteps of Dr. Jen Welter, who enjoyed a preseason coaching apprenticeship with the linebacking corps of the Arizona Cardinals. Smith becomes the first full-time member of an NFL coaching staff, appointed to the position of special teams quality control, replacing Michael Hamlin. Of note, she shall work alongside the likes of special teams coordinator Danny Crossman and special teams assistant Eric Smith.
The last few years have seen some significant breakthroughs for women in sport. Former WNBA star Becky Hammon became an assistant coach with the San Antonio Spurs, the first woman in NBA history to attain such a position. During the postseason, she would serve as the Spurs head coach in 2015 Summer League play. In December 2015, Major League Baseball’s Seattle Mariners hired Amanda Hopkins to serve as an area scout, the first female to be hired for a baseball scouting position in this decade.
Of note, she was familiar with Bills’ head coach Rex Ryan. Not only was she his administrative assistant in his final season as the head coach of the New York Jets in 2014, she followed him to his new position with the Buffalo Bills, in a similar coaching capacity. During Ryan’s inaugural season in Buffalo, Smith also served as his administrative assistant.
Having worked with the Jets as head coach from 2009-14, Ryan was obviously very confident in her abilities to contribute in this new role. Prior to making the hiring decision, Ryan did consult with Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians, who had allowed Welter the opportunity to engage in the coaching internship.
The New York Jets served as the backdrop for the pro football experience that Smith attained. Over twelve years with the Bills’ AFC East rival, she occupied a wide variety of positions. From humble beginnings with a 2003 internship in game day/special events, she would enjoy a second internship in 2005, serving in college scouting.
Two years later, she would rise to the role of player personnel assistant. Other women have been influential in the Jets organization, including Dawn Aponte and Jacqueline Davidson, who was appointed director of football administration for the 2015 season. As a side note, Smith had worked as a student manager for the St. John’s University men’s basketball squad.
Adding to the momentum was the fact that Bills co-owner Kim Pegula issued a statement to The Associated Press, acknowledging her qualifications and dedication. Welter and Richie Incognito, a member of the Bills offensive line went to social media to show their support.