Kathryn Smith just threw a football through the glass ceiling by becoming the first full-time female coach in the National Football League. Last week, she was named the Buffalo Bills’ quality control coach (QCC) for special teams, replacing Michael Hamlin.
As QCC, 30-year-old Smith will focus on analyzing game data, anticipating opponents' strategies, preparing play diagrams, drafting reports for the head coach and sometimes running scout team practices.
Smith isn't new to the NFL. After a dozen years of working for the New York Jets, she recently became the administrative assistant for Rex Ryan, head coach of the Bills. Smith had worked with Ryan for several years when he served as head coach for the Jets.
"She certainly deserves this promotion based on her knowledge and strong commitment, just to name a couple of her outstanding qualities," Ryan said in a statement. "She has proven that she's ready for the next step, so I'm excited and proud for her with this opportunity."
The Bills' co-owner echoed Ryan's sentiments in his own statement to The Associated Press: "While we understand the significance of this announcement, it's important to understand that Kathryn earned this position because she has shown she is qualified, dedicated and puts in the work needed for this role."
Smith started out as an intern with the Jets in 2003, and then transitioned to a college scouting internship in 2005. She then spent a few years as a player personnel assistant before becoming Ryan's administrative assistant in 2014.
Although Smith is the league's first full-time coach, many other women have held prominent roles. Last season, Jacqueline Davidson was promoted to director of football administration for the New York Jets. Last summer, the Arizona Cardinals offered a six-week internship to Jen Welter, who served as their inside linebackers' coach during training camp. Other high-ranking female employees have included Amy Trask (former CEO of the Oakland Raiders), Linda Bogdan (the NFL's first female scout), Dawn Aponte (Miami’s executive VP of football administration), Katie Blackburn (executive vice president of the Cincinnati Bengals), Hannah Gordon (VP of legal and government affairs for San Francisco) and Jeanne Bonk (San Diego’s executive VP and CFO).
Although the quality control coach is an entry-level role, it's an essential training position for someone who has her sights on future advancement. Smith's promotion could be a major stepping stone on the path toward a head coaching job—and an inspiration for females in all sports-related pursuits.
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