Kathryn Smith began roaming the sidelines in high school.
It was there, as she kept stats alongside her father during Christian Brothers Academy (Syracuse, N.Y.) football games that Smith began the path toward her barrier-shattering hire by the Buffalo Bills as an assistant coach on Wednesday.
“I think it said something about her that during Friday night games – instead of hanging out with her friends in the stands – she was on the sidelines getting stats for the football team,” Christian Brothers athletics director Buddy Wleklinski told USA TODAY Sports. “That showed how passionate she was about working in sports.”
Smith, 30, was hired by the Bills as their special teams quality control coach, making her the first female full-time assistant coach in NFL history. Wleklinski describedSmith, who was on the school’s lacrosse, swimming and bowling teams, as “outgoing and confident.”
“She wasn’t the best player on those teams, but she worked as hard as anybody and was respected as much as anybody,” Wleklinski said. “It’s great to see she continued to work hard while at St. John’s and with the Jets and, now, the Bills.”
Smith’s mother, Ann, declined to comment when contacted by USA TODAY Sports on Thursday, citing that the Bills have asked the family to refrain from speaking to reporters.
Smith worked as a team manager during her four years at St. John’s, where she graduated in 2007 with a degree in sports management.
“I remember her coming in the first time as a freshman and you could just tell that she was headed in the right direction,” said Ron Linfonte, St. John’s director of sports medicine and the head athletic trainer for the men’s basketball team. “She was very, very organized. She always did the little things. You just knew she was going to have success no matter what career she chose.”
Smith split her time between her studies and her commitments as a team manager at St. John’s with an internship with the New York Jets in college. She remained an intern with the Jets, moving from a game-day and special events intern into a position focused on college scouting.
After interning with the Jets nearly four years, Smith was hired by the team as a player personnel assistant in June 2007, according to Smith’s LinkedIn page. Smithfinished her decade-plus with the Jets as an assistant to the head coach before she followed then-Jets coach Rex Ryan to Buffalo after Ryan was hired by the Bills last offseason.
“I was surprised, yes, but also, no, in the sense that Rex is open-minded,” Smith said on WGR in Buffalo on Thursday about her new position. “Rex and I have worked together for a number of years so I know him pretty well. We have a good working relationship and he’s very loyal to people who work with him and people who he values what they do.”
Before she was promoted to the assistant coaching job on Wednesday, Smith was an administrative assistant to Ryan.
“It shows she works hard and deserves this,” Wleklinski said. “The fact that she’s a female should be secondary. She should get the respect by earning the position. I don’t think she got the job because she’s a female. She got the job because she worked awfully hard and deserves it. I don’t think Coach Ryan would give that to her if that wasn’t the case.”