- Associated Press - Friday, January 22, 2016

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) - Bills coach Rex Ryan remembers the first moment he had an inkling of Kathryn Smith’s potential to one day become an assistant coaching candidate.

It happened two years ago when both were with the New York Jets, shortly after Ryan made Smith his assistant. Ryan was preparing a game plan and couldn’t recall the exact formation the opposing team used in running a play a few seasons earlier.

In the few hours it took Ryan to coach practice and return to his office, Smith had found the play, drew it up and had it on the coach’s television screen.

“She goes, ‘I believe this is the play you were referring to,’” Ryan said Friday. “And I’m like, ‘Oh, my goodness. And it was.’”

Ryan shared the recollection during his first session with the media since promoting Smith to his staff on Wednesday and making her the NFL’s first full-time female assistant coach.

For all buzz the gender-breaking move made, Ryan said his decision was based solely on his belief that Smith is more than capable of handling the entry-level job of Bills special teams quality control coach.

“I recognize the significance of the hire and things like that. But for me, I was just concerned with getting somebody that can be successful in that role,” he said. “I just thought it was a natural thing. No. 1, I think she can do the job.”

Ryan first saw promise in Smith after taking over as Jets coach in 2009, when she was working as the team’s player personnel assistant. And when he was fired by the Jets and hired by the Bills a year ago, Ryan made sure Smith and Laura Young, a former assistant in New York, had roles in Buffalo.

Young reclaimed her job as Ryan’s assistant, and Smith became an administrative assistant for Buffalo’s assistant coaches. For Smith, the job provided her an opportunity to interact with the Bills staff, including special teams coordinator Danny Crossman, who had her work on several projects.

Smith did such a good job that she became Ryan’s top candidate to replace Michael Hamlin, who was not retained after the season.

“I think while maybe she never knew it at the time, and I never knew it maybe at the time, but I was giving her training to get this,” Ryan said.

The 30-year-old Smith is from the Syracuse suburbs and studied sports management at St. John’s University, where she spent four years as a men’s basketball team manager. She broke into the NFL in 2003, landing a job with the Jets as game-day/special events intern.

Smith’s promotion comes on the heels of the Arizona Cardinals hiring Jen Salter to a six-week training camp internship to coach inside linebackers last summer.

The NBA already has made inroads in hiring female assistants. In 2014, Becky Hammon was hired to coach Gregg Popovich’s staff. Last summer, Sacramento Kings coach George Karl added Nancy Lieberman to his staff.

Liz Boardman, a senior client partner at recruitment firm Korn Ferry, called Salter’s internship and Smith’s promotion ground-breaking moments for women in the NFL.

“I actually think we’re going to see this on a somewhat regular basis. I think it’s the start of something great,” said Boardman, who has assisted leagues, college conferences and teams in hiring executives. “I think the benefit of someone like (Smith) is that women all over the country can say, ‘If she can achieve those things, then I should stick it out and achieve them as well.’”

Ryan isn’t sure what effect Smith’s promotion will have.

“I’m just excited about Kathryn, because I truly believe she’ll do a tremendous job here,” Ryan said. “But if it brings other opportunities on the high school level, the college level, professional level for women, I think that’s great.”

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

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