Tuesday morning brought the news of Rick Smith’s well deserved contract extension. Anyone who follows the Texans can attest to the fact that the team as a whole has never looked better. When Rick Smith took the reins from Charlie Casserly, he was able to wrestle the wagon away from the cliff’s edge and put it back on the road to glory. Now he’s got until 2012 keep the wheels rolling in the right direction.
As the Texans general manager, Rick Smith has helped take the team from a franchise worst 2-14 in 2005 to a franchise best eight 8-8 in 2007. What’s even more impressive is that he managed to do this despite leading the league with 17 players on injured reserve – both years. In a testament to his skill as a topflight general manager, free agent acquisitions Will Demps and Andre Davis became standout players when injuries thrust them into the starting line-up. Amobi Okoye, his first round draft pick in 2007, racked up a franchise rookie record 5.5 sacks as an interior defensive lineman. The 2008 draft class is also brimming with potential, and is poised to make immediate contributions on both sides of the ball.
At 38, Rick Smith is the NFL’s youngest general manager, but that didn’t happen by accident. He set his goals at an early age and worked feverishly to achieve them. At his initial press conference as the Texans new general manager, Smith spoke about drive to succeed:
"I have been preparing for this job since the day I strapped that helmet on. I have been the youngest a lot of times and it's never been a problem for me, in fact, I've always looked at it as a challenge. I have never been complacent and I've always liked to push the envelope and I'm always trying to grow."
A go-getter from his days as a starting strong safety at Purdue, Rick Smith was named defensive team captain in his senior season. After graduating from Purdue, he was hired as the Boilermakers' strength and conditioning coach and later coached the defensive backs. According to Gary Kubiak, It was a ringing endorsement that landed Smith in Denver:
"We were in Denver, we were going to camp, we were looking for a defensive assistant to come in and help the defensive staff. We didn’t have a guy and we were sitting in the staff meeting and our running backs coach raises his hand, he said, ‘I’ve got a great kid that’s on his way to TCU right now. He’s going there to work there as a graduate assistant.’ "And Mike (Shanahan) said, ‘Can you catch him halfway and tell him to come to Colorado? We’ll hire him.’ So that’s how Rick got started. So he’s come a long way, and he’s doing a heck of a job."
Hired on as an assistant defensive backs coach, Smith quickly found himself the recipient of two Super Bowl rings. Although he was part of a successful coaching unit in Denver, Smith had other aspirations. He was bound and determined to get his opportunity to work in the Broncos front office. In a quote taken from the Denver Post, Smith said:
"I talked to Mike (Shanahan) during training camp after we won the first Super Bowl. I told him, 'Just so you know, my goal is not to be a head coach, it's to be a GM. So if you can tell me at some point when I should transfer over to the front office, that would be big-time for me.' He thought it was a good idea. He knew I could evaluate talent, because coaches are so involved in that process."
Smith’s ten years as an assistant coach with the Broncos give him a unique insight. He has a grasp on what players the Texans need to fit the system imported from Denver. There is no doubt that he has the kind of credibility needed when selling the coaching staff on personnel moves. The Denver Post quoted Gary Kubiak speaking on Rick Smith’s talents:
"(He) watched us offensively and defensively for years and knows the type of players we were looking for to fit in our schemes," Kubiak said. "So when he comes to you with a couple of names and says, 'I think you ought to look at this guy,' you listen. Or during camp, if you have blinders on as a coach and he comes to you and says, 'I think you guys are missing the boat on this guy, you need to take a closer look,' you tend to stop and listen."
His ability to evaluate talent has helped turn the Texans from non-factors into potential playoff contenders. Through free agency and the draft, Rick Smith has assembled a team with a dynamic offense and a defense that boasts some of the best young talent in the NFL.
If his first two years are indicative of the type of upward and onward movement that now characterizes this team, the next four years should give Texans fans plenty of reasons to celebrate.