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Buffalo Bills Appoint First Female Full-Time Coach In The NFL


For the first time, a woman will be one of the full-time coaches in the National Football League. The Buffalo Bills made the historic move by hiring Kathryn Smith as a special teams coach. She had been an administrative assistant with the Bills. NPR's Tom Goldman reports, her promotion is part of a larger trend in traditionally male-dominated professional sports.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: For 30-year-old Kathryn Smith, her new job as quality control special teams coach actually is a promotion. A Buffalo Bills press release says, for years, Smith has worked in football administration and assisted the assistant coaches, first for the New York Jets and most recently with Buffalo. For fans of the TV show "The Office," her job titles might sound a bit like Dwight Schrute's eternally frustrating assistant to the regional manager, but reporter and columnist Judy Battista says Smith's quality control job hardly is a dead-end position.

JUDY BATTISTA: It is the first foot in the door. I mean, they're breaking down film, they're providing scouting reports. It's grunt work, but it's the entree into the coaching world.

GOLDMAN: Smith will be third in the special teams coaching hierarchy, after the coordinator and his assistant. You won't see her calling plays on the field, which for some may temper the enthusiasm about her first-ever position, especially when compared to NBA female assistant coaches such as San Antonio's Becky Hammon and Sacramento's Nancy Lieberman. Both have been visible on sidelines coaching men. Again, Judy Battista.

BATTISTA: Nancy Lieberman and Becky Hammon were great professional basketball players so that's a much more natural transition for them, and there's a much bigger pool of women who might naturally say, you know, my playing days are over, I think I want to go into coaching. There's not that big a pool in football.

GOLDMAN: The lack of playing experience may limit the numbers of potential female football coaches, but it certainly shouldn't limit the ability to coach. So says Amy Trask. She's former CEO for the Oakland Raiders and now a football analyst for CBS Sports Network.

AMY TRASK: Inquiring whether stating one needs to have played the game in order to coach is akin to saying one needs to have had open heart surgery in order to be a heart surgeon or whether one needs to have been a criminal defendant in order defend criminals. The answer to each of those questions is no.

GOLDMAN: Trask is the first female chief executive in NFL history. She notes she began her nearly 30-year groundbreaking career with the Raiders as an unpaid intern. Since she resigned as Raiders CEO in 2013, there've been several notable female hires in the NFL - Sarah Thomas as a full-time official, Jen Welter as an assistant coach during training camp for the Arizona Cardinals and now Kathryn Smith, which Trask calls terrific news.

TRASK: And yes, I do consider it significant. But what will truly be significant is when such things are no longer significant.

GOLDMAN: In a statement, Buffalo head coach Rex Ryan said Smith deserves the promotion based on her knowledge and strong commitment. Tom Goldman, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on