Posted January 23, 2016
How St. John’s experience helped Kathryn Smith land historic job
By Zach Braziller
As word spread Wednesday night of Kathryn Smith becoming the first female assistant coach in the NFL, surprising many in the football community nationwide, the response to those that knew her at St. John’s was of pride but not surprise.
Of course it would be her. Of course it would be Smith, described as a goal-oriented perfectionist who treated every menial task while working as a men’s basketball team manager like it was the most important moment of her life.
“It’s not surprising she has accomplished what she has in her career,” said Ron Linfonte, St. John’s director of sports medicine. “She was going to be successful and she was going to land something in pro sports.”
Smith, 30, named the Bills quality control/special teams coach, spent four years as one of eight team managers on the men’s basketball at St. John’s under former coach Norm Roberts from 2003-07. It was her start in sports, and one she excelled at.
“She took pride in her work,” said Linfonte, who hired her. “She was a perfectionist. Things went very, very smooth. Coaches enjoyed her. Players enjoyed her. She had a great personality.”
Linfonte remembered Smith, a native of DeWitt, N.Y. who was a three-sport star at Christian Brothers Academy in Syracuse in swimming, lacrosse and bowling, triple-checking to make sure all the bags for road trips were fully packed. She groomed the new team managers in her later years, serving as a mentor.
She got her first break in 2003, when the Jets hired her Smith joined the Jets in 2003 as a game-day/special events intern before being named a college scouting intern in 2005 and a player personnel assistant in 2007. She became the assistant to then Jets coach Rex Ryan in 2014 and followed him to Buffalo. Smith remained attached to the St. John’s program, attending games at the Garden while she worked with the Jets and she met with the team last year during their trip to Syracuse to play the Orange.
“It doesn’t shock me, but at the same time it’s shocking to see her face associated with this,” said St. John’s assistant coach Matt Abdelmassih, who worked with Smith as a team manager. “We knew back then with her affiliation to the Jets and working with the Fan Fest stuff, she was really geared towards working in the NFL. Following her career since we graduated in 2007, it’s amazing how everything has come full circle [with her] as the first woman’s NFL coach.”
“She was terrific,” recalled Roberts, now as assistant coach at Kansas. “She was diligent, hard-working, focused. I’m just so excited for her.”