Kevin Smith never thought he’d get into coaching, but the former Detroit Lions running back believes he’s found his calling four years after stumbling into the profession while trying to decide what to do with his life after football.
For five NFL seasons — and almost a decade before that in high school and college — Smith lived within the structure of football. He practiced every day in the fall for that week’s game, trained in the offseason for the next year ahead, and enjoyed whatever downtime his schedule provided.
When Smith retired after the 2012 season, he suddenly found himself with too much time on his hands. He spent his days shuttling his kids to and from school, his nights bouncing around South Beach. He dabbled in a few business ventures, but eventually he realized he needed more direction in life.
“I don’t care if you made a lot of money in your career, you didn’t make a lot of money, after you’re done with the NFL, after you’re done playing football and you’ve done it your whole life, it’s traumatizing,” Smith said. “Almost like people in the Army suffer from PTSD, it’s a new reality because think about it, I went from high school — I didn’t work in high school; I mean I had some odd jobs mowing lawns and stuff, but I didn’t work in high school. I go from college to not working, then I go to the pros, which for tax purposes is considered a job, you get money for it, but if you ask any football player, you’re still playing football. And then you come out of football and you have no work experience, so it was difficult.
“So getting my degree was just the start and it just kind of put me in the right direction and put me in the direction of what my purpose was.”
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A third-round pick by the Lions in 2008 after he left Central Florida with a year of eligibility remaining, Smith returned to UCF in 2014 to finish his degree.
He took a full load of classes — four in the fall, five in the winter and a couple more in summer — and rejoined the football program he once starred in, this time as a low-paid coaching intern.
When Scott Frost replaced George O’Leary as UCF coach in 2016, he kept Smith on as a quality control administrator, and a year later the NCAA’s single-season record holder for rushing attempts landed the job coaching running backs at Florida Atlantic.
“It bothered me for a while (the way my career went),” Smith said. “But I think about it now and I think my purpose was to get the five years’ experience in the NFL just so I can be a coach and a life coach and share those experiences.”
At 32 years old, Smith already is making a name for himself in coaching circles.
In two seasons at Florida Atlantic, he’s helped send three running backs to the NFL. In 2018, FAU running back Buddy Howell signed with the Miami Dolphins as an undrafted free agent — he now plays for the Houston Texans. And this year, the Owls joined Alabama and Texas A&M as the only programs to have two running backs drafted, Devin Singletary in Round 3 by the Buffalo Bills and Kerrith Whyte in Round 7 by the Chicago Bears.
Singletary ran for 1,988 yards and an NCAA-best 32 touchdowns in 2017, and added another 1,348 yards and 22 scores last season.
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“My first year coaching I was lucky enough to come here and who doesn’t want to coach after your first year coaching you have a player that goes for 1,900 yards and 32 touchdowns?” Smith said, laughing. “It’s like, ‘Yeah, this is what I’m supposed to do. I knew I was a great coach.’ ”
In the small circle of life, Smith will be in Michigan recruiting at some point this fall — “I love the city of Detroit. I’m talking about, that’s some of the best five years of my life and the fans there are special, so when I get a chance to get up there and recruit I know it’s going to be open arms and I can’t wait to get back there and see some of the people,” he said — and Smith’s former running backs coach with the Lions, Sam Gash, recently sent his son to football camp at FAU to work with Smith.
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As for his future, Smith said he’s “just looking for innovative ways to try and get better” and not worried about where his coaching career takes him.
“I just want to be where my feet are,” Smith said. “I’m a visionary and I like to lead, but I don’t really think of it like, ‘OK, next I want to be a coordinator and after coordinator I want to be a head coach.’ Man, I want to win games this year and I want to get another running back into the NFL. And if anything, I want to be elite as an assistant coach.
“I want to be the best running back coach in the country, and however that’s measured, that’s what I want to accomplish. Whatever the qualifications are for the best, that’s what I want to accomplish. The more I learn and the more things that are put in front of me, I’ll just worry about that and, hey, you might be calling me in a couple years and saying, ‘Hey, let’s do a story about you becoming the youngest African-American head coach in the country,’ who knows?”
Contact Dave Birkett at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. Read more on the Detroit Lions and sign up for our Lions newsletter.
Published at Mon, 10 Jun 2019 20:23:42 +0000