Rex Ryan brings first full-time female assistant coach to NFL

The Buffalo Bills are helping pave the way for female coaches in football.

Kathryn Smith will serve as a special teams quality control coach, the team announced Wednesday. She will assist special teams coordinator Danny Crossman and his assistant Eric Smith, filling the role that opened after Michael Hamlin was not retained following the season.

Smith spent last season working as an administrative assistant for Bills assistant coaches on Ryan’s staff. She spent the previous 12 seasons working for the New York Jets in various capacities, including a player personnel assistant from 2007-13. In 2014, Smith served as the Jets assistant to the head coach in Ryan’s final season in New York.

"She certainly deserves this promotion based on her knowledge and strong commitment, just to name a couple of her outstanding qualities," Ryan said in a statement released by the team. "She has proven that she’s ready for the next step, so I’m excited and proud for her with this opportunity."

Last season, the Arizona Cardinals gave Jenn Welter a six-week training camp internship working with inside linebackers. In promoting Smith, Ryan said he consulted with Cardinals coach Bruce Arians.

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"You can see the success some of these young ladies are having in the coaching profession, such as the young lady that is an assistant to coach Popovich at the San Antonio Spurs, and realize how exciting this is for women like Kathryn Smith as well as the Bills organization," Ryan said.

Bills offensive lineman Richie Incognito expressed his support for Smith in a tweet.

"Congrats Kathryn!! I know you will do a great job," Incognito said in a post that included a thumb’s up and smiley face.

This is not the first time the Bills broke the gender barrier. Linda Bogdan, in 1986, became the NFL’s first female scout, when she joined the team’s player personnel department. Bogdan, who died in 2009, was the daughter of late Bills Hall of Fame owner Ralph Wilson.

Several NFL teams have employed women in prominent roles in the front office. Amy Trask was the Raiders’ chief executive officer for owner Al Davis from 1997 until she resigned in 2013.

The Jets promoted long-time executive Jacqueline Davidson to director of football administration last season. She was previously the team’s manager of football administration.

Dawn Aponte is Miami’s executive vice president of football administration, and has been involved in the front offices of the Dolphins, Jets, Browns and the NFL for 25 years.

Among others on a quickly growing list of high-ranking women in NFL franchises include Katie Blackburn, Cincinnati’s executive vice president; Jeanne Bonk, San Diego’s executive vice president and chief financial officer; and Hannah Gordon, San Francisco’s vice president of legal and government affairs.

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But Smith’s promotion is the latest step for women getting a chance to join the coaching ranks of North America’s major professional sports.

In August 2014, former WNBA player Becky Hammon was hired by the San Antonio Spurs to join coach Gregg Popovich’s staff, making her the NBA’s first full-time paid female assistant coach.

Last month, the Seattle Mariners hired Amanda Hopkins as an area scout. In announcing the hiring, the team said Hopkins is believed to be the first female hired as a full-time scout by a major league team since the 1950s.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.