Take a look at who will be coaching the Los Angeles Chargers for the 2017 season.
Richard Smith has coached in the NFL long enough to know a good staff when he sees one.
That's why as he enters his 30th year in the league, he jumped at the opportunity to join Anthony Lynn in Los Angeles after taking one look at the staff the Chargers assembled.
"There were a lot of reasons to come here, but more than anything, it's the coaching staff that Coach Lynn put together," he explained. "It's very impressive. This staff not only has good coaches, but good people. That's the thing I'm most excited about. There are a lot of long hours in this profession, so it's important to work hard and have fun with the people on the staff. And as everyone will find out, Anthony has hired a bunch of really good coaches and really good people."
A Los Angeles native who is returning home near family and friends, Smith will serve as the team's linebackers coach after spending the last two seasons as the defensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons. He first entered the league with the Houston Oilers in 1988, and also coached the Denver Broncos, San Francisco 49ers, Detroit Lions, Miami Dolphins, Houston Texans, Carolina Panthers and Falcons before making his way to the Bolts. Over that time, he coached alongside some of the very men now leading the Chargers.
Smith was in San Francisco with Special Teams Coordinator/Assistant Head Coach George Stewart. In Denver, he served alongside Defensive Backs Coach Ron Milus and Assistant Offensive Line Coach James Cregg. He also coached with Milus in Carolina, where current Assistant Defensive Backs Coach Chris Harris starred at safety.
Like Stewart in San Francisco, Smith also coached Lynn when he was a special teams maven for the Broncos in the mid-90s.
"Anthony was a great guy to coach," he recalled. "He was a very physical running back and a top special teamer. He was a pleasure to coach."
Like many of his fellow coaches, joining the Chargers organization has been a whirlwind. Fresh off a Super Bowl appearance, Smith is operating on a condensed timeline. The past few days have been a crash course, spending countless hours evaluating players on tape and familiarizing himself with Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley's system. Luckily, his experience in the league and system run in Atlanta will ease the transition.
"Last week I got home from the Super Bowl, and then flew out here and got right back at it. I'm ready to go to work. I'm familiar with the defense because we ran a similar one in Atlanta for the last two years. There are some differences, but it's exciting to learn new ways to do things as Gus takes things to a different level."
Smith is also eager to return to his work focusing on linebackers. He's worked closely with some of the best in the game over the past three decades, including Von Miller, Thomas Davis, Jon Beason, DeMeco Ryans, Julian Peterson, Ken Norton, Jr. and many other All-Pros and Pro Bowlers. His key to getting the most out of the players lies beyond the X's and O's, but instead rooted in a deep connection he tries to make with each on a personal level.
"I try to keep a good relationship with those guys," he said. "We are still very close. It's important to me that the players know that I have their best interests in mind. So we formulate a very good relationship, and that is the nice thing about coaching football. All of these guys were very highly competitive people, and all their personalities were different. Their skill level was a little bit different too, and it's rewarding to have an effect on their life even after you are done coaching them."
That personal relationship should also help the players' transition to Bradley's 4-3 scheme from the 3-4 run in previous years. While the new defensive coordinator insists many of the same concepts remain, the biggest adjustment might be felt in the linebacker room. Smith admits it will be different, and one change he is eager to make as smooth as possible.
"It is going to be a little bit different," he said. "There is always a learning curve when you install a new system, but our players will be able to play fast. They will learn it. It is our jobs as coaches to teach them, and I think by the time we start preseason games we will be fine after going through OTAs and mini-camps."