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Smith addresses NFL Diversity Forum


General manager Rick Smith joined James Harris (far right), Rod Graves, Jerry Reese and Ozzie Newsome, Jr. in speaking at the 2008 GM Diversity Forum.

General manager Rick Smith tends to set himself apart in the ranks of the NFL. When the Texans hired him in 2006, Smith became the league's youngest GM. Last year, he helped put together the most successful team in franchise history.

On Tuesday, Smith distinguished himself once again, speaking at the 2008 NFL General Manager's Diversity Forum as one of five African-Americans who head NFL personnel departments.

{QUOTE}Smith joined Cardinals general manager Rod Graves, Giants general manager Jerry Reese, Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, Jr., and Jaguars Vice President of Player Personnel James Harris.

"It was an opportunity for us to get together and share our knowledge and our history and our walks of life, as well as some leadership advice for people who are trying to ascend in their careers," Smith said. "We are all grateful to have the opportunity to be in these types of positions, and we all want to give back. We have all had mentors and protégés along the way."

Smith and his four colleagues on the panel spoke to an audience of league employees in an event so well attended that there was standing room only in the NFL's Employee Central auditorium. The panelists took turns answering questions about how they ascended to their respective positions and about their current roles and responsibilities.

"The most important thing about this position is that you have to believe in yourself," Smith said. "You have to have conviction in your decisions and you have to believe in the people that surround you.

"The biggest challenge for me was to come in and try to right this ship and try to establish a culture of winning with the Texans. I think we are on the road to doing that, but we certainly haven't accomplished it yet. It's something that I focus on every day."

Smith has made tremendous strides in the two years he has been with the franchise. Three of his 2007 draft picks worked their way into the starting lineup. Defensive tackle Amobi Okoye set a Texans rookie record with 5.5 sacks, breaking the mark set the year before by defensive end Mario Williams. Cornerback Fred Bennett led the team in interceptions with three. And wide receiver Jacoby Jones finished the season tied for seventh in the NFL with a 9.5-yard punt return average.

"It's my job to be as good as I can be as a general manager, so that we all can accomplish our goals," Smith said. "We are just getting going."

Despite the league's competitive environment, Smith said that the five panelists are good friends and confidants. In fact, Smith called Harris the night before he met with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers several years ago on the eve of his first interview for an NFL general manager position.

"James Harris was on his way to the East/West Shrine game and I called and said I was going into this interview," Smith said. "When James got to California at about 10:30 at night, he called me and we spent about an hour and a half on the phone preparing for the interview."

Now, Smith said it is his turn to pass along wisdom and serve as a role model to the younger ranks of the NFL.

"That is something that I take very seriously because I would like to be a good example for young kids, particularly young African-American males who look at me and see there are opportunities instead of just playing, running, jumping and throwing," Smith said. "They can do something different and still be involved in the National Football League.

"The key is to find whatever it is you are passionate about and put yourself in a position as best you can to be exposed to the learning that you need to attain that your dream. Then, the doors will open for you and you will just have to be ready to take advantage of that opportunity."

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