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Houston Texans

Your Texans: Richard Smith


The vision is of a man who sleeps standing up, carrying a clipboard and going over the plays in his dreams. Texans defensive coordinator Richard Smith is so intense, his players wonder if he ever relaxes.

"He's so energetic," defensive end N. D. Kalu says. "And it's all the time. I think he wakes up like that.

"I've been around and seen coaches like that. But I've never seen one who stayed like that. You have coaches who try to be like that, but on other days their true personalities come out.

"But that's just, I mean, look at him. As we're talking right now, he's running wind sprints after practice. He's 100 years old and he doesn't play football and he's running wind sprints. That just goes to show what I'm talking about."

Kalu was looking across the field after a grueling, two-hour practice in the upper-90s late July Texas heat. There was Smith, running laps as if to punish himself. He gives the impression of a man who is always serious, never allowing himself to smile.

"He might tell a joke, a bad joke," Kalu said with a smile. "But he's always intense. He never lightens up. Even in mini-camp and OTAs and when we're just lifting weights and running in the offseason. He didn't have a smile.

"He had that little growl or whatever. I don't know what you call that facial expression he has, but he doesn't lighten up."

{QUOTE} Not that Kalu is complaining. The Texans' defense made improvement by leaps and bounds last year and Kalu knows the intense Smith was the primary reason.

"I think players take the attitude of their coaches," Kalu said. "When you've got an energetic, aggressive coach, that's kind of how you play. Last year, after those first three games we kind of took on his mentality and I think it showed on the field.

"He knows defense really well. He knows football. I'm not going to say we were successful, but we ended up pretty successful and I think that's why."

Linebacker DeMeco Ryans agrees.

"I never had one like him," Ryans said. "I guess I had one similar in (Alabama defensive coordinator Joe) Kines. With that loud, abrasive voice, he reminds me of coach Kines a little bit. But he gets it all out of his players and that's what a coach is supposed to do."

Smith, in his 28th year of coaching, makes no apologies for his style. He is who he is, take it or leave it.

"I think anybody has to have their own coaching style," he says. "My personality is I'm real disciplined. I'm very demanding, trying to make our team on defense play with a great deal of passion and energy.

"And I think to be able to want that out of your players, you as a coach have to present that. I'd say I'm a real passionate person and not only myself, I think our entire defensive staff has a lot of passion for the game and are really good position coaches."

Since starting as an offensive line coach at Rio Hondo (Calif.) Junior College in 1979 on through college coaching at Arizona and California and starting in the NFL with the Houston Oilers from 1988-92, Smith has known only one way to coach – high gear.

"I've always been that way," he says. "You can't be anything different. As a coach, if you try to be something you're not, players will get a feel for that. Players are very, very smart.

"You've got to be yourself. You can't be somebody else. Let's say you want to try to be like coach Tony Dungy. I'm not Tony Dungy. Right now I'm just myself and all our coaches are the same way."

That seemed the way to be when he was the defensive coordinator for the Miami Dolphins in 2005. They finished ranked 18th in defense in the NFL and second in the league in sacks with 49.

But the Texans started the season miserably on defense last year, taking firm hold of the bottom of the NFL's defensive stats. After the first three games, they were more than 100 yards worse than the next-to-last team statistically.

"I think during the OTAs and training camp last season, we probably put in too much, too big of a system," Smith says. "So what happened to us, in my opinion, was we didn't get really good at anything.

"We were just OK. And I think in this league, if you're OK you're going to get your tail beat. So what we tried to do after that third game was reduce the defense we had. We still played an aggressive style and I think with the team chemistry we felt strongly about one another and we performed very well at a high level."

It was a remarkable turnaround after the first three games. The defense trimmed 179.9 yards and 12.1 points a game off of its stats from Oct. 1 to the end of the season. In a Week 4 win over his old team, the Dolphins, Smith's defense held Miami to 289 total yards and 15 points and the Texans were rolling.

During the last 13 weeks of the season, the defense allowed an average of 303.8 yards and 20.6 points a game, ranking 10th and 13th respectively in that span in the NFL. It was a huge leap from mediocrity to respectability.

Smith did it with a lot of knowledge, a lot of energy and a theme. Early on, he placed pictures of the Rock of Gibraltar in the defensive players lockers. Those pictures stayed there all season.

"Last year, the philosophy was to build the rock and we're a team when we came in here that was ranked almost last in every category on defense," Smith said. "So we said, 'Hey listen, we want to try and climb the rock.' If you're out there and there's a huge mountain, you're not going to sprint up it, because you probably won't make it to the top that way.

"You want to make sure you take your time, walk up and get to the top. And we're going to do it together knowing that it's going to be hard. And what goes with that is knowing that it's the rock, it's firm, it's tough and a rock doesn't get damaged. Hail, sleet, snow never affects a rock so that's how a big mountain stands for strength and having to do it together. So that was our motto last year."

This year, Smith believes the Texans will continue that climb. Familiarity with the defense, for one thing, is a big advantage.

"On defense last year, we went from a 3-4 system that was built with 3-4 people and converted it into a 4-3," Smith says. "They learned different terminologies. Our techniques might be different. Our system is completely different, so there was a learning curve and that probably was part of our poor start in our first three games.

"But now with another year we can go in and install something in five seconds and our guys understand concepts. So because of that they feel much more comfortable within the system, which I think is going to lead to success."

Smith knows it won't be easy. There is much work to be done.

"It's not just one area, but a lot of areas," he says. "When you look at us from a statistical standpoint, we've got to do it on third downs and we've got to do a lot better job of awareness.

"There were times last year when we should have won the game if we had done a better job. I'm talking about coaching. I'm talking about playing in certain situations. Like the last play in the Buffalo game. The Tennessee game cost us on one play. So if you just play two plays better, you come up with two more wins.

"So we're trying to come up with a better third down efficiency. We're trying to get better at everything, but really on third down we weren't good enough last year and also to become better aware of the situations in a game. All those things will make us a better team."

EDITOR'S NOTE: Jim Carley is a veteran Houston sportswriter who has covered the NFL for more than 25 years. He has worked for such newspapers as the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, The Houston Post, the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner and the National Sports Daily covering such teams as the Dallas Cowboys, the Houston Oilers, the Los Angeles Rams and the Oakland Raiders.

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