Executive Vice President/General Manager, Houston Texans
Rick Smith oversees all football-related operations and the player acquisition process as Houston Texans Executive Vice President of Football Operations and General Manager. Smith is in his ninth season as General Manager and fourth as Executive Vice President of Football Operations.
Named general manager by owner Bob McNair on June 5, 2006, Smith’s appointment made him the youngest general manager in the NFL at 36. Since then, Smith has assembled and led a football operations staff that prides itself on providing players and coaches with the tools needed for success on and off the field, regardless of scheme.
Smith adheres to several principles that have shaped his tenure and laid the team’s foundation of talent and depth: Build through the draft and supplement through free agency and trades. Give players and coaches the tools they need to succeed. Trust your evaluation of talent and character. Believe in the process. Stay true to your board. Determine value independent of need.
Smith’s leadership, vision and success have garnered recognition by the league. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell appointed Smith to the NFL’s prestigious Competition Committee on Dec. 5, 2008. His peers honored him with the Tank Younger Award in 2008, presented annually by the Fritz Pollard Alliance for outstanding work in an NFL front office. Smith was an original member of the General Managers Advisory Committee, which provides advice and other feedback to the NFL Football Operations department on the integrity of the game, expansion of technology and other ways to improve the league.
From day one, Smith and his staff rolled up their sleeves and scoured the free agent, draft and trade markets for players who would thrive with the Texans; solely focused on transforming their 2-14 team into a perennial contender. The transformation culminated in back-to-back AFC South crowns and the franchise’s first two playoff berths in 2011 and 2012.
Smith and his staff have been able to adapt and find the right personnel to fit changing schemes and coaching staffs throughout his tenure. He was faced with both heading into the 2014 draft following a disappointing 2013 season.
In his eighth draft with the Texans and first with new Head Coach Bill O’Brien, Smith selected 10 players who fit the credo he established when he arrived in Houston, “We’re looking for tough, smart, physical players with high character who are competitive and passionate about football.”
The Texans selected South Carolina two-time All-America defensive end Jadeveon Clowney first overall and grabbed UCLA guard Xavier Su’a-Filo with the first pick in the second round. Iowa tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz was taken with the first pick of the third round and Smith traded up with Philadelphia to take Notre Dame nose tackle Louis Nix III with the 83rd pick. Houston selected six players on the final day of the draft: Pittsburgh quarterback Tom Savage in the fourth round, Alabama defensive end Jeoffrey Pagan, LSU running back Alfred Blue and Auburn fullback Jay Prosch in the sixth round, and Vanderbilt cornerback Andre Hal and Memphis safety Lonnie Ballentine in the seventh.
The Texans won their second consecutive AFC South division crown in 2012 and advanced to the Divisional round of the playoffs in 2011 and 2012, compiling a 22-10 regular season record that tied for the second-best mark in the AFC. Houston set a franchise mark with a 12-4 record in 2012; a 10-win improvement under Smith’s leadership. Smith’s tenure in Houston began with a 6-10 record, followed by a pair of 8-8 records in 2007 and 2008. In 2009, the Texans posted the first winning season in franchise history, narrowly missing the playoffs at 9-7. Houston bounced back from a 6-10 mark in 2010, going 10-6 in 2011, winning the AFC South and securing a playoff berth, both franchise firsts.
Collectively, the Texans’ current roster, all acquired by Smith, with the exception of Andre Johnson, has earned 26 Pro Bowl selections, 18 first- or second-team Associated Press All-Pro distinctions, one Defensive Player of the Year award and one Defensive Rookie of the Year award.
Smith’s seven first-round picks, between 2007-13, have combined to start 347 of the 366 games they have played. Three of the six have earned All-Pro honors: left tackle Duane Brown, linebacker Brian Cushing and defensive end J.J. Watt. Watt, the 11th overall pick in 2011, was named the 2012 Defensive Player of the Year following one of the best defensive performances in NFL history and a league-leading 20.5 sacks. Cushing was selected 15th overall in 2009 and went on to be named the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year and earn second-team All-Pro honors twice. Brown is widely considered one of the best left tackles in the NFL and is the first lineman in franchise history to earn All-Pro recognition, doing so in 2011 and 2012.
Unrestricted free agents have also thrived in Houston on Smith’s watch. Cornerback Johnathan Joseph, who helped turn the Texans’ defense around after signing from Cincinnati in 2011, has been to the league’s all-star game twice since joining the Texans. Former defensive end Antonio Smith signed with Houston in 2009 and set career highs in sacks in 2011 and 2012, earning a trip to the Pro Bowl following the 2011 season. Former left guard Wade Smith signed with the Texans in 2010 from Kansas City and made the first Pro Bowl of his career in 2012, his 10th season.
Smith also orchestrated the trades that brought quarterback Matt Schaub from Atlanta in 2007 and center Chris Myers from Denver in 2008. Both earned multiple Pro Bowl berths with the franchise. He has also executed 11 draft-day trades in the last eight years.
Smith places a premium on college free agents. The most well-known college free agent success story in Texans history is running back Arian Foster. Undrafted out of Tennessee in 2009, Foster signed with Houston and spent most of his rookie season on the practice squad. Foster started 2010 with a 231-yard effort against Indianapolis and went on to have the best season ever by an undrafted running back, winning the 2010 rushing title, All-Pro honors and the first of three consecutive Pro Bowl nods. He has risen from practice squad player to one of the most complete backs in the NFL.
Smith has found a way to consistently strengthen Houston’s roster and is continuing to build upon a foundation of talent and depth with the cornerstones of scrupulous evaluation, opportunistic free agency signings, smart trades and a methodical draft strategy.
2011 tested these principles unlike any other year. The Texans faced a drastically shortened 2011 offseason, a complete defensive scheme change, and a glut of injured starters, including season-ending injuries to starting and backup quarterbacks, Schaub and Matt Leinart, and Pro Bowler Mario Williams. In addition, All-Pro wide receiver Johnson missed more than half the season due to injury.
Smith’s principles and commitment to the Texans’ player acquisition strategy withstood the storm. Most notably was the play of rookie fifth-round draft pick T.J. Yates. Yates was pressed into action following the losses of Schaub and Leinart and became the first rookie quarterback to orchestrate comeback wins in his first two starts since 1968, including Houston’s playoff-clinching victory at Cincinnati in Week 13.
The Texans finished 2011 with the NFL’s second-ranked defense, a dramatic improvement over the unit that ranked 30th in the NFL in 2010. Houston’s 91.2-yard improvement was the third-greatest leap for a defense from one year to the next since 1970. On offense, Houston set a franchise rushing record for the second straight season and ranked second in the NFL with 153.0 rushing yards per game.
In his former role leading the Denver Broncos pro personnel department, the franchise posted the league’s fifth-best regular-season record from 2000-05, going 61-35 (.635). The 61 wins were the most of any AFC West team during that span, 10 more than the next closest team, Kansas City. Denver was one of only four teams in the NFL to reach the playoffs each season from 2003-05.
Before moving into the front office, Smith spent four years as the Broncos’ assistant defensive backs coach and earned two Super Bowl rings while helping guide a unit that consistently ranked as one of the league’s best. The team won more games from 1996-98 (46) than any club during that three-year period.
Smith joined the Broncos on April 3, 1996, following a two-year stint as defensive backs coach at his alma mater, Purdue University. He spent a short time at TCU prior to joining the Broncos.
A 1992 graduate of Purdue, Smith began his coaching career as a graduate assistant with the Boilermakers, serving as the school’s assistant strength and conditioning coordinator. After serving as the team’s graduate assistant tight ends coach for one season, Smith was hired as the secondary coach, becoming the youngest full-time position coach in the Big Ten Conference at the time at the age of 24. In 2012, Smith was honored by his alma mater with the Distinguished Alumnus Award.
Smith started at strong safety and was a defensive captain for Purdue as a senior in 1991. A native of Petersburg, Va., he attended Meadowdale High School in Dayton, Ohio. Smith is also a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
Smith supports several schools in the community, including Awty International and The Regis School of the Sacred Heart, and serves on the Board of Directors for Pro-Vision Academy, a charter school that provides young people in the greater Houston area with academic, social and economic opportunities in hopes of inspiring purpose and optimism. He and his wife, Tiffany, co-chaired the charter school’s first Cornerstone Luncheon in May 2014, helping raise more than $300,000 at the event. The Smith Family also gives time and resources to many other local charities throughout Houston, including the Linda Lorelle Scholarship Fund, Susie Bean Gives, the United Way and the Children’s Museum of Houston.
Rick and Tiffany Smith live in Houston with their sons, Robert LaMar and Christian LaMar, and daughter, Avery Jordan.