Executive Vice President/General Manager, Houston Texans
Rick Smith is in his seventh season as Texans general manager and second as executive vice president, overseeing all aspects of football operations. Smith inherited a two-win team when he was named general manager on June 5, 2006 and has since worked closely with the coaching and scouting staffs to build the Texans into a playoff team by identifying and signing elite players who have helped produce an exciting brand of football.
Smith has steadily strengthened Houston’s roster through the draft, free agency and trades. His main philosophy has been to build through the draft and supplement via free agency with a thorough and innovative front office staff that has the Texans pointed toward sustained success.
Smith has also been active in league affairs while at the helm of the Texans. He was appointed to the NFL’s prestigious Competition Committee by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on Dec. 5, 2008 and 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 game. In addition, Smith has earned recognition from his peers and was honored with the Tank Younger Award in 2008, presented annually by the Fritz Pollard Alliance for outstanding work in an NFL front office.
Smith has orchestrated several trades that have benefited the Texans greatly, including a deal with Atlanta in 2007 that brought quarterback Matt Schaub to Houston. Since then, Schaub has become the Texans’ all-time leading passer, the 12th player in NFL history to throw for more than 4,000 yards in back-to-back seasons (2009-10), led the NFL in passing in 2009 with 4,770 yards, was named the 2010 Pro Bowl MVP and has helped lead Houston’s offense to a top-four NFL ranking each year from 2008-10. In 2008, Smith traded with Denver for center Chris Myers, who became the first lineman in Texans history to make the Pro Bowl.
Perhaps the best overall draft class of Smith’s tenure came in 2009, when the Texans drafted Brian Cushing with the 15th overall pick. The former USC linebacker went on to earn NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and Pro Bowl honors, and led the team in tackles in 2011 for the second time in three years. Smith also signed running back Arian Foster as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2009. Foster had a breakout year in 2010, leading the NFL with 2,220 yards from scrimmage, 20 touchdowns scored and 1,616 yards rushing, the most ever by an undrafted player, in addition to earning Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors.
The fruits of Smith and his staff’s labor were never more plentiful and apparent than the successes of the 2011 season. Houston’s depth, built up through the draft and free agency, allowed the team to persevere through a potentially catastrophic glut of injuries to earn the franchise’s first playoff berth and AFC South division title, and set a franchise record with a seven-game winning streak. Houston lost Schaub and backup quarterback Matt Leinart in consecutive games, Pro Bowl outside linebacker Mario Williams, rookie punter Brett Hartmann, special teams stalwart Dominique Barber and linebacker Darryl Sharpton to season-ending injuries. In addition, All-Pro wide receiver Andre Johnson missed more than half the season with a hamstring injury, and starting free safety Danieal Manning and starting right guard Mike Brisiel missed three games apiece with broken fibulas.
A next-man-up attitude, talent and depth helped the Texans weather the storm. Foster, who was re-signed prior to training camp, was elected to his second consecutive Pro Bowl. Cornerback Johnathan Joseph, widely considered one of the top unrestricted free agent signees heading into the 2011 season, was named to his first Pro Bowl. Connor Barwin moved from strongside linebacker into Williams’ weakside spot and recorded a team-best 11.5 sacks. Tight end Owen Daniels, who Smith re-signed following the 2010 season, led the team with 54 receptions for 677 yards. Perhaps the most impressive example of Houston’s depth 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.
Prior to a trying but successful 2011 season, the Texans’ primary focus was finding the right personnel through free agency and the draft to put the defense in a position to succeed as it switched to a 3-4 scheme from a 4-3. Smith and his staff had to change their perspective on evaluating draft and free agent prospects leading into the offseason. For the second year in a row, Smith put together a pair of draft day trades, acquiring picks from New England in the second round and Washington in the fifth round on the way to drafting defensive players with six of Houston’s eight picks. Smith continued to focus on defense during the abbreviated 2011 free-agency period, signing Joseph (Cincinnati) and Manning (Chicago).
Houston’s 2011 draft class played in a combined 69 games with 32 starts and was led by Wisconsin defensive end J.J. Watt and Arizona’s Brooks Reed. The 6-foot-6, 292-pound Watt was taken with the 11th overall pick and Reed, who was widely regarded as having first-round talent, was taken with Houston’s first pick in the second round. Watt (5.5 sacks) and Reed (6.0 sacks) became the first rookie teammates to record more than five sacks apiece since 1996. Watt was the team’s Rookie of the Year and earned All-Rookie honors, while Reed set the franchise rookie sack record at strongside linebacker.
Smith selected Yates in the fifth round with the pick acquired in the trade with Washington. Yates went on to become the fourth rookie fifth-round draft pick to win his first career start since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. Cornerback Brandon Harris, who was taken with the second-round pick acquired in the New England trade, played in seven games, primarily on special teams. Fifth-round pick, safety Shiloh Keo, played in 10 games on special teams. Offensive tackle Derek Newton was taken in the seventh round and played in 14 games.
Several rookie free agents contributed in 2011, including Hartmann, who set franchise records for kickoff touchbacks, net punting average and had the two longest punts in Texans history before his injury. Houston’s undrafted rookies played in a combined 39 games in 2011.
Houston approached the 2012 draft with the same mentality Smith has instilled since joining the organization, emphasizing player value above need and staying true to its player evaluation board. Smith and his staff bolstered positions on both sides of the ball, beginning with the defense. The Texans took Illinois outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus with the 26th overall pick. The 6-foot-4, 261-pound Mercilus led the country in sacks per game and forced fumbles with nine as a junior at Illinois in 2011. Mercilus was named to the All-Big Ten First Team, won the Ted Hendricks Defensive End of the Year Award and earned numerous All-America accolades.
Smith executed his sixth draft-day trade in the last three years on Day 2 of the draft, swapping Houston’s second- and seventh-round picks to Tampa Bay for the fifth pick in the third round and 31st pick in the fourth round (68th and 126th overall picks). The Texans took Ohio State wide receiver DeVier Posey with their first pick in the third round and then grabbed massive Miami (Ohio) guard Brandon Brooks with the 13th pick of the third round. Posey hauled in 136 passes for 1,955 yards and 18 touchdowns in his career at Ohio State. Brooks was an honorable mention All-America who started 41-of-45 games in college and has the speed to work in the Texans’ blocking scheme despite his 6-foot-5, 346-pound frame.
Brooks’ selection was due in part to another trade Smith made in March that sent linebacker DeMeco Ryans and the Texans’ third-round slot (26th) to Philadelphia for the 13th pick in the third round and the fourth pick in the fourth round. The Texans used the fourth-round pick in the Philadelphia trade to grab All-SEC center Ben Jones from Georgia before selecting dynamic wide receiver and returner Keshawn Martin from Michigan State with the 26th pick in the fourth round. Jones played 49 games in the trenches against college football’s best defenses while serving as a team captain at Georgia. Martin scored touchdowns five different ways during his career and caught 66 passes for 777 yards and four touchdowns as a senior.
Houston used its other fourth-round pick from the Tampa Bay trade to select Nebraska defensive end Jared Crick. Though limited by a pectoral injury as a senior, the team captain still managed 20.0 sacks in his collegiate career and set a school record with 5.0 sacks against Baylor in 2009. Smith selected All-American and 2011 Lou Groza Place-Kicker Award winner Randy Bullock from Texas A&M in the fifth round. Bullock is the first kicker ever drafted by the Texans and set school records with 365 points scored and 63 field goals. The Texans rounded out the draft in the sixth round with Purdue tackle Nick Mondek, a converted defensive tackle who started 25 games as a junior and senior.
In 2010, 14 players who the Texans signed or acquired during Smith’s tenure started 10 or more games. Houston’s offense finished the 2010 season ranked among the NFL’s top four offenses for the third straight season, finishing third with a franchise-record 386.6 yards per game. The offense, keyed by Foster’s breakout performance and Schaub’s second-straight 4,000-yard passing season, was the only unit ranked in the NFL’s top 10 in passing (fourth) and rushing (seventh). Perennial Pro Bowler Johnson, who Smith signed to a multi-year contract extension prior to the season, finished with 1,216 yards receiving despite playing with an ankle injury all season that caused him to miss three games entirely. The 2010 Texans were only the third team in NFL history to have a 4,000-yard passer, 1,000-yard receiver and 1,600-yard rusher.
The Texans selected Alabama cornerback Kareem Jackson in the first round of the 2010 draft. Jackson started all 16 games and had two interceptions. Second-round pick Ben Tate suffered a season-ending injury in the 2010 preseason but bounced back in 2011 to rush for 942 yards. Houston’s third-round selection, defensive tackle Earl Mitchell, steadily worked his way into the defensive line rotation and played in 15 games with 28 tackles and a sack. Sharpton, who was selected in the fourth round out of Miami, came on strong at the end of the season, starting six games and totaling 34 tackles.
Houston posted its first winning season in 2009, going 9-7 and narrowly missing the playoffs. The Texans had a team-record five Pro Bowlers in 2009, including three from Houston’s defense—Ryans, Williams and Cushing—to go alongside offensive counterparts Schaub and Johnson. Cushing led all rookies in tackles with 133 and tied for the team lead with four interceptions on his way to being named the Associated Press Defensive Rookie of the Year.
The Texans took eight players in the 2009 draft, including four who started at least one game. In addition to Cushing’s rookie success, Barwin was taken in the second round and led all NFL rookie defensive ends with 4.5 sacks. Guard Antoine Caldwell started three of the 11 games he played at right guard while fourth-rounder Glover Quin started 12 games at cornerback. All totaled, four 2009 draft picks started a combined 32 games.
Smith has also had success drafting in the later rounds, taking 24 players between the fourth and seventh rounds from 2007-11. Those players have combined to start 158 games for the Texans, with Quin starting the most at 44 games.
In his former role with the Broncos, Smith was responsible for evaluating players from around the NFL as well as those in NFL Europe, the Canadian Football League, the Arena Football League and other professional leagues. He also played a central role in the club’s preparation for the college draft and was one of the Broncos’ primary negotiators for player contracts.
With Smith heading the pro personnel department, the Broncos 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. Not surprisingly, 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 left Purdue in February to accept a coaching position at TCU, but spent just one month at the school before being hired by the Broncos.
A 1992 graduate of Purdue, Smith began his coaching career as a graduate assistant with the Boilermakers shortly after his graduation, serving as the school’s assistant strength and conditioning coordinator. After serving as the team’s tight ends coach for one season as a graduate assistant, Smith was then 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.
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 and his wife, Tiffany, live in Houston with sons, Robert LaMar and Christian LaMar, and daughter, Avery Jordan.