Steelers assistant Danny Smith's return something special
July 19, 2013 8:00 AM
Steelers special teams coach Danny Smith helps with punting drills at a youth football camp at West Allegheny High School.
By Ray Fittipaldo Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Danny Smith began his coaching career at Central Catholic High School in 1977 when a quarterback named Dan Marino played there. Since then, this Point Breeze native has coached at nearly every level of football, including college stops in Division II, Division I-AA and Division I, and for the past 18 years in the NFL.
After 37 years of a nomadic coaching life, Smith is finally home and coaching for the organization he idolized as a youth.
"It's been very special," Smith said Thursday between coaching sessions at the Steelers' youth camp at West Allegheny High School.
"I get emotional talking about it because I haven't lived here in a long time. Growing up here, the Steelers really stick with you. They really do."
For a long time, Smith never knew if it would happen. He has coached in the NFL since 1995 in Philadelphia, Detroit, Buffalo and, for the past nine seasons, with the Washington Redskins. Three years ago, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin wanted to hire him, but the Redskins denied the Steelers permission to speak with him.
In the NFL, teams do not have to grant permission for their employees to interview with another organization unless it is for a promotion with the new team.
Tomlin called again in January after former special teams coach Amos Jones left to become the special teams coach under Bruce Arians in Arizona. The Redskins granted permission this time, and Smith quickly accepted.
"In the NFL, there's not a lot you can do about it when a team denies permission," said Smith, who will turn 60 in September. "It's hard to fight those things because it's good to be wanted and those type of things. But I never looked back on a missed opportunity. I just don't live my life that way. I loved it there. We had good years there, off and on. Last year was special with some special players.
"But this opportunity, I was hoping for it in my heart. Those things come if you keep working for it. When the opportunity came, I really wanted to do it. I feel very fortunate to do it."
Smith spent the day Thursday coaching 180 children who went through coaching stations manned by Smith and other current and former Steelers players. He attended the camp while moving vans were bringing his family's belongings from Washington to his new home in Pittsburgh.
It's nice to think this will be his final coaching stop, but Smith knows he will be around only as long as his special teams perform.
"This is a production league," he said. "If I produce, I'll get to stay, and, if the players produce, they'll get to stay. I make it very simple for them."
Smith has his work cut out for him. The Steelers' kickoff-coverage and punt-coverage teams struggled in recent years. In 2012, the Steelers were 17th in the league in kickoff-return yardage allowed and 22nd in punt-return yardage allowed.
"There are certain skills and drills you have to master to cover a kick," Smith said. "I promise you we will master those skills and be [darn] good at it."
Smith spent the spring instructing his new players on how to be more fundamentally sound. Some of the drills are simple, but stress staying low and keeping good leverage. Others stress shedding blocks.
Smith has a good track record. The Redskins were at the top of the league in kickoff-return yards allowed in 2010 and 2011 and were seventh in 2012. The punt-return team ranked third last year.
"I believe in putting it together, together," Smith said. "That's what's so special about the Steelers because that's how they operate, and that's what I'm all about. I've been around great players, and the players make it go. I'm excited about the players I have here. We have good work ethic and great tradition. Those things make it easy to coach.
"But I have certain standards, certain mindsets. There are certain things I expect us to do. I'm very firm in those things. I feel like I'm a good communicator. If you can communicate and lead, you can get those things done."
• Prepare for Steelers training camp at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe with our guide and look toward the regular season.