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Rick Smith named East Carolina Defensive Coordinator

Posted January 18, 2013

— Rick Smith, who possesses 32 years of collegiate coaching experience and has directed defenses at the FBS level for six seasons, has been named defensive coordinator at East Carolina University according to an announcement from head football coach Ruffin McNeill Friday.

His new assignment at ECU, which will include position coach responsibilities for the secondary, will mark a return to the Pirate program after an earlier five-year tenure guiding defensive backs from 2005 to 2009 - an era which produced two Conference USA championships, back-to-back league scoring defense statistical titles and a run of four-straight bowl appearances.

Most recently, Smith served as assistant head coach with oversight of cornerbacks and safeties at Big East Conference member South Florida for three seasons beginning in 2010.

In all, he has played an integral role helping squads reach 10 bowl games during his career, which includes post-season showings as defensive coordinator at Tulane and Cincinnati along with other invitations while at Georgia Tech, Alabama, Kentucky and USF.

"Before beginning the search process, I established specific criteria for this position - 1) experience as a respected defensive coordinator, 2) experience as a respected secondary coach, 3) experience as an effective recruiter and 4) a fit for East Carolina Football and the University," McNeill said. "After conducting a thorough national search and reaching out to my contacts from both the college and professional ranks, it became very clear that Rick represented those values and more.

"When I completed the telephone and in-person discussion phase, he fit those qualities to certainly reaffirm that he was the right choice. We are excited to welcome Rick and Barbara back to the Pirate Nation."

During his first tour of action with the Pirates, Smith quickly provided the revamped ECU defensive backfield with an immediate impact, molding a unit that finished the 2005 campaign ranked among the nation's top 20 in pass defense, allowing only 184.9 yard a game. His schematic preparation also allowed for 15 interceptions during the year before topping that mark in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009 with 16, 17, 22 and 17, respectively - figures which ranked 21st, 25th, fifth and 16th nationally.

In three (2005, 2006, 2008) of his five years in Greenville, the Pirates held two teams under the century mark in pass defense - which includes the program's top single-game effort since 1969 when it held Navy's play-action passing game to just six yards during the 2006 season opener and a 72-yard effort against West Virginia All-America quarterback Pat White during East Carolina's 24-3 triumph over the No. 8 Mountaineers in 2008 that vaulted the Pirates into the Top 25 polls.

All four of Smith's starters in the secondary earned All-Conference USA honors in 2006 and the unit set new school single-game and single-season records for most touchdowns scored on interception returns.

After losing three of the four starters in his backfield, Smith reloaded in 2007 with new talent at one cornerback position and both safety slots. In addition to the noteworthy interception total, Smith also directed the efforts of two all-conference selections in first-year safety and top team tackler Van Eskridge (104) along with veteran cornerback Travis Williams. Another corner, freshman Travis Simmons, was chosen to the league's all-rookie team after booking 27 stops and picking off a pass.

In 2008, he followed with another first-team selection in Eskridge and developed cornerback Emanual Davis into a five-time all-freshman honoree, one of which was an All-America designation from Rivals.com. Of the 22 interceptions, which were the most for a Pirate squad since 1994, five came against Tulsa in the C-USA Championship Game victory against the nation's top-ranked offense. Simmons, one of Smith's starters at cornerback, earned MVP honors after returning one of the picks 72 yards for a touchdown and a momentum-building 14-0 ECU lead.

Smith's secondary helped East Carolina to a No. 2 pass defense rank that year in the explosive and offensive-heavy C-USA statistical standings with a 197.2 ypg mark. The Pirates finished among the nation's top 50 units in pass defense and were included in the top 40 in pass efficiency defense.

Three of his secondary performers stood among the FBS level's top 15 statistical leaders in 2009 as Eskridge ranked 19th in interceptions per game, Davis was 15th in passes defended per game and safety Levin Neal rated 15th in fumbles recovered per game. Smith's backfield, which played a key role in ECU's No. 5 FBS standing with 34 forced turnovers and a conference-best 21.9 defensive scoring average, turned in another notable title game performance by intercepting Houston quarterback Case Keenum three times, including the game-clincher with 42 seconds remaining, in the Pirates' 38-32 win over the Cougars.

Smith accepted an offer to join Skip Holtz' staff at USF in 2010 and his efforts aided a defensive unit that ranked 17th nationally in total defense (317.9 ypg), 22nd in scoring defense (20.0 ppg), 24th in pass defense (192.3 ypg) and 34th in pass efficiency defense (118.2). Smith’s secondary held nine-of-13 opponents under 200 yards passing and the unit's 15 interceptions stood third on USF’s single-season list. In addition, he helped tutor senior Mistral Raymond, who earned Second-Team All-Big East honors and was selected in the sixth round of the NFL Draft by the Minnesota Vikings.

A year later, Smith mentored a group that enabled the Bulls to finish 37th nationally in scoring defense (22.7 ppg), 39th in total defense (351.3 ypg) and 41st in pass efficiency defense (123.5 rating) before aiding on run support that resulted in a Top 50 rank in rush defense (149.9 ypg) in 2012.

Prior to arriving at East Carolina, Smith served a one-year stint as a defensive backs coach for Berlin in NFL Europe, where he helped lead the Thunder to a 9-1 record and a 30-24 World Bowl victory over the Frankfurt Galaxy in June, 2004. Smith also played a key role in Berlin's league-high 15 interceptions, three of which came during its championship game win.

Before his position in professional football, Smith spent two seasons as co-defensive coordinator at Louisiana Tech in 2002 and 2003 after handling recruiting coordinator, assistant head coach and secondary duties at Southeastern Conference member Kentucky during the previous season.

While Cincinnati's defensive coordinator, Smith's unit stood fourth nationally in turnovers gained (34) in 2000 to help the Bearcats to a 7-5 record and an appearance in the Motor City Bowl. Before his two-year tenure at UC, he headed the Tulane defense where he played a pivotal role in the Green Wave's No. 7 national rank and undefeated (12-0) campaign in 1998 which was capped by a win over BYU in the Liberty Bowl. In 1997, he helped Tulane to a 7-4 mark while topping the nation in interceptions with 26.

Smith enjoyed an earlier seven-year stay at Kentucky, serving as the Wildcats' secondary coach before being promoted to the coordinator position in 1996. He was part of a UK program which earned a Peach Bowl matchup against Clemson in 1993.

From 1987 to 1989, he worked under legendary College Football Hall of Fame inductee Grant Teaff at Baylor. His appointment as the Bears' secondary coach followed a season on Ray Perkins' staff at Alabama where he helped guide the Crimson Tide to a 28-6 win over Washington in the 1986 Sun Bowl while working in a similar capacity.

While serving as a linebackers (1982), secondary and punters coach (1983-85) during his second stint at Georgia Tech, Smith helped the Yellow Jackets to an All-American Bowl win over Michigan State in 1985. He also spent time on the East Tennessee State staff after beginning his collegiate coaching career at Georgia Tech in 1977 as its head freshmen coach.

Smith, 64, also directed the rebuilding efforts at two high school programs as head coach, taking the Marianna (Fla.) fortunes from a 1-9 campaign in 1979 to a 7-3 mark in 1981 before leading Wakulla (Fla.) to an 8-2 record in 1975.

Smith, who earned a bachelor's degree in physical education from Florida State in 1971, is married to the former Barbara Reddick and they are the parents of three children - Beth, Steve and Billy.

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  • tcoutouzis Jan 19, 10:16 a.m.

    He is a solid defensive coach. He is going to command respect and turn this defense around immediately.

    After Thompson was fired he came on with Skip. In the very first game I saw a secondary that played aggressive and solid fundamentally. They were wrapping guys up, recording interceptions, knocking the ball away and not blowing their coverage. While he was in Greenville, I saw our defense strip and force turnovers better than any I have seen in the last 21 years.

    This is a great hire! Go Pirates!

  • NCSU84 Jan 18, 4:16 p.m.

    Seems like a good hire and should make the def a lot better than the past three years.

  • Hokies94 Jan 18, 4:05 p.m.

    This coach has a super resume and experience. Sounds like a great hire.

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