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Rick Smith, who possesses 34 years of collegiate coaching experience and has directed defenses at the FBS level for eight seasons, returned to East Carolina on Jan. 18, 2013 as defensive coordinator and secondary coach.
His second tour of duty at ECU followed a 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.
Despite inheriting a unit that ranked 75th nationally in passes intercepted, 87th in total defense, 88th in scoring defense and 107th in pass defense a year earlier, Smith exceeded the first-year success he enjoyed in 2005 during his first Pirate tenure with a foundation-building, impacting-producing, bowl-winning second initial campaign in 2013.
In addition to developing 10 All-Conference USA performers, including second-team selections in outside linebacker Derrell Johnson, free safety Damon Magazu and end Lee Pegues, Smith’s defense ranked among the nation’s top 50 units in four of five major categories and stood 13th at the FBS level against both the pass (18 interceptions) and run (116.7 yards per game allowed).
Under Smith’s guidance, the Pirates surrendered less than 100 rushing yards in six contests alone during the 2013 season, a feat last accomplished in 2009 – ironically, Smith’s final year at ECU during his first stop in Greenville. After giving up a combined 185.6 rushing yards per game, 430.0 total yards per game and 36.1 points per game during Ruffin McNeill’s first three years, the Pirates promptly responded to Smith’s tutelage by significantly trimming the numbers down to 116.7, 368.8 and 24.8 in just one year of work.
Smith offered an encore in 2014 by ranking 11th nationally against the run (111.8 ypg) and 13th in defensive third-down percentage (34.2), while also standing among the country’s top 40 units in interceptions (29th/14), pass efficiency defense (37th/120.21) and total defense (37th/367.3 ypg).
The Pirates held seven opponents under triple-digit yardage totals on the ground and featured the nation’s ninth-leading tackler in junior linebacker Zeek Bigger, who became the first ECU defender to reach 140 stops since 2003. Nose tackle Terry Williams, linebacker Brandon Williams joined Bigger on the All-American Athletic Conference squad, while cornerback Josh Hawkins was a semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe Award after topping the secondary with five interceptions and 11 pass breakups.
Before re-joining the East Carolina program, 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. His efforts aided a defensive unit that ranked 17th nationally in total defense (317.9 ypg), 22nd in scoring defense (20.0 ppg) and 24th in pass defense (192.3 ypg).
After joining Skip Holtz’ initial Pirate staff, Smith quickly provided the revamped ECU defensive backfield with an immediate lift, 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.
Smith 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 in 2007 before developing cornerback Emanuel Davis into a five-time all-freshman honoree in 2008, 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.
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.
In 2009, the Pirate backfield played a key role in ECU’s No. 5 FBS standing with 34 forced turnovers and a conference-best 21.9 defensive scoring average, and turned in another notable title game performance by intercepting Houston quarterback Case Keenum three times, including the game-clincher with 42 seconds remaining.
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 league-high 15 pass thefts, a 9-1 record and a 30-24 World Bowl victory over the Frankfurt Galaxy in June, 2004.
Before heading overseas, 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, 67, enjoyed an earlier seven-year stay at Kentucky, and 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.
In all, he has played an integral role helping squads reach 12 bowl games during his career, which includes post-season showings as defensive coordinator at Tulane, Cincinnati and ECU, along with other invitations while at Georgia Tech, Alabama, Kentucky and USF.
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 grown children - Beth, Steve and Billy – and three grandchildren.