Ex-Houston Texans GM Rick Smith to interview with Detroit Lions next week

Detroit Free Press

Dave Birkett
| Detroit Free Press

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After conducting their first wave of interviews for their open general manager job with three in-house candidates last week, the Detroit Lions are lining up their next round of candidates.

One experienced hand who will be on their list: Former Houston Texans GM Rick Smith.

Smith is expected to interview with the Lions before Christmas, likely next week, a person familiar with the Lions’ plans told the Free Press on Monday. Smith is eligible to be hired immediately as he is not currently employed by a team.

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Smith spent more than 20 years as a coach and front office executive with two different teams before stepping away from football after the 2017 season to help care for his sick wife, who died of breast cancer last year.

He won back-to-back Super Bowls as assistant defensive backs coach with the Denver Broncos in 1997-98, joined the Broncos front office two years later and served as Texans GM in 2006-17.

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Smith, the NFL’s youngest GM when he was hired at 36 after the 2006 draft, inherited a 2-14 Texans team and led the franchise to four division titles in 12 years.

He had several early missteps in the draft and missed on quarterback Brock Osweiler in free agency, but also landed some of the franchise’s best players with first-round picks: J.J. Watt in 2011, DeAndre Hopkins in 2013, and, in his final first-round choice as GM, Deshaun Watson in 2017.

Watson threw for 318 yards and four touchdowns in a Thanksgiving win over the Lions last month, which prompted owner Sheila Ford Hamp to fire general manager Bob Quinn and head coach Matt Patricia two days later.

In Houston, Smith reportedly clashed with coach Bill O’Brien near the end his tenure, though he told Sports Illustrated in a 2018 story detailing his sabbatical from football that their feud was “overblown.”  O’Brien was fired by the Texans after an 0-4 start this season.

In the same story, Smith said his sabbatical gave him a new outlook on life and football, calling it, “the best thing I’ve ever done.”

The Lions (5-8) are expected to conduct a wide-ranging GM search that lasts into January and includes both experienced and first-time hires.

Last week, they interviewed three internal candidates — vice president of player personnel Kyle O’Brien, director of player personnel Lance Newmark and director of pro scouting Rob Lohman — though all are considered long shots for the job.

Smith is expected to be a candidate for the open GM jobs with the Atlanta Falcons and Washington.

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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