Longtime Redskins special teams coach Danny Smith has accepted the same position with the Pittsburgh Steelers, a person with knowledge of the situation confirmed Wednesday.
Smith, who has coached Washington’s special teams since 2004, received permission to interview with the Steelers earlier this week. He has long been pursued by opposing teams, but the Redskins have always worked to keep him on staff.
The Steelers asked to interview Smith in 2010, but were denied. But the Redskins allowed Smith to interview with his hometown team this offseason. Smith still has family in the Pittsburgh area.
“He is one of the best coaches, from a technician standpoint. Very detailed and just a great motivator. He brought a passion and fire that really spread throughout the building,” special teams captain Lorenzo Alexander said. ”Guys loved playing for him and not just because of the football aspects, but because you could really tell he cared about you off the field too.”
“He made it an honor to play special teams,” Alexander added. “A lot of places, it’s like you’re not good enough to play offense or defense so they throw you on special teams and let’s see what happens. But Danny approached it with the mindset that special teams can help decide the outcome of games if guys really took pride in it. He will definitely be missed.”
Smith came under scrutiny early this season when Washington had two punts blocked. But his unit improved as the season progressed and finished in solid statistical standing.
Washington ranked 16th in the league on kickoff returns this season, with a 23.5-yard average, and 17th on punt returns (9.3 ypr). The kickoff return average marked an improvement on last year’s 22.1-yard-per-return average. The Redskins averaged 8.9 yards per punt return in 2011. They ranked 12th in the league on kickoff coverage with an average of 23.0 yards allowed per kick return. On punt coverage, Washington allowed 8.2 yards per return, eighth in the NFL.
The kicking game solidified when the Redskins signed Kai Forbath to replace Billy Cundiff six weeks into the season. Forbath went 17-for-18 on field goals, and by making the first 17 attempts of his career, set an NFL record for first-year kickers.
Earlier this offseason the Redskins lost receivers coach Ike Hilliard to the Buffalo Bills. He and Smith are the only coaches to depart so far
In 2010, Washington hired Richard Hightower to serve as Smith’s assistant. It wasn’t immediately clear how Smith’s departure would affect Hightower’s status.