Matthew Smiley is the Assistant Special Teams Coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars, entering his second year with the team from Florida.
Speaking to A Head For The Game following their 31-17 loss at Wembley Stadium on Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys, the former Charleston Southern University special teams coordinator lamented on yet another loss for the Jags, positives for the Jags Special Teams and his very personal connection with the British ‘Salute to Service’ and Remembrance Sunday tribute, complete with ‘Poppy Drop’ and poppies featuring on team uniforms.
“One of the big positives for me as coach for the Special Teams Coach was causing that safety at the end of the game,” said Smiley about Cowboys linebacker Kyle Wilber being flagged for holding in the end zone on a punt, for a Jaguars safety to make the score 31-9 – a brief highlight in an otherwise forgettable match for the ‘home’ side.
“That was really our guys trying hard; still working hard to draw that holding call in the end zone.
“It was a real big positive for us to see how hard those guys were fighting, but the biggest thing for us on special teams is putting the right guys in the right positions and then just gelling together as a unit – the more time we have together working as a unit, the better we will get.”
Special Teams often have jokes made at their expense, but time and time again players on the NFL teams who visit London for the International Series are surprised at the amount of media and fan interest they receive – in the kickers particularly – but for Smiley it is all part of the enjoyment.
“Most of the American kickers appreciate soccer,” said Smiley. “It’s fun coming here for those guys because a lot them grew up playing soccer.
“It’s fun for us all having that extra attention.”
Along with nine years of coaching experience, including eight at collegiate level, Coach Smiley also undertook coaching duties whilst serving with the US Military as part of his Reserve Officers’ Training Corps commitment following his graduation in kinesiology from the University of Illinois in 2001.
The father-of-three served as a 1st Lt. Maintenance Officer in the United States Air Force (USAF) in Grand Forks, North Dakota from 2001 until December 2004 and whilst stationed at the air base, worked with the specialists at the University of North Dakota a few miles away, coaching two All-American kickers in 2001 and 2003.
During his USAF service Smiley was responsible for the daily operations, training and management of 200 troops and whilst on active duty, was deployed four times in support of Operation Enduring Freedom receiving the USAF Commendation Medal – awarded for ‘heroism, meritorious achievement or meritorious service’.
For Smiley, the significance of the Cowboys v Jaguars game being played on Remembrance Sunday – the traditional day to commemorate the sacrifices and contribution made by British military and civilian servicemen and servicewomen in conflicts around the world – was not lost.
“I am well aware of the poppy celebration here,” said Smiley, who gained a Masters in Kinesiology from the University of North Dakota in 2004. “I thought it was unbelievable to experience it over here.
“At our pre-match team meeting we observed the two minute silence and our guys just stood in reverence for the whole time – a big deal for big guys who are moving around a lot.
“That really hit me, because most of the times when you guys (Britain) were out fighting we (the United States) were with you, so that was real special; to do that as a team.
“The country does an unbelievable job taking care of their veterans and honouring our veterans and it was great for our guys to see the way you guys deal with your veterans.
“The day was extra special for me but I always try to emphasise to people who don’t have someone in the military that we get to do this fun profession of American Football because of the guys in the uniform.”