Special teams coach criticized by fans but praised by the players

The blocked field goals and inconsistencies of the special teams drove fans nuts. The players focused on other aspects of Danny Smith, like his preparation and honesty. It's why they will miss him now that he's headed to Pittsburgh.

Smith will become the Steelers' special teams coach, it was learned Wednesday.

Smith joined the Redskins in 2004 when Joe Gibbs returned and lasted through two other coaching regimes -- Jim Zorn and Mike Shanahan. Numerous teams had sought him to become their special teams coach over the years, but either the Redskins would reject a request to interview him or Smith wasn't interested.

But the Steelers represent a chance to return home: Smith is from Pittsburgh, and his dad still lives there.

Smith also has friends on the Steelers' staff.

It's uncertain who will replace Smith, but his assistant, Richard Hightower, has been with him for three seasons.

"He was one of our best coaches we had as far as being detailed and paying attention to technique," Redskins special teams ace Lorenzo Alexander said of Smith. "The passion and fire that he brings and an honesty that is lacking in the NFL a little bit as far as a player-coach relationship. He's up front and honest about where you stand and how you can get better, and that guy will fight for you. That's what Pittsburgh is gaining, and it's something we'll lose.

"Hopefully they give it to Hightower. He knows the system and knows the players and is a lot like Danny as far as how he handles his players and his coaching ability."

It's difficult to quantify special teams statistics. Critics point to the rankings, which often left Washington out of the top 10, as a reason Smith's tenure wasn't productive. But publicly and privately, players routinely hailed Smith.

Alexander said Smith could tell you what a coach ran five years ago in a certain situation.

"He knows that this coach likes to run 80 percent of the time to the right coming out of the second half," Alexander said as an example. "Or one team coming out of a second half if they're trailing they'll run a wedge to the left. ... He was that detailed. He could break everyone down. If you wanted to take advantage of it, it gave you an edge."