Akili Smith was once on top of the football world.
After one superb season in 1998 as the starting quarterback at Oregon – including a career-best 442-yard, three-touchdown passing day against Washington – the riches of the professional game were at his feet.
Agents clamored to represent him. NFL teams worked him out diligently. And the following spring, he was the No. 3 overall pick in the NFL draft, taken by the Cincinnati Bengals. He eventually signed a seven-year, $56 million contract.
So, what is he doing now?
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He’s an offensive administrative assistant at California under coach Jeff Tedford – his former Ducks offensive coordinator.
“Cut and dry, I’m an offensive (coaches) secretary,” he said. “I make copies for any coach who wants something.”
A lot of errand running?
“They don’t ask me to get coffee,” Smith chuckled.
The NFL never panned out. After four seasons in Cincinnati, he was released. He bounced around the league (Green Bay, Tampa Bay), then left to play in NFL Europe (Frankfurt in 2005) before taking time off. His last stop came in the Canadian Football League (Calgary in 2007).
Finally, enough was enough.
“I felt in my spirit that I wasn’t able to execute on the football field anymore,” Smith said. “It was a situation where, if you feel you can’t make a mistake at the quarterback position, it’s time to get out of there.”
So, he’s gone the same route other former college quarterbacks, including UW coach Steve Sarkisian, have traveled – coaching.
“I don’t think you ever really want to give it up ... (but) being a coach is the closest thing to being a player, if you want it to be that way,” Sarkisian said.
“The (coaching) spots are so limited in this profession that you just try and get in any way you can, and then get around good people.”
After two seasons as the quarterbacks coach/passing game at his old junior college program – Grossmont Junior College in San Diego – Smith was at last year’s Rose Bowl game when he heard about the administrative opening at Cal. He checked in with Tedford about it, and was hired last March.
“He has an ambition to coach, so he’s taking advantage of this opportunity to be around it this year, and kind of understand how a college program runs behind closed doors, so to speak,” Tedford said.
Smith, 35, doesn’t coach any of the players, and he has no input on the weekly game plan, including the one Saturday against the UW. He’s listening, and contacting coaches who may one day affect his future.
“Right now, I’m not going to worry about the future,” Smith said. “The way to go about this is to reach out to your contacts to see if anything is about to open up. I’ll go to the coaches’ convention because people do (job) interviews out there.
“I am just thankful for the opportunity (Tedford) has given me, definitely. I want to be a full-time coach, recruiter and mentor to some of these kids.”
Safety Sean Parker (shoulder) was a full participant, and offensive lineman Ryan Tolar (knee) did limited individual work at practice Thursday morning, which was again held indoors at the Dempsey Center. Both will travel and be game-time decisions Saturday, Sarkisian said. ... Thursday was an anniversary of sorts for Sarkisian – two years ago, he interviewed for the UW job. And for Thanksgiving dinner, 50 to 60 UW players and assistants attended a catered dinner at his house. “My wife did do some pretty good desserts,” the Huskies coach said. “Thanksgiving has a little special place in my heart.” ... The Huskies’ travel plans have them arriving in Oakland today at 3 p.m., followed by an hour-long walkthrough at Memorial Coliseum.
Todd Milles: 253-597-8442 firstname.lastname@example.org