Bears defensive line coach Travis Smith experienced his first NFL training camp at seven years old. He was tagging alongside his father, Richard – now the Colts linebackers coach – who was serving as the Broncos special teams/assistant linebackers coach.
Travis spent parts of his childhood sitting in team meetings, watching practices and observing the NFL coaches, players and personnel. If he wasn't at school or playing football himself, Travis was with his father at the facility where he subconsciously developed his identity as a coach.
"What happened was, he had a very good feel at a young age because he's been around it," Richard said. "So then once he got that opportunity to get in the NFL, it didn't faze him. It's like he felt he belonged, in my opinion."
On Wednesday, decades after Travis' introduction to the NFL, he and Richard stood on opposite sidelines at Grand Park Sports Campus in Westfield, Ind., as the Bears and Colts competed in the teams' first of two joint practices.
Travis and Richard first saw each other Tuesday for a coaches meeting to discuss practice, but those moments don't equate to spending time together on the football field. While the pair started off practice on separate fields for individual drills, once the teams moved to the same field during the second half of practice, Travis and Richard kept an eye on each other's position groups.
"When we came together here as a full unit, it was great because when our offense was up, I wasn't watching the offense," Richard said. "I was watching the defensive line. So I had an opportunity to watch his guys for the first time."
This week's joint practices aren't the first time Travis and Richard have shared the field. When Travis earned his first NFL coaching job with the Raiders in 2012, he faced off against his dad twice a year for two years when Richard was with the division rival Broncos.
But the pair's best memories came in 2021 when Travis served as Raiders assistant defensive line coach and Richard was hired to coach the Las Vegas' linebackers.
Neither Travis nor Richard expected to ever coach together because of the business' unpredictable nature, but they always hoped for that opportunity. While Richard moved to Indianapolis in 2022, Travis believes they "took advantage of every minute we were able to spend and coach together."
"Even though it took about 10 years of me being in the league where we actually worked together," Travis said, "you kind of would pinch yourself everyday as we're game planning and out on the practice field together. You don't realize how fortunate you are when you look across the field and you're sittin' there with your damn dad. So it was awesome."
For Richard, who is entering his 45th season as an NFL coach, the daily opportunity to watch his son do what he loves will forever be an unmatched experience. Even though Richard would catch up with his son every week during the years they coached on separate teams, seeing Travis' development firsthand gave him an extra sense of pride.
"Anytime you have an opportunity to work with your son in that kind of capacity, it is outstanding," Richard said. "Also, the growth that he had. I always knew he was going to be a really great coach and having an opportunity to work with him in terms of his work ethic and the way he related to the players and the way he coached on the field, I thought he did an outstanding job.
"Still today – not because he's my son – the thing to me is, I think he's got a bright, bright future."
Richard is also proud of the way Travis worked to earn his own spot in the coaching world. After Travis graduated from Cal Poly State University in 2009, he told Richard about his aspirations to become a coach despite having an opportunity to work in a different field with one of his best friends. When Richard asked his son if he was sure about coaching, knowing the time commitment and dedication the profession demands, Travis responded, "yes. I love it and I'd be crazy if I didn't do it."
Rather than looking to Richard for his connections, Travis found a job on his own, starting with Santa Monica Junior College in 2010, assisting the tight ends and the defensive linemen. The following year, Travis served as the technical intern at the University of Colorado then was hired by the Raiders as a defensive assistant in 2012.
"He earned his stripes," Richard said. "Now what he's doing is making a reputation for himself and that's what he should do. He's Travis. I'm Richard. He does it his way and you gotta be yourself."
Entering his 13th season in the NFL and second with the Bears, Travis has reached veteran status in the coaching ranks, much like his father. Still, Richard remains a role model to Travis, who has watched his father devote his life to coaching and admires how Richard handles adversity and prosperity.
"He hasn't changed since I was seven years old," Travis said. "His intensity, his passion, his disposition when he coaches. Ever since I was a little kid, as long as I can remember, when I was at special teams practice, it has not changed. That just shows his passion and love for what he does as a coach, as a leader, as a teacher. It's been phenomenal for me to learn and watch."
The Bears took to the fields at the Grand Park Sports Complex in Westfield, Ind. Wednesday evening for the first of two joint practices with the Indianapolis Colts.