Q: You've been quite outspoken in your support for Tony Sparano. What makes you think that he is the guy to keep leading you guys?
Smith:"I would guess it's the way the team received and respected him, and the way he was able to change the mindset and get us into an environment where you want for more. I think early on in the year, people could have easily gave up. It could have easily went south real fast to the point where you're one of those teams that goes down in history for not winning a game, and I did not want to be a part of that. With all that was going on and all that he did, I think that it's a tremendous change of the mindset of the players. Everything else, I don't know much about. But us – a different mindset. To see that we played every game to its end as hard as we could is a testament to that. We didn't ever give up."
Q: So you are saying that this team could have gone 0-16 if not for Sparano?
Smith:"Definitely. It could have easily went that way. If everybody wouldn't have bought in, if he wouldn't have been able to relate to players enough to get them to buy in, it would have done exactly that."
Q: How close is this team to taking that next step? How far away is this team?
Smith:"Not far at all. I believe it in my core – it's right there on the brink. It needs a couple things added and just a full year of that mindset that, like I said, Tony installs in the team. Even though you're giving it, it takes a while for everybody to suck it up, to take it in. As it did that, we became a better and better team and I think that we're still becoming a better and better team. And with a full year, who knows what we can do."
Q: What are those things that the team needs to take it to that next step?
Smith:"You know, you never can really know until you really assess it like the guys upstairs do, but we need to play – in my opinion, firsthand, being a defensive player – we need to play better defense in the four quarters, in the long runs and away games. I think that in home games something in that environment gives us that extra 'umph' we need. But if you're going to be any team worth its salt, you've got to win away games and we didn't win not a one. I think that as a defense, we need that. As an offense, if you want to be one of the best teams in the league – you see how Peyton Manning does – you've got to put up points. When you face guys that can put up points and you don't match them, it's going to be a long day for you."* *
Q: Have you or any of the other players been vocal to Mark Davis about wanting Sparano back or why he should be back?
Smith:"I would imagine so. I, myself, have not had that conversation, but I'm having it with y'all right now and I can guarantee probably everybody's watching; he's probably looking, too. I know individual players probably have and I know I've talked to a lot of veteran individual players that believe that Tony can take us where we need to go."
Q: Going into the offseason, how far do veterans like yourself and Justin Tuck go into recruiting free agents to come here?
Smith:"(Laughing) Me, myself, I've never done the recruiting thing. I talk to a couple of my brothers that I'm real close with around the league, we became free agents at the same time as me. You try to talk each other into going there, but I don't know about the recruiting thing. Me and Tuck were actually just talking about that like, 'Man, we've got to go out here, we've got to get guys coming here.' I just start laughing. If you do have that power, if Tuck has that power, more power to him – get us everything we need. I never really was a recruiting guy."
Q: So you never had any regret coming here?
Smith:"Never. I take that back. *(laughing) *I take that back because I'm an honest guy. At first, it was kind of bad. I was having groin issues, all kinds of issues. It wasn't a like a thing to where I regretted coming here. It was like a thing where, 'What am I doing?' But then I became a Raider, and me and Tuck have been talking about that. We talked to the guys about that before the game yesterday, it just became infectious. That's why I tip my hat off to Tony. When people kind of did not know, because this is more of a young team than you think it is. A lot of new guys that have not been here kind of don't know the culture. I kind of didn't know the culture and what it is and what it means to be a Raider. I think that mindset started to be drilled into the players' heads. It was not, kind of from the outside looking in, had seen before. 'Man, I want to play for the Raiders. It's a tough, hard-nosed team,' – as a child that I had ever seen. When I got here, it was kind of like we were all trying to find an identity. I think Tony, him being led, too – he talked to a lot of guys upstairs. He talked to Willie [Brown], Howie [Long], a lot of old Raiders who know what it means to be a Raider, and he took that and started Jedi-mindtrickingly snuck it in there in every meeting. He got a quote in every meeting. You see these lockers? You get a quote every day."
Q: What was the highlight for you this year?
Smith:"Highlight for me this year – I would have to say I learned real quick just how significant the Battle of the Bay was – real quick. That would probably be the high point, and not even during the game. I think even during the game, I felt the energy, but I didn't know. After the game, the responses form the fans – they were almost satisfied. 'Hey, we won the Battle of the Bay. Next year we're going to fix it, but as long as we got that.' That type of support and electrifying environment, I think that would be the highlight of this year."
Q: Will you be following the postseason and the Super Bowl this year?
Smith:"I don't do that. That's torture. I think I've watched the Super Bowl two times since I ain't been in it. I see it as torture. If I ain't in it, I don't want to watch it."