Riley Smith was born in Carrollton, Mississippi on July 14, 1911, attended Greenwood High School, then moved to Columbus and played for Columbus High School.

He played quarterback for the University of Alabama, was a consensus All-American and was part of the  team that won the  1935 Rose Bowl. Riley also played in the East-West Shrine Game and the College All Star Game where he was the team captain on each team.

Riley was drafted by the Boston Redskins as the second overall pick of the 1936 NFL Draft. For Boston in 1936, as quarterback and a running back, he completed 14 passes of 33 attempts and ran for 26 yards in 30 carries. He caught three passes for 76 yards and scored two touchdowns. He also was the punter and kicked four field goals and 14 extra points. He moved with the team to Washington and played with the Redskins in 1937 and 1938, until an injury ended his playing career early.

After retirement Riley became an assistant at Washington and Lee University Lexington, Virginia, where he was the backfield coach in 1939 and 1940.

He served in the  U.S. Navy as a lieutenant commander, from 1942 to 1945 and then became a real estate developer in  Mobile, Alabama. He raised $1.65 million for the University of Alabama and set a record for funds raised for the American Heart Association in a seven county district.

Riley Smith was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1985 and passed away in Mobile, Alabama on August 8, 1999, at age 88.