NFL Coaches Empower Women Aspiring to Work in Football

INDIANAPOLIS — The 338 prospects in Indianapolis are not the only hopefuls eyeing the next level. 42 women, mostly working in collegiate football and carefully selected by the NFL, spent two days interfacing with industry leaders in all facets of the sport. The 3rd annual Women’s Careers in Football Forum paired women like Kasia Omilian, a scouting and operations intern at University of Washington who some day wants to be an NFL GM and Erin Craig, the Director of Strength and Conditioning at St. Mary’s University in Nova Scotia with successful NFL figures who not only offered advice but possibly a more direct route to job opportunities.

The Forum’s second day kicked off with a lively, passionate discussion with four NFL head coaches noted for their commitment to inclusion – Buffalo’s Sean McDermott, Carolina’s Ron Rivera, Baltimore’s John Harbaugh and Tampa’s Bruce Arians. Harbaugh underscored the mission and timing of the Forum to the participants, “a growing number of coaches and teams are looking for you.”

26 new job opportunities arose from the first two Forums, and the energy and passion on stage backed Harbaugh’s suggestion that the number would rise.

All four coaches extolled their connections to women and the power of female role models. McDermott says his 10-year-old daughter wants to be a coach and was inspired by former Bills seasonal coaching intern Phoebe Schecter.  Rivera gushed over Jennifer King, a former Panthers training camp intern who is now a coach for the AAF’s Arizona Hotshots. He praised her drive and football smarts and only regrets not having her in the building for an extended internship.  “Having women around has the unintended consequence of a calming effect,” Rivera said. “That leads to a better coaching environment.”

Rivera and the other coaches also understand that with more inclusiveness comes more options for the best possible staff.

“It’s a new frontier. You’re pioneers, and the next generation coming behind you guys is going to step right in your wake. I think the doors are going to be wide open. So I think coaches like us want to be on the cutting edge of that,” Harbaugh told the room.

“Literally they’re saying they should consider the entire talent pool,” said NFL Senior Director of Football Development Sam Rapoport, the brainchild behind the forum. “This isn’t necessarily about women, this is about why are we only considering half the talent pool. They are challenging themselves and other coaches and that’s how progress is made.”

Progress is also made with tangible action, and Arians, who made Jen Welter the first-ever female NFL coach during Cardinals training camp in 2014, is again at the forefront. Arians told TFG after the session that he plans to create a full-time coaching position designated for a woman.  An exact timeline for the position to begin has not been set, but Arians said this season is a possibility. He believes the coaching pool is deep enough to warrant this new role and touted the confluence of internal support. “You have to have the right support from ownership,” he said.

Arians’ revelation came after sharing a question 49ers offensive assistant coach Katie Sowers attempted to ask during the session. “Why is she the only full-time coach? Why can’t these internships convert into permanent work?”

Sowers enters her third season working under Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco after previously interning under Shanahan in Atlanta. While there has been a marked increase in internships for women in coaching and football operations, many stemming from the connections formed at Women’s Careers in Football Forum, Sowers strongly wants more women to become more permanent fixtures within their organizations. If Tuesday’s session was any indication, the future of women in football is now.

However, the coaches warned that simply showing up to the Forum and waiting by the phone would hardly  be sufficient in this competitive landscape.

Arians asked the participants how many wanted to be coaches. Approximately eight women raised their hands. He then asked how many had sent him a resume after he was named Tampa Bay’s head coach. None had. While the probability of an NFL head coach sifting through resumes for entry level positions is inherently low, Arians claims he not only reads every emails he receives – he estimates receiving 427 job inquiries in the past year – but personally responds to each. “You have to beat doors down,” Arians preached. After the session, these 42 ambitious women appeared ready to do just that.