When Dartmouth head football coach Buddy Teevens announced to the 16 women who were serving as coaches at the women’s clinic at the Manning Passing Academy in June that he was interested in hiring a couple of them as interns for his team’s summer camp, Chenell Tillman-Brooks figured it wasn’t a serious offer.
As a veteran women’s coach, Tillman-Brooks didn’t think those sort of opportunities existed in college football, because until this year, they hadn’t at either the FBS or FCS level.
“He didn’t know me from Harry. I’m a chick, we’re females. On the college level you wouldn’t think they would grab you right out of the box,” Tillman-Brooks told USA TODAY Sports on Thursday. “It’s one thing when you’re a guy, it’s another when you’re a chick. No one is going to take you too serious until you know what you’re doing.”
But Teevens was indeed serious, and quickly put into action a plan that would bring Tillman-Brooks and Callie Brownson to Dartmouth to serve as interns during preseason camp that begins on Sunday. The two women arrived in Hanover on Thursday to begin meetings with Teevens’ staff and players. Over the next two weeks they’ll serve as quality control coaches, helping with practice and game planning, working with the strength staff and assisting other coaches in setting up drills in practice.
“For my coaching staff, my players, to have a female presence in the room who are knowledgeable, and enthusiastic, that’s a win across the board,”
Teevens, who helped pioneer no-tackle practices to help reduce head injuries, told USA TODAY Sports.
The NFL, which in 2017 established the NFL’s Women’s Careers in Football Forum to provide exposure for women interested in coaching, scouting and other areas of football operations, has seen an increase in female coaches in recent years, from Jen Welter’s internship with the Arizona Cardinals in 2015, to Kathryn Smith becoming the first full-time coach with the Buffalo Bills in 2016 to Kate Sowers joining the San Francisco 49ers’ staff full-time last season.
Yet gender diversity in coaching is still largely unheard of at the college level.
Tillman-Brooks and Brownson join Sue Lizotte, currently serving as a graduate assistant at Bryant University, as the only women on the coaching staffs of Division I programs. Stanford coach David Shaw had a female coaching intern, Phoebe Schecter, who is now working as an intern for the Buffalo Bills, on his staff last spring.
That’s what made Teevens’ experience at the Manning camp such a revelation. To see dozens of women of all ages enrolled as participants, and 16 women trekking to Louisiana to coach, made him realize what his staff was lacking.
“To me, I didn’t know that world existed. They told me there were 62 women’s teams, so it was, ‘Who is coaching these folks?’ I learned that every one of them coached Pop Warner, or junior high or high school football, so then it became, ‘How do they learn a little more about the coaching end of things?” Teevens told USA TODAY Sports.
His next calls were to Scott Pioli, the assistant general manager of the Atlanta Falcons who is a member of the Bill Walsh Minority Coaching Fellowship’s advisory council, and Samantha Rapoport, the NFL’s executive director of football development, who launched the women’s career forum.
“The most rewarding call I’ve received in this job, to have him say, ‘I’ve read about what you’re doing and questioned why I wasn’t doing myself,’” Rapoport said.
In Tillman-Brooks and Brownson, Teevens found two women with significant previous playing and coaching experience within the women’s game.
Tillman-Brooks played three years in the Women’s Professional Football League and has been coaching women in the 15 years since, including stints as the head coach of the Austin Yellow Jackets and most recently as a defensive assistant for the Houston Energy in the Independent Women’s Football League.
Brownson, who finished her seven-year career as a player in the Women’s Football Alliance in 2017, spent three years as an assistant coach at Mount Vernon (Va.) High, and was an intern in the personnel department of the New York Jets last summer.
“I hope that they gain the experience they need to take the next step,” Rapoport said. “What it will also serve to do is for Coach Teevens, his offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator, athletic director etcetera, is that when you see women on the field, it normalizes it. He’s not only changing the culture in his program, it’s for where all his coaches go after that.”
Brownson said she was looking forward to seeing the inner workings of a college program as she diversifies her football resume as she works toward a fulltime job.
“Ultimately the goal here is not to be hired because you’re a female, but hired because you’re the most qualified candidate who just happens to be female,” Brownson said.