Candid Coaches: Will a woman be an on-field college football assistant before 2027?
Coaches overwhelmingly believe that a woman could be an assistant coach in the next decade
Following in the footsteps of our college basketball brethren here at CBS Sports, college football writers Dennis Dodd, Chip Patterson and Barrett Sallee spoke with one-fifth of the 130 active coaches leading FBS teams entering the 2017 season. They asked for honest opinions on everything from NCAA rules to social issues to their peers in the profession. We will be sharing their candid thoughts over a two-week period leading into the season.
Women are slowly making progress in the sport of football as head coaches at the high school level, full-time assistants in the NFL and referees. But with college football having a limited number of on-field assistants allowed per team (nine) compared to the professional ranks, it has been more difficult for females to make inroads at this level. (Still, there will be 1,170 FBS assistant coaches on the field this season and not one is a woman.) It is for these reasons that we asked the coaches surveyed, under the condition of anonymity, if they expected progress would be made in this area over the next decade.
Will a woman be hired as an on-field assistant coach by an FBS team before 2027?
- "As long as they know what they're talking about, guys don't care. They just want to get better. Dennis Francione never played. [Neither did] Charlie Weis or Lou Holtz. Obviously, it's a game you can learn if you commit to it."
- "No. You're limited with how many on-field assistants you have in college. In the NFL, you're not limited. So you can just create a spot and hire whoever you want. You don't have that ability in college right now."
- "The hardest thing about it is women don't play the sport. Then again, you have some great coaches who literally didn't play college sports."
- "Absolutely. Gender shouldn't have anything to do with it. … You don't have to play to understand that part. There's a lot of NFL coordinators and coaches who never played a snap. I definitely think we'll see it in 10 years, maybe five."
- "Yes. In my opinion, I think that it's not about your gender, it's about your education and what you know about it. You see young women now becoming high school football players. At some point in time, that will transfer over to the coaching side of it."
- "I bet you, at some point, the fear of litigation comes into it."
- "Twenty years? I'd say, 'Yes.' Ten? I don't know."
- "The precedent at a high level has been set by [Spurs coach Greg] Popovich. It opened a lot of eyes around sports. It probably opened a lot of women's eyes that anything is possible."
Breaking it down
It's not surprising that our coaches interviewed are optimistic about women becoming on-field assistants considering the question looked out 10 years down the line. It's 2017 and there are already a handful of examples doors opening to that possibility.
In 2016, Lakatriona Brunson became the first female high school head football coach in Florida, reportedly becoming the fifth woman to get hired as a high school football coach in the previous three years at the time of her debut (via the Miami Herald) on the sideline for Miami Jackson High. Former Buffalo Bills coach Rex Ryan hired the first female on an NFL coaching staff last season, naming Katherine Smith an assistant quality control coach on special teams.
We're already three years removed from Becky Hammon's hire as the first full-time assistant coach in the NBA, and when given the opportunity to be a head coach of the San Antonio Spurs' Summer League team, she led the group to a title and earned a spot on the NBA All-Star Team staff the following February.
So as the precedent continues to evolve across men's sports elsewhere, a female on-field assistant in college football looks more likely every year. If you're having trouble imagining that world, then consider the impact that women already have on the sport.
While the coaching staffs at the FBS level are all-male, it's not the case for the support staff. As the modern college football program continues to grow, the positions beyond the on-field coaches have become invaluable. Often, someone on the support staff -- male or female -- could play as important a role in a player's on-campus life as his offensive or defensive coordinator.
If coaching college football is all about having a positive impact on a young player's life and setting him up to succeed on and off the field, then women are already playing the role of coach at schools across the country. All that's left now is for the right woman to demonstrate football expertise, pursue a career as an on-field assistant and convince a coach that she is the right fit for an open position on an FBS staff.
There's also the matter of the recruiting angle. Would a female assistant make a better recruiter of college football players? Not necessarily, but there is no doubt that a different relationship could be forged with a prospect and his family. The Jim Harbaugh model of coaching seeks to exploit every possible advantage within the current rules. Unless there's a rule against having a female assistant -- and what sense would that make? -- odds are that some similarly inventive coach will be more encouraged to break down the barrier if there's a potential it could lead to additional exposure for the school's brand and boost their ability to lure the best prospects in the country.
All this adds up to a matter of not if, but when, and if current trends continue and the majority of our coaches interviewed are correct, the odds are good we will see a female as an on-field assistant at the FBS level some time in the next decade.
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