The Rise of Women Coaching Men (part 2)
Currently, there are no female head coaches of men’s professional sports teams in the United States, though in recent years, women have been entering previously uncharted territory as assistant coaches.
Becky Hammon was hired by the San Antonio Spurs (NBA) as an assistant coach in 2014, becoming the first full-time female assistant coach in any of the country’s four major leagues (NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL). The former WNBA star continued to make history; she was named Spurs’ head coach for the 2015 Summer League, where she guided the team to the Las Vegas Summer League title.
While Hammon was the first woman in such a role, she would soon be joined by other pioneers across America’s top leagues.
Jen Welter became the first woman to coach in the NFL when she was hired by the Arizona Cardinals in July 2015 as a training camp intern. Welter, who coached the outside linebackers, was with the team for five weeks and three preseason games.
Nancy Lieberman, regarded as one of the greatest figures in U.S. women’s basketball, was hired as an assistant coach by the Sacramento Kings in 2015. Kathryn Smith became the first full-time female coach in the NFL when she was hired by the Buffalo Bills as special teams quality control coach in 2016. Dawn Braid became the NHL’s first full-time female assistant when the Arizona Coyotes hired her as a skating coach in 2016. Barbara Underhill is the Toronto Maple Leafs’ skating development consultant, and Tracy Tutton is a skating consultant for the Colorado Avalanche.
Collegiately, there are also female pioneers in men’s programs. In fall 2016, Theresa Feaster and Brittany Miller were hired by their respective alma maters as full-time members of an NCAA Division I men’s ice hockey coaching staff, becoming the first women to do so. Feaster is the coordinator of hockey operations at Providence College, and Miller is the director of hockey operations at Boston University.
“Since the day I started, I’ve never once been treated differently, or quite honestly, even been made to think about my gender,” says Feaster, 24. “I’m a member of the staff, and I show up every day to the rink prepared to work hard and do good work. And that’s simply how I’ve approached it since day one and how I’ve been treated since day one.
“From the outside looking in, I can understand why mine and Brittany’s hirings are so unique or newsworthy, because there are simply not other women in these positions. But from my perspective, this is simply my job. I believe I was hired because Coach [Nate] Leaman and the rest of the coaching staff felt I was qualified to do the job, and do it well.”
Feaster has always been around hockey. Her father, Jay, has been general manager of the Hershey Bears (American Hockey League), and the NHL’s Calgary Flames and Tampa Bay Lightning, leading the latter to the 2004 Stanley Cup. Theresa met Providence coach Nate Leaman while at the 2012 NHL Draft with her father, and joined his program as a volunteer during her junior year.
As more women are hired into leadership positions in male-specific or male-dominated sports, it will only create a cultural shift and more balance, where such an instance isn’t viewed as an outlier.
“I know a lot of women who want to coach, but the opportunities are limited, and getting a foot in the door is the hard part,” says Randolph, now Title IX Coordinator at the District of Columbia State Athletic Association. “Part of it is the stigma from a male standpoint, and the other is women not reaching out for it for fear of being turned down. But the more it happens, the more normal it will be, and the less of a big deal it will be.”