As the Dartmouth football team gathered in Hanover, N.H. on Thursday to begin preseason camp, there were some unfamiliar – and perhaps unexpected – faces among the coaching staff.
Head coach Buddy Teevens, who has a history of out-of-the-box ideas, has brought another one to the Ivy League team.
‘A win across the board’
Teevens hired two female coaching interns, Chenell Tillman-Brooks and Callie Brownson, after seeing over a dozen women working as coaches at the women’s clinic of the Manning Passing Academy in Louisiana in June.
When Tillman-Brooks heard Teevens say during the clinic that he was interested in hiring a couple of the women to work with his staff during camp, she told USA Today’s Lindsay Jones she didn’t believe him.
“On the college level you wouldn’t think they would grab you right out of the box,” Tillman-Brooks said. “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.”
Tillman-Brooks is a veteran of coaching among women’s tackle football teams, and Brownson both played and coached high school football; she also interned with the New York Jets’ personnel department last year.
But Teevens was serious, and saw no negatives to having women work with the Big Green’s players.
“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 said.
Only one other FBS or FCS program currently has a woman on staff: Bryant University in Rhode Island, where Sue Lizotte is a graduate assistant (Bryant also had a woman, recent graduate Elena Grigelevich, create detailed analytics charts for the team last season).
The NFL is slowly adding women to its coaching and personnel staffs, but with so few women being offered opportunities with NCAA Division I staffs, it’s no wonder Tillman-Brooks didn’t even think they existed.
Hoping to open new doors
Teevens’ experience at the Manning Passing Academy opened his eyes; he said he was unaware that there are dozens of women’s tackle football teams all over the country. But that realization made him wonder who is coaching them, and then to learn more about the women on those staffs, who have experience with Pop Warner and junior high or high school teams.
“So then it became, ‘How do they learn a little more about the coaching end of things?,” he said.
Teevens called 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, who is the NFL’s executive director of football development and began a women’s careers in football forum last year.
Teevens’ call meant a great deal to Rapoport.
“The most rewarding call I’ve received in this job,” she said. “To have him say, ‘I’ve read about what you’re doing and questioned why I wasn’t doing it myself.”
Tillman-Brooks and Brownson will be with Dartmouth for two weeks, serving as quality control coaches, tasked with helping during practice, setting up drills, and game-planning, working with the strength staff.
Rapoport hopes the experience opens more doors for the women, and that Teevens’ decision will help “normalize” seeing women on the football field in positions of authority.
Not his first big idea
A few years ago, Teevens eliminated tackling from practices at Dartmouth, with players’ health and safety in mind. He also reached out to students at the school to come up with a creative solution to help players continue to work on tackling but without the health risks.
Students created the Mobile Virtual Player, or MVP, a robotic tackling dummy. It is controlled via remote from the sideline.