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Two women interns at Dartmouth get their feet in the football coaching door

Nothing in his football life could fully prepare Buddy Teevens for what happened this summer.

Not his years as a college quarterback. Certainly not the decades he spent coaching at Tulane and Stanford and, most recently, Dartmouth.

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“I really didn’t know much about women in the game,” he says.

So when the 61-year-old Teevens was asked to run a one-day football clinic for girls and women — as part of a larger, prestigious camp for high school boys — he went looking for help.

Word got around and more than a dozen women signed up to work the June event. Some of them came from women’s professional leagues, others from the high school and Pop Warner ranks.

As they assisted him with drills and scrimmages for the female campers, Teevens watched closely.

“Their technical knowledge, their skill set, their interpersonal skills,” he recalls. “I was just really impressed.”

It reminded him of his daughter, Lindsay, and all the Monday nights they spent watching NFL games on television while she was growing up. It made him think of her love for football.

“Those are some of our fondest memories,” he says.

The one-day experiment turned into something more.

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Last week, when the Dartmouth football team gathered for its first preseason meeting, Chenell Tillman-Brooks and Callie Brownson stood up to address the group.

The women introduced themselves as the newest members of the Big Green coaching staff.

“Some of the players were a little wide-eyed,” Tillman-Brooks recalls. “I was a little wide-eyed at them too.”

Teevens handpicked the women from 16 coaches who helped out a couple of months ago at the Manning Passing Academy, where he is a longtime associate director. He offered to bring them aboard as interns for the first two weeks of training camp.

“Those two, in particular, really wanted to learn,” he says. “I thought, man, how can they better themselves if they don’t have exposure?”

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This isn’t the first time women have coached men at the upper echelons of the sport.

Bryant University in Rhode Island has a graduate assistant on staff and Stanford recently employed a female intern.

In the NFL, which promotes women coaches through its diversity program, Jen Welter served as an Arizona Cardinals assistant during the 2015 preseason and Kathryn Smith handled special teams quality control for the Buffalo Bills in 2016. Katie Sowers is entering her second year as an offensive assistant for the San Francisco 49ers.

Buffalo Bills assistant coach Kathryn Smith.
Buffalo Bills assistant coach Kathryn Smith. (Anna Stolzenberg / Buffalo Bills via Associated Press)

“It's important for all to know that dreams are achieved by first finding someone who sees your worth and value, regardless of your gender, and takes the necessary steps to clear a path, even on the path less traveled,” Sowers wrote on social media when the 49ers hired her. “Those people are hard to find.”

The short list now includes Teevens.

Years ago, he began working with Archie, Peyton and Eli Manning — the father and sons of NFL quarterbacking fame — at their annual camp in Louisiana, which has a reputation for attracting high school talent and bringing in college stars as counselors.

The Mannings decided to offer the women’s clinic after receiving a steady stream of requests from female players ranging in age from elementary school to professional. And when they sought to bolster their staff with female coaches, word spread quickly. As Brownson says: “The women’s football community is pretty tight-knit.”

The number of responses was surprising. “I discovered that there are likely hundreds of females coaching at the Pop Warner level,” Teevens says.

There are also a handful of small-time professional leagues around the country. Tillman-Brooks played in one and coached in two others, as well as working on the youth level in Texas.

Coming from Northern Virginia, Brownson had a similar background in addition to serving as a high school assistant and a scouting intern for the New York Jets.

They recall that Teevens grew increasingly enthusiastic over the course of the clinic, saying the camp should have offered women’s football years earlier. At one point, he mused about creating an internship at Dartmouth.

“I didn’t think he was too serious about it,” Tillman-Brooks says.

But after returning to his Ivy League campus in New Hampshire, he approached his bosses for approval. Tillman-Brooks and Brownson soon received phone calls asking if they would be interested.

“I was like, ‘Yeah, of course,’” Brownson says. “How could I say no?”

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NCAA rules set a limit on the number of coaches each Division I team may keep on staff, so the Dartmouth internships come with parameters.

As quality control assistants, the women cannot work directly with players on the field. However, they can help organize drills and participate in a range of team meetings.

That sounds fine to Tillman-Brooks, who previously gleaned most of her football knowledge from the internet and conversations with fellow Pop Warner coaches.

“It’s pretty eye-opening when you see how things are supposed to go,” she says. “Being in the women’s game, we don’t have any coaches there to learn from.”

Dartmouth’s players and assistants — some of whom were startled when they heard about the arrangement — seem to have adapted. The plan calls for Tillman-Brooks and Brownson to be split between offense and defense for the first week, then trade places for the second.

“You don’t have to play football to be a coach,” Teevens says. “If someone is passionate and willing to put in the time — it’s not a 9-to-5 job — you can learn the sport.”

Brownson takes a big-picture view. She sees an incremental benefit every time people read or hear about women playing a role in a male-dominated arena.

“It becomes a more-normalized conversation,” she says. “When you change the dialogue, it becomes part of the culture.”

Though the experience will be brief, Teevens hopes it will plant a seed.

Maybe other women will push for an opportunity, and other schools will acquiesce. At the very least, his interns can return home to share what they have learned.

The coach thinks about the little girl who used to watch “Monday Night Football” with him. He wonders if she might have pursued a career in the game.

“Do you have the passion? Do you have the opportunity?” he says. “My daughter didn’t.”

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