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The NFL’s newest coach, a game-changing hire for women

The Buffalo Bills announced Wednesday that they have hired the first full-time female coach in NFL history. Kathryn Smith is the team’s new special teams quality control coach, and comes to the job with 13 years of NFL experience with the Bills and the New York Jets. Hari Sreenivasan talks to Christine Brennan of USA Today for more on the groundbreaking hire and its implications.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Next, a bit of NFL history was made this week, and not the usual records book statistic that sports announcers spout on Sunday.

    Yesterday, the Buffalo Bills announced they'd hired the league's first full-time female coach. Kathryn Smith is the team's new special teams quality control coach. She comes to the job with 13 years of NFL experience, first with the New York Jets, then the Bills.

    For more on the move and its implications, I spoke a short time ago to sports writer Christine Brennan of USA Today.

    Christine Brennan, it seems strange to have this conversation in 2016, but the first full-time NFL coach position going to a woman. Why is this so significant, besides what I just said?

  • CHRISTINE BRENNAN, USA Today:

    Yes, well, I think that's it, and also that I think it's the beginning of what we're going to see, Hari, as a big trend over the next 10, 15, 20 years.

    This is Title IX in all of its manifestations. And it's not just about girls playing sports and women playing sports, but it's about that neighborhood girl who you watch play sports who grows up loving sports and goes to college, as Kathryn Smith did and works for the men's basketball team at St. John's, as she did, and wants to have a career in sports.

    And she's working in the NFL for the Jets as an intern. And so she has over 10, 12 years of experience already. And Rex Ryan hires her to be a coach. And this is her career, this is her life. She loves sports that much.

    Well, there are millions of girls and women like that in this country who are playing sports and loving it and wanting to have a career in some form in the sports world or at least nearby. And I think this shows that this is just the beginning of what I think will be a very significant trend moving forward.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Tell me a little bit about her job. There are several types of coaches in the NFL. This doesn't mean she's the head coach wearing the stuff on the sidelines. But what is she going to do?

  • CHRISTINE BRENNAN:

    Well, she's in quality control with the special teams.

    And I'm sure people are saying, what? There's a lot of coaches. There are a lot of assistant coaches on that sideline, a lot of assistant coaches in the booth, and even maybe more important the practices and working with the players, working behind the scenes.

    And so while it's a little unclear exactly where she will be on game day — my sense is, she probably will be on the field — but she will be working with the special teams assistant coach. She will be probably looking at film, looking at all kinds of patterns and schemes and figuring out what they're doing well on special teams, deciding if there is a player or two that should be moved to special teams or moved away.

    Of course, special teams are the kicks and the punts, kickoffs, punts, an integral role in any NFL game and with any NFL team. So, it's an important role. And I think, even more important, she is a full-fledged assistant coach, will be in all meetings with the entire staff and Rex Ryan, who hired her.

    And I think that, in and of itself, Hari, is the achievement, that she is now at that level with all these men who have been doing this for many years as well.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    And there have been — there are women in high-ranking front office positions around the league, just not on the field.

  • CHRISTINE BRENNAN:

    Well, that's right. And women have owned teams. Georgia Frontiere comes to mind with the Rams, so many others over the years.

    In baseball, Marge Schott controversially owned the Cincinnati Reds. That is not so unusual. The difference is here that this is someone who has obviously grown up playing sports and loving sports, and didn't come in via the ownership door or for the boardroom, but — from the boardroom — but the way men have for years, by working her way up as an intern through the system.

    When you think about it, watch when players are injured, and you often now see — with college games, you will see a woman running out as one of the trainers and working to assist that player on the football field, men's basketball, women's basketball, et cetera.

    Well, again, this shouldn't surprise us. These women are out there doing these jobs. And so from that standpoint, yes, she has worked her way up the way so many other people have, and legitimately deserves this job. This is no gift. This is not political correctness. Rex Ryan would be doing this — wouldn't be doing that. This is all about someone who deserves this job.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Well, while we're talking about gender diversity, the question is back in the NFL again about racial diversity. It's this time of the year, when coaches lose their jobs, or as coaches move teams, and while we see the hashtag on the Oscars trending Oscars so white, NFL is going to have maybe a similar one coming up.

  • CHRISTINE BRENNAN:

    Well, there were six minority coaches last year. And it looks like there will be six minority coaches this year out of 32 teams. That's not even 20 percent, Hari.

    And when you think that the league itself is 67 percent, two-thirds, minority players, boy, if that isn't a disparity between the players and then the fact that there is no trickling up at all to getting the opportunity to have the head coaching job.

    Again, though, what we were taking about a moment ago with Smith, working your way up, these players need to — in my opinion, need to be given the signal that they are wanted in the coaching ranks and they are wanted in administrations.

    Often, we see in sports that the people doing the hiring are picking those people who look like them. And as long as it's white owners, a majority, of course, white owners, and in athletic departments, it's a lot of men picking men now to coach women's sports, which are lucrative jobs in college, it's a very big deal in women's college sports, losing those opportunities for women, having men coach women.

    And that should be unacceptable in 2016.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    All right, Christine Brennan joining us from Minnesota today, thanks so much.

  • CHRISTINE BRENNAN:

    And thank you, Hari.

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