December 5, 2023


Women have taken another big step toward being accepted in the male-dominated world of the National Football League.

Kathryn Smith became the NFL’s first full-time female coach on Jan. 20, when she was hired by the Buffalo Bills to serve as their special teams quality control coach. Smith has worked in the NFL for 12 years, including the last seven under Bills coach Rex Ryan, serving as his administrative assistant last year.

“Kathryn has been working in a football administrative role and assisted the assistant coaches for years,” said Ryan in a statement. “She has proven that she’s ready for the next step, so I’m excited and proud for her with this opportunity.”

This follows a number of recent examples of women breaking into the male-dominated league of professional football. In April 2015 Sarah Thomas became the NFL’s first full-time female official, and Jen Welter became the NFL’s first female coach in July when she was hired by the Arizona Cardinals as an assistant coach intern for training camp and preseason.

In August 2014, the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs announced the hiring of Becky Hammon, a former WNBA player, who became the NBA’s first full-time female coach when she was hired as assistant to head coach Gregg Popovich.

Lo Locust, a former female arena league football player and current assistant/defensive line coach with the Central Penn Capitals of the American Indoor Football league, thinks that this move will draw attention to the fact that there are potential female candidates for coaching positions who have the expertise to work in the NFL and make contributions.

“I feel as though she earned it, she has been with the organization for seven years,” said Locust. “I think it speaks volumes for the Bills organization to say, ‘You’ve worked hard, we recognize the effort and you’ve earned it.”

Locust thinks we are still far away from seeing a female head coach in the NFL. Given the high level and high commitment required for a head coaching position, there just aren’t enough female coaches in positions at this point to think that one might be considered for a head coaching position in the next 10 years.

“But will there be a (female) position coach in the next 10 years?” said Locust. “I would believe so and I would tell you that I could see a position coach (position) becoming available for a qualified candidate.”

She hopes that this moves things forward, that other female coaches have the mindset of trying to get better and applying for open positions.

“In my mind, you have to kind of earn it. I think we have to work a little bit harder now so we can get recognized that we are able to do the same style or level of coaching as our male counterparts,” she said.

Locust has had great success coaching men, whether it be with Susquehanna Township High School in Pennsylvania, the Central Penn Piranha of the Gridiron Developmental Football League, or now with the Capitals. She acknowledges that it helped her in her career as a coach to be put in situations where she has had a supportive staff to set the tone for the team.

Locust credits Ron Kerr, who is the head coach of the Central Penn Piranhas, for giving her credibility as a coach and allowing her to come in and be respected right away.

“He took a lot of flak, from the team, from a lot of the other coaches,” said Locust. “But they have never treated me as anything but a coach, and I can’t ask for more than that.”

Following the hiring of Smith, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said the NFL will be implementing a “Rooney Rule” for women. The rule would require teams to interview at least one female for all executive jobs. The Rooney Rule came into being because there were coaches of colour in the league who were being overlooked for head coaching positions.

While at first glance this seems like a good idea, Locust believes that women need to earn spots based on merit first, as opposed to being ushered in through this rule.

“If I ever got a chance like that at a higher level, I would want it to be because I earned it, and because I’m the right fit,” said Locust. “Not because I’m fulfilling something they have to do.”

There are lots of resources out there for female’s coaches looking for guidance, support or inspiration. The Female Coaching Network (FCN) is an independent coaching organization that was launched in 2014 that allows women to connect and serve as mentors. Their goal is to further change in the equity of coaching and provide solutions to the many barriers women face.

“Coaching is awesome if you love the sport and building leaders,” Laura Bond, head coach of Algonquin College’s basketball team told the FCN. “You don’t need to be a loud, in-your-face person to coach (and) to be successful, you need to coach based on who you are and never change that.”

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