Put Us In, Coach

Jed Hughes is a Korn Ferry vice chairman and global sector leader for sports. 

Former Secretary of States Condoleezza Rice was right when she said last Sunday that while she’s not ready to be a head coach in the NFL, “it is time to develop a pool of experienced women coaches.”

After speculation swirled that the Cleveland Browns wanted to interview her for their head coaching vacancy, Rice promptly clamped down and said that she didn’t have the experience to be an NFL head coach.

Rice wrote on Facebook: “I do hope that the NFL will start to bring women in to the coaching profession as position coaches and eventually coordinators and then head coaches.”

Rice continued: “One doesn’t have to play the game to understand it and motivate players. But experience counts – and it is time to develop a pool of experienced women coaches.”

She ended her statement by saying: “BTW – I’m not ready to coach but I would like to call a play or two next season if the Browns need ideas!”

Hallelujah. In her short statement, Rice succinctly diagnosed the issue that women are up against in professional football. She knows that if she were to accept a head coaching role without the proper training, a bad outcome would be disastrous for women and football. NFL owners and decision-makers must take notice and develop a pipeline for women to properly work their way through the ranks of coaching positions so that an experienced woman can take the top job.

Rice acknowledges that she’s not the right person for the Cleveland Brown’s head coach position because she doesn’t have requisite experience. But she also gives us the clear path for any woman who would like to become a head coach. Become a position coach, then coordinator, then head coach.

As a former NFL and collegiate coach myself, I know that’s how on-the-field experience is built for anyone who wants to be a head coach – and it’s not happening enough in the NFL for women. As for being a woman, let me repeat Rice’s words: “One doesn’t have to play the game to understand it.”

Rice has proven this many times over her tenure as provost at Stanford University, where she is deeply involved in recruiting athletes for the football team.

Jim Harbaugh, who was Stanford’s head football coach from 2007-2010, said: “I appreciate any time I get to talk to her. … Football is like taking territory. It's like national defense. She may understand it better than a lot of us." Stanford’s current head football coach, David Shaw, told ESPN about the intense conversations he and Rice have had about the team. “These are conversations you have with football coaches, not with secretaries of state,” he said.

As part of the College Football Playoff Selection Committee, Rice and 12 colleagues were tasked with determining the top college football teams in the country – and ultimately, what four teams would compete in the playoff. In an interview with ESPN, Rice addressed her role as the sole woman on the committee: “Look, the fact is that there are several members of this committee that didn't play football," she said. "I didn't play football because I'm a female, but there are some who just didn't play football. … It's great because we all bring different strengths and approaches and experiences to what we're doing."

In the past few years, we’ve seen some progress that makes it easier to envision a female head coach in the world’s most successful sports league. The San Francisco 49ers currently employ the second female full-time assistant, Katie Sowers.

And although she’s no longer a part of the team, the Buffalo Bills hired the first full-time female assistant coach, Kathryn Smith. At the time of the hiring, espnW asked Bills co-owner Kim Pegula, “what is the biggest thing holding women back in the NFL?” Pegula responded: “Women don't have the same access to experience as men do growing up. … We don't have the experience to qualify us to get in the coaching door or top-level management.”

I applaud the Bills, 49ers and other teams that are hiring and training women. Smith and Sowers are doing it the right way—starting with the foundations to prove themselves so that they one day may be head coach material.

This is what Rice wants to see: an increased number of women in the coaching profession who gain the experience they need to become football head coaches.It’s incumbent upon the stewards of the game—the league’s owners, GMs and head coaches, with support from the league—to put women in positions to move up the ladder, earning on-the-field and in-the-locker-room credibility with each rung scaled.

A version of this article appeared on Foxnews.com.

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  • Jed Hughes

    Vice Chairman, Global Sector Leader, Sports

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