As a woman working in a male-dominated field, Callie Brownson isn’t a stranger to the word “no.” But since getting a “yes,” her ascension has been swift.
Less than a week before Dartmouth’s first football game of the season, head coach Buddy Teevens hired Brownson as an offensive quality control coach, making her the first full-time female football coach at the NCAA Division I level.
“He saw something in me and took it a step further that so many of his colleagues weren’t maybe willing to do or even in the right framework to do,” Brownson told CNN Sport’s Coy Wire.
“He saw an opportunity to change the norm. He’ll say it a hundred times that he feels he didn’t hire a woman. He hired a coach. It’s that mentality. It’s that framework of thinking in a culture that doesn’t quite think like that is a game changer.”
Heading into the weekend, there are eight unbeaten programs in all of Division I. Four of those are in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) in Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame and Central Florida. The rest are in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), and two of those teams are in the Ivy League: Dartmouth (7-0) and Princeton (7-0), who square off on Saturday.
“We’re having a great season,” Brownson said. “We’re on the brink of the biggest game of the season for us. That’s where my focus is.”
Her love for football began as a girl, but the rejection started when she was 14 years old.
‘Met with resistance’
It wasn’t always like that for Brownson. At a young age, she became fascinated with football, watching games with her dad. Dating back to her youth, she always played with the boys, participating in Little League baseball and a year of youth football.
When it was time to enter high school, she wanted to do what her friends were doing. She wanted to join the freshman high school football team, but was met with resistance.
“It wasn’t a door slammed in the face,” Brownson said. “It was more so they just didn’t know how to handle it, how would we go about having a girl on the team, and told me maybe they could look into me being a kicker. But I wanted to play.”
It was the first time Brownson remembers feeling like nobody believed in her ability.
“It was hard to digest, especially at 14 years old to be able to comprehend the world telling me no about something that you firmly believe you can do,” Brownson said.
Brownson ended up playing softball in high school, but she wanted to play football again.
Her mantra: Remember why you started
So at the age of 19 she suited up for the DC Divas from 2010-2017 in the Women’s Football Alliance. Playing free safety and running back, she was a five-time team captain and four-time All-American, winning national titles in 2015 and 2016. She graduated from George Mason University in 2015 with a degree in sport management.
While playing with the Divas, she began her path into coaching through her high school, Mount Vernon High. She spent three seasons as an assistant coach at her alma mater. Last summer, she was an intern in the New York Jets scouting department.
Teevens became aware of Brownson at the Manning Passing Academy, where she was one of 16 female coaches at a women’s clinic at the camp in Louisiana. He invited her to join his team for a two-week internship, and it was apparent she was a good fit at Dartmouth.
“Callie is as good as anyone I’ve ever had in terms of her skill set, preparedness, attention to detail and passion,” Teevens said in a statement after her hire was announced.
“Players came up to me after a few days of preseason wondering if I would consider hiring her. She is a forward-thinking individual, very broad-minded. We had an opening, the preseason was kind of like a tryout and she excelled – on and off the field – every day.”
Throughout Brownson’s journey, she keeps going back to one of her favorite mantras: Remember why you started.
“In my situation, in a women-in-football situation, there’s going to be a ton of ‘no’s,’” Brownson said. “There’s going to be a ton of, ‘You’re not adequate. You don’t know enough.’ There’s going to be a ton of that.
“You have to bring yourself back to that confidence that you have in why you’re doing it in the first place. And ultimately that will carry you through. That’s the motivation to have because who you were when you decided to take this on is the person who will carry you through.”