Former Dartmouth football coaches Callie Brownson and Jennifer King make NFL history

by Benjamin Ashley | 10/6/20 2:05am

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Callie Brownson, Jennifer King and Sarah Thomas at the Washington Football Team vs. Browns game on Sept. 27.

Source: Courtesy of the Cleveland Browns

Two former Dartmouth football coaches, Callie Brownson and Jennifer King, made NFL history on Sept. 27 when their teams faced off in the first NFL regular-season game to have a female coach on each sideline and a female referee on the field.

The game, which took place  in Cleveland, ended with the Cleveland Browns defeating the Washington Football Team, 34-20. 

King said that it was special for her to be part of the historic game, emphasizing that although she, Brownson and Sarah Thomas — the game’s referee — received recognition for their roles, there are many other women in the NFL who she hopes enjoyed the moment too.

“It was a really cool moment for women in sports, and obviously women in the NFL, so I’m super happy to be a part of that,” King said. “There [are] a lot of really good women doing things all over the league, so obviously we got the attention, but hopefully all of them felt a little bit of that spirit.”

Brownson could not be reached for comment by press time.

As trailblazers in the football world, Brownson and King both carved out legacies during their time at Dartmouth. Brownson, who became chief of staff for the Cleveland Browns in January, first made history when she joined the Big Green and became the first woman to be a full-time football coach at the Division I level. 

Meanwhile in February, King became the first full-time African American female coach in the NFL when Washington Football Team head coach Ron Rivera hired her as a full-time coaching intern. 

As chief of staff for Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski, Brownson plays an active role in multiple aspects of the Browns’ organization. She interacts with players in the locker room, talks to the media and communicates with the rest of the coaching staff. 

King’s role as a full-time coaching intern for Rivera focuses on the team’s offense, specifically helping running backs coach Randy Jordan. King is also, however, a vital aspect of the new culture that Rivera hopes to establish in Washington following the ongoing allegations of sexism and harassment against owner Dan Snyder’s team.

Dartmouth wide receiver Drew Estrada ’20 said that it was exciting to see Brownson and King — coaches he knows personally — make national headlines.

“I feel like I’m friends with famous people now,” Estrada said. “Coach [Brownson] and I, and Coach King, we’ve had personal conversations. Now, they’re literally icons for girls all around the world. … It’s been amazing, and hopefully it’ll be trailblazing for the future.”

Prior to making history in the NFL, Brownson and King each spent a season with Dartmouth as offensive quality control coaches, primarily working with wide receivers. Brownson landed the job in 2018 after impressing the team during a two-week internship, while King came in the following year with more prior coaching experience, allowing her to join the team in 2019 with a full-time position.

Big Green head coach Buddy Teevens ’79 said that Brownson thoroughly impressed him with her football knowledge and work ethic.

“[Brownson] is as good as any entry-level person I’ve ever had,” Teevens said. “So [hiring her] was a no-brainer.”

Estrada echoed Teevens’ sentiment.

“Once you meet [Brownson] and you’re around her for literally one minute, you realize how dedicated and passionate she is about the game,” Estrada said. “Her passion for the game is unlike anything that I’ve ever seen. When you talk about someone who loves football — that’s [Brownson].”

Although Brownson and King are women in the male-dominated world of football, King said that players and coaches have been very receptive to her joining their teams.

“It’s been great,” King said. “Everywhere that I’ve been, I’ve had a super positive experience. I’ve been fortunate to work for great head coaches. I think that helps build that culture. I still have great relationships with pretty much all of my players.”

When asked about how best to embrace women in football and allow more to join the sport, King highlighted the NFL’s Women’s Careers in Football Forum. The program takes place annually alongside the NFL Scouting Combine and focuses on providing exposure to NFL executives for women coaching college football.

“My hope is that [women working in the NFL] becomes a normal thing,” King said. “I think it’s more important for the younger generation growing now to be qualified. Don’t expect to get in just because you’re a woman and you like football.”

Teevens said he believes the football world should embrace women more and that coaches should offer them more opportunities. 

“I would recommend people like [King] and [Brownson] to anybody that asked,” Teevens said. “Two wonderful, wonderful folks, and they will go far in the coaching world.”