The buzziest news of this weekend is no doubt the ESPN report that the Cleveland Browns are considering former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to be the NFL team’s next head coach.
The Browns have denied the report, but if true, she’d be the first woman to interview for an NFL head coach job.
Rice, who served in the George W. Bush administration, is known to be a passionate sports fan and is a lifelong Browns supporter, having inherited an allegiance to the notoriously woeful team from her father. She even has some sports management experience. She recently chaired the Commission on College Basketball that sought to root out corruption in the sport. What’s more, she was one of the first two women admitted to the Augusta National Golf Club, and sat on the College Football Playoff selection committee from 2013 to 2016.
Rice’s name being floated for the Browns’ job also fits into a larger trend of women assuming prominent roles in professional sports franchises long dominated by men. In the NBA, the San Antonio Spurs promoted Becky Hammon to a top assistant coach role in June. Just last week, the Denver Nuggets introduced WNBA legend Sue Bird as a new basketball operations associate and the league promoted two women, Ashley Moyer-Gleich and Natalie Sago, to be full-time referees, making them the fourth and fifth women ever with that designation. The English Premier League, meanwhile, just named Susanna Dinnage as its first female CEO. And in the NFL, the Oakland Raiders hired Kelsey Martinez to their strength staff, the Buffalo Bills added Kathryn Smith as a quality control assistant, and the San Francisco 49ers tapped Katie Sowers as an offensive assistant.
Smith and Sowers are names that pop up in a USA Today article taking issue with Cleveland’s reported eyeing of Rice. The former secretary of state is certainly brilliant, but she has zero NFL coaching experience. The Browns would be better off, writer Chris Korman argues, considering someone who has logged real time on the sideline and in the coaches’ booth, such as Smith, Sowers, or Jen Welter, who joined the Arizona Cardinals as as assistant linebackers coach for training camp in 2015.
“It’s admirable that Browns general manager John Dorsey is openly saying he’d hire a woman as head coach,” Korman writes, “but naming [Rice] cheapens the idea. This would be a gimmick hire.”
Others, like Rolling Stone‘s Jamil Smith, speculated that the Browns could use Rice as a diverse candidate to satisfy the Rooney Rule and avoid interviewing other black candidates for the top position.
The idea of a female head coach in the NFL, whether it’s Rice or someone else, is rather refreshing considering the different perspective she’d bring to the game. The league could use the injection of fresh blood given the high-profile slip-ups it’s suffered of late—the indifference it showed to players accused of domestic violence, its bungling of players’ national anthem protests, the flurry of lawsuits by professional cheerleaders accusing the league of unlawfully low pay and mistreatment, to name a few.
At the same time, it’s worth looking at the point in Browns’ history that’s given rise to the Rice rumor. The Cleveland Browns have been, to put it bluntly, downright atrocious in recent years, winning a total of seven games in the last four seasons, including going winless last year.
Last week, The Broadsheet wrote that, amid Brexit, Prime Minister Theresa May was facing “one of the starkest examples ever of the proverbial glass cliff”—the phenomenon in which women or people of color are promoted to top roles when firms are struggling and are often pinned with blame if things continue to go badly. (Think Marissa Mayer at Yahoo, Mary Barra who turned around GM, and, more recently, Jill Soltau at J.C. Penney.) In that sense, Condi Rice as Browns’ head coach would, at the very least, give Theresa May some decent company out on her glass precipice.
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