Woman becomes NFL's first female full-time coach
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Armed with notepads, pens and a keen eye for talent, Connie Carberg is still scouting football players.
She simply can't get enough of breaking down film. That's why the 64-year-old Carberg was in front of her television at home Jan. 23 in Coconut Creek, Florida, watching the East-West Shrine Game and the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl.
"I love it," Carberg said. "When draft time comes, I've got all my notes on every player."
Carberg was the first woman to serve as a scout for an NFL team. She worked with the New York Jets in the 1970s. She was excited this month when the Buffalo Bills hired Kathryn Smith as the league's first full-time female assistant coach.
"It caught me totally by surprise," Carberg told The Associated Press in a phone interview. "I started seeing things on the news and on Twitter. And then I was like, 'Wow!' I just got really excited. I think it's a great opportunity for women."
Bills coach Rex Ryan promoted Smith to special teams quality control coach. It is an entry-level, assistant position, but a path that prominent coaches such as Jon Gruden, Eric Mangini, Tony Sparano and Todd Haley took on their way to getting top jobs in the league.
The 30-year-old Smith worked for Ryan with the Jets since 2009. She was the team's player personnel assistant. She joined the coach in Buffalo after he was fired by New York after the 2014 season. She was an administrative assistant for Buffalo's assistant coaches, working on various projects.
"The fact she has been around for a long time is important," Carberg said. "She has proven herself. It's not just something like, 'Let's just put a woman in there and let's make history.'"
As special teams quality control coach, Smith will deal with things such as charting and diagramming plays, and scouting blocking schemes and tendencies of kickers and punters.
"To me, the best part of this is that Kathryn has a chance to just learn so much and ask questions and pick up so many things," Carberg said.
Carberg served as a scout for the Jets from 1976-80. She broke a gender barrier in the NFL while watching game films, traveling and scouting college players. She is credited with bringing attention to then-little known defensive end Mark Gastineau. He became one of the league's top pass rushers after being drafted by the Jets in 1979. Gastineau invited Carberg to be his guest when he was inducted into the team's Ring of Honor in 2012.
Carberg will be the subject of an upcoming book about her life in the NFL. She helped open the door for other women.
In 1986, the late Linda Bogdan, daughter of then-Bills owner Ralph Wilson, was hired by the team as a full-time scout.
Amy Trask was the Raiders' chief executive officer for owner Al Davis from 1997 until 2013. The Jets promoted longtime executive Jacqueline Davidson to director of football administration last summer. Miami's Dawn Aponte (executive vice president of football administration), Cincinnati's Katie Blackburn (executive vice president), San Diego's Jeanne Bonk (executive vice president and chief financial officer) and San Francisco's Hannah Gordon (vice president of legal and government affairs) are among a growing list of high-ranking women in football front offices.
Jen Welter became the NFL's first female position coach last summer. She worked as an intern for the Arizona Cardinals while coaching linebackers.
"I still believe it's going to take a little bit of time," Carberg said. "I think Jen Welter would make an ideal scout because she has played the game and loves the sport. As far as the scouting world, that's the one thing I can't believe in 40 years other than myself and Linda that there haven't really been other women scouts. I can definitely see even more opportunities opening up there. It's just not looked upon as weird anymore."
Carberg, whose father, Dr. Calvin Nicholas, was the Jets' internist, was hired by New York coach Charley Winner in 1974 as a team receptionist. She became the scouting secretary before being sent on the road to watch and interview players.
She was charged with making the Jets' 17th-round draft selection before leaving her role after the 1980 season to focus on her family.
Despite being in such a male-dominated environment, Carberg said she never felt awkward or intimidated.
"My biggest boosters in the world were men," she said. "Maybe because I felt so comfortable doing what I did. You might get some resistance, like anything else. But this younger generation right now is used to having their moms working, and working in very high positions. I think the respect is there. I think it's a lot of easier for women now than it might have been back in the old days."