Why now is the time for a female head coach in major men's sports

  • Former Chicago Sky player Kristi Toliver became the newest female assistant coach in the NBA. The time is now for women to be hired to be head coaches in major men's sports. The boys of today are ready for it.

    Former Chicago Sky player Kristi Toliver became the newest female assistant coach in the NBA. The time is now for women to be hired to be head coaches in major men's sports. The boys of today are ready for it. Photo for The Washington Post by Terrance Williams

Updated 10/19/2018 6:57 PM

The late Pat Summitt could have done it, had she wanted to.

Her longtime employer, the University of Tennessee, had asked her several times over her tenure if she would like to coach its men's basketball team.


Summitt, the legendary coach of the powerhouse women's team there who won eight national championships between 1974 and 2012 and died of Alzheimer's disease in 2016, politely turned her bosses down each time.

"I think I can coach men," Summitt once said in an interview. "Coaching and teaching has a lot to do with communication and I don't know why a woman couldn't be successful (coaching men)."

But Summitt was happy coaching women, and wanted to send a message with her loyalty to the women's game.

"I think women should help women," Summitt said. "I wouldn't want people to think I looked at the men's game as a step up."

But had Summitt decided to take the other fork in the road years ago, it would be interesting to see where female coaches would be today in the men's game.

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Would that have opened the floodgates?

Right now, women are where they've always been. There are still no female head coaches in the big leagues.

But we are on the brink of the breakthrough that Summitt would have made if she had jumped to the Tennessee men's team and become the first female head coach of a major college or professional men's sports team.

Women are getting closer and closer to that every day.

Former Chicago Sky player Kristi Toliver, daughter of a longtime NBA referee and now a star with the WNBA's Washington Mystics, was just offered a position as an assistant coach with the NBA's Washington Wizards.

Toliver is the third female assistant coach in the WNBA, joining Becky Hammon of the San Antonio Spurs and Jenny Boucek of the Dallas Mavericks. Hammon, the veteran of the bunch, has been considered for major Division I men's coaching jobs as well.


"This is the opportunity of a lifetime," Toliver said. "When it came about, I wanted to be involved in any capacity that I could."

Each time this happens, when a woman enters the sacred ground of men's sports, the question is asked about whether the men they will coach or train or officiate will accept direction from a woman.

But perhaps we are selling the men and boys of today short.

Coaching kids in youth sports used to be a "dad thing."

Not so anymore.

More and more moms are coaching their kids, both daughters AND sons, in youth sports.

I coached my son years ago in grade school basketball.

I know a mom who coached her sons on an elite AAU boys basketball team when they were in junior high and high school.

Taking it a step further, how many boys grow up in single-parent households where mom is boss?

How many boys grow up with mostly women as teachers?

On top of that, boys today are growing up seeing their female classmates excel at sports, just as much, if not more, than them.

The point is, boys today are used to seeing women as authority figures, and experts in sports, and sometimes both.

So women as coaches of major men's sports, in college and in the pros? I say it's about time. It's long overdue. And I think many boys and men are ready for it.

Pat Summitt would have been the ultimate female to lead the way and command the respect of a team of men.

But there are plenty of other women today who could handle the task just as well.

The Toliver story made big news this week. I'm looking forward to the day when hires like hers are the norm, not the exception.


Follow Patricia on Twitter: @babcockmcgraw

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