Kelsey Martinez became the first female coach in Raiders history when she joined Oakland's strength and conditioning staff this offseason.
"She's spectacular," Jon Gruden said at the annual league meeting in Orlando. "Wait 'till you meet her."
Back in 1990, Lee Brandon became the first female strength coach in NFL history when she left her job as Hofstra University head strength coach to join the New York Jets' strength staff. Female coaches in the NFL have come few and far between since, whether they be on strength staffs or as position coaches, and only in recent years have women broken into the league.
Jen Welter became the league's first female position coach in 2015 when she coached inside linebackers for the Arizona Cardinals during training camp and the preseason as part of an internship. Kathryn Smith became the first full-time female coach in 2016, serving as special teams quality control coach for the Buffalo Bills. The San Francisco 49ers hired Katie Sowers as an offensive assistant before the start of last season, making her the second full-time female coach.
Credit: Oakland Raiders
Credit: Oakland Raiders
Currently Martinez is the only female strength and conditioning coach listed on any of the 32 team websites, which Brandon is thrilled to see almost 30 years after she entered the league.
Brandon spoke with the Bay Area News Group on Monday about Martinez joining the Raiders, what it means to her and what she thinks the future holds for women in the NFL.
Note: The conversation was slightly moderated for clarity.
On Martinez joining the Raiders:
"I'm absolutely elated and love that the NFL is embracing women in such a classically male-dominated arena ... It's very exciting, and I'm mostly excited because I think that as strength and conditioning specialists, if you look at any of the top NFL websites and you touch the coaching tab, you'll see underneath the head coach, the line coaches and all the coaches you're always gonna see the head strength coach and the assistant strength coach.
"I'd love to believe that in some humble beginning way, in my pay-it-forward way, that I've really done my best to live my life and set a good example. I'd like to believe that I'm part of that pioneering effort."
On her own experience during Year 1 and what Martinez can expect:
"Because no woman had ever been in that space, I had no expectations. I was the head strength and conditioning coach at Hofstra University at the time, so I was running 18 programs. I basically knew what was involved. You have to be a great spotter, you have to know your stuff, you know how to follow orders, you have to be a team player. All the things that are part of being part of any NFL coaching staff.
"All of the strength coaches are coaches as well, so they are an integral part of the coaching team ... I had worked with a few high school and collegiate programs regarding football, but when you go into the pros it's just a very different ballgame."
On the role gender plays in the job:
"I always saw what I did as genderless and I said, 'Well I thank god every day that my understanding of biomechanics and being able to deadlift 315 pounds off of athletes' chests has nothing to do with who I am, just being a great coach.' I always saw that and tried to deliver that to my job — not being a woman, not necessarily bells and whistles. I wanted the guys to see me as one of the guys. I wanted them to trust that if they were looking at two people to give them a spot, I didn't want them to hesitate, knowing as a strength coach, that their lives oftentimes depend on us doing our job very well.
"To me that is a genderless space. It's a space where you just need to go in and do your job. It just so happens that you're a woman. Maybe I'm not as politically correct — I'm in my 50s now — but at the end of the day you show up, you do your job and the guys trust you. You're part of the team. Whether you're a man or a woman, we all have the same goal and that's ideally to keep the athletes healthy and to keep them strong and keep them on the field, supporting the entire staff."
On advice she'd give Martinez:
"I guess my best advice to give anybody is the same advice walking into any newer arena: Keep your eyes open and your mouth shut and learn as much as humanly possible and deliver more than promised. As far as her talent goes, you have to always deliver more than promised.
"I'm still learning every day, and I think that's at the end of it. No matter how many years you've been doing this — and I've been a strength coach now, training other people since 1980 — she has the blessing of being in there under a great head strength coach. She has the opportunity to learn from some of the best in the industry. When I say, 'Keep your eyes open and your mouth shut,' I don't mean that in a negative or a derogatory way. What I mean is that ultimately you can learn so much from being around great people and having a great mentor. Great mentors were truly, at the end of the day, in any career, the thing that set us all apart."
On potentially meeting Martinez:
"I'd love to meet her. I would actually go up there and put on my sneakers and put on my gloves and jump in the arena with her, see what she's doing and if she has any questions for me. She's always welcome to drop me a call."
On the future for women on NFL staffs:
"I've seen women making it up to the higher ranks in the football arena because women have been such a big component of it. If it weren't for all the mothers putting their children into Pop Warner programs ... and some of the other female football programs that are out there are just getting more and more established, and more attention. It just so happened that back in the day when I was a kid in the 60s, women didn't play football, but I was an amazing footballer. I was the one kid on the playground playing football.
"We didn't have the opportunities when I was a kid that a lot of these young women have today and I believe that every sport, every arena, from hockey to lacrosse to you name the sport, ultimately as these team sports evolve I believe there are a lot of very gifted young women coming up in the ranks that are being hired not only as line coaches, but as strength and conditioning coaches.
"I'm looking forward to the day when we actually have a head strength and conditioning coach in the NFL that's a woman. That would probably be my ultimate dream of doing what I have done in my lifetime, seeing that happen actually in my lifetime."
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