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‘If you see her, you can be her’: The importance of women coaching women in college sports

With women holding just 41% of Division I head coaching jobs, those in…

Young, feisty Carol Hutchins, growing up in Lansing during a time when girls were not encouraged to play sports, found nothing she enjoyed more. She was good at everything she tried. A natural athlete. Tough. Competitive.

She watched Michigan State football in the 1960s and was enthralled by the game and the man on the sideline running the show.

Michigan softball coach Carol Hutchins.

Michigan softball coach Carol Hutchins.
Lon Horwedel, Special to Detroit News

“I wanted to be a football player for Duffy Daugherty, because that’s the only thing I ever saw,” Hutchins said.

But football wasn’t for girls. And coaching was for men. That’s what she was told, at least.

According to the 2019-20 “Racial and Gender Report Card” study by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics and Sports (TIDES), women hold 41% of Division I head coaching jobs in women’s college sports. That figure has remained mostly stagnant of late. A decade ago, women accounted for 40% of head coaching positions in women’s sports.

The percentages vary wildly by sport, according to 2019-20 data from the Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport at the University of Minnesota. The most visible and highest paying women’s college sport is basketball, and 61.6% of the head coaches are women. In softball, 76.4% of those jobs are held by women. Field hockey coaches are 95.7% women. But soccer, swimming and volleyball are dominated by male coaches. Only 4.7% of women’s volleyball head coaches are women.

Hutchins is now in her 37th season coaching Michigan’s softball team as the winningest coach in NCAA softball history. The Hall of Famer with a national championship and a dozen World Series appearances may never have achieved any of this had it not been for two women: Anne Johnson, her high school basketball coach, and Kay Purves, long considered “Michigan’s First Lady of Softball,” who coached her in softball.

“I wanted to be those people,” Hutchins said. “Their impact on me was unbelievable. I had played for a male coach, and at that time I wasn’t drawn to, ‘Gee, I want to coach.’ But when I played for two women, I thought, ‘Oh, I want to do that. I want to be that person.’”

Hutchins wants to win. Always has. But she is just as passionate about advocating for women in college coaching. In 1972, just before Title IX, legislation that forced colleges to provide equal funding for men’s and women’s sports, 90% of the head coaches of women’s teams were women. By the time Hutchins became Michigan head coach in 1985, the number of women head coaches had dipped to about 53%.

Nationally, in certain sports, the numbers are particularly pronounced.

Michigan volleyball coach Mark Rosen
In volleyball, we have way too many middle-aged white guys coaching our sport. We need more diversity in every way. We need more coaches of color, we need more female coaches. We need everything to be more diverse.

“In volleyball, we have way too many middle-aged white guys coaching our sport,” Michigan volleyball coach Mark Rosen said. His wife, Leisa, a standout volleyball player at Ohio State, is associate head coach. “We need more diversity in every way. We need more coaches of color, we need more female coaches. We need everything to be more diverse.”

After a Big Ten meeting in 2019, Rosen said the volleyball coaches took a group photo.

“It was 13 guys and one woman,” Rosen said, the one woman being MSU coach Cathy George, who in 1989 became the first woman to coach in the Division I Final Four. “And it was, ‘OK, what’s wrong with this picture?’ The good thing is, I think it’s gradually changing.”

Two female volleyball coaches were hired to coach Big Ten teams last year.

Kathy Beauregard

Kathy Beauregard
Detroit News

Male and female coaches and athletic directors offer a number of reasons why the numbers aren’t trending toward more women in head coaching positions. Being a head coach of any sport is a 24/7 grind, and many women who want to raise families find daunting what amounts to juggling two jobs. There’s also the fact that those doing the hiring — athletic directors — are mostly men. Women athletic directors account for only 14.3% of the pool, but in-state there’s Kathy Beauregard at Western Michigan and Amy Folan at Central Michigan, two of four female ADs in the Mid-American Conference.

When Beauregard was hired in 1997 as athletic director, she was the seventh woman AD in the country. There are now 12 women among 130 athletic directors of FBS schools.

“The part that’s slightly disturbing is it’s now been almost 25 years later, and those numbers have not swelled by any means,” Beauregard said.

And then there’s the money that has enticed more men to coach women’s sports.

“The salaries started going up in the ’90s,” said Muffet McGraw, the retired Hall of Fame Notre Dame women’s basketball coach. “And that’s when you saw an influx of men in coaching because it became a legitimate job. They weren’t gonna make $30,000 and try to live on that as women would do.”

Female head coaches say it’s not that they don’t believe there are good male coaches coaching women’s sports and that men shouldn’t be considered to coach women. But they want more opportunities for women to become head coaches. Only 4.2% of the coaches of men’s college teams are women.

“Men have two options, I have one option,” said Michigan basketball coach Kim Barnes Arico, who recently took the program to its first NCAA Tournament Sweet 16. “If they don’t make it in the men’s side, they can always come to the women’s side.”

Coach Kim Barnes Arico took the Michigan women's basketball team to a Sweet 16 appearance this year.

Coach Kim Barnes Arico took the Michigan women’s basketball team to a Sweet 16 appearance this year.
Robin Buckson, Detroit News

Hutchins recalled a staff meeting many years ago when Michigan was setting out to hire a coach for the men’s basketball team.

“One of our esteemed administrators said, ‘We’re going to get the best basketball coach out there,’ and I said, ‘Are we going to interview Pat Summitt?’” Hutchins said, referring to the late legendary women’s basketball coach. “You know what I got? A big old laugh. I’m like, ‘I’m dead serious. She’s the winningest coach in basketball.’ It’s systemic, it’s sexism and it’s gender bias. And gender bias to me is the No. 1 issue in women’s coaching as it affects female coaches.”

She would like to see mandatory gender bias training for all administrators, coaches and athletes, and suggested it be university-wide. There are multiple layers to gender bias, among them stereotyping.

UM softball coach Carol Hutchins on gender equality in college sports leadership

University of Michigan softball coach Carol Hutchins talks with The Detroit News’ Angelique Chengelis about gender equality in coaching and sports administration.

The Detroit News

“There is a call in a game, and I go berserk, I throw my clipboard, I jump in the face of the umpire and I act out,” Hutchins said. “People are like, ‘She’s crazy. She’s menopausal. She’s emotional.’ I’m all these things, but I’m never a favorable word. (Michigan football coach) Jim Harbaugh, in a game — it’s on video — throws his headset, throws his clipboard, yells at the umpire, yells at the line ref and everybody’s like, ‘He’s a passionate leader.’”

The Tucker Center report card gives letter grades to each college program based on the percentages of women coaching women’s sports. Of the five major universities in Michigan, Central Michigan was the only one to receive an “A” with 70% of women’s sports coached by women. Western Michigan received a “B” while Eastern Michigan, Michigan and Michigan State each received “C” grades. Of Michigan’s 14 women’s sports, eight are coached by women, and at Michigan State, 12 sports are coached by nine women. The Tucker Center grades divide sports like swimming and diving and track and field, hence the percentages are slightly skewed.

Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel said his job first and foremost is to hire the best coach for any team. But having served on the Women Sports Foundation board, he knows the importance of providing women with the opportunity.

“Look, particularly in female sports, my belief is if I can find a great coach to lead my program on the women’s side who happens to be a woman, it’s great for the program,” Manuel said. “It’s great for the women in the program to see a woman ascend to that level of success and power and influence.”

And that’s exactly it. That’s what women head coaches say is the biggest reason there should be more women coaches so that young women, most of whom played high school and summer league and AAU for male coaches, can see women in leadership roles.

Michigan State softball coach Jacquie Joseph.

Michigan State softball coach Jacquie Joseph.
Lon Horwedel, Special to Detroit News

“If you see her, you can be her. Bottom line,” Michigan State softball coach Jacquie Joseph said. “And that’s in everything: medicine, science, law, it doesn’t matter.”

Playing for Barnes Arico, seeing her juggle raising a family while coaching at an elite level, has given point guard Danielle Rauch a role model she didn’t have growing up playing for male coaches.

“Coming to college and playing for Coach Arico definitely helped changed my view on those things and let me see the other side of, wow, women in power, when you give them a chance and when they can get in that position, they do great things,” Rauch said. “It’s just a matter of getting your foot in the door and getting the opportunity, and then it’s like, ‘Oh wow, she is a really good coach.'”

Rauch said she has always wanted to take on leadership roles no matter what team she played on, and after some thought, and discussions with Barnes Arico, she is pursing a degree in exercise science at Michigan and wants to become a coach.

Central Michigan women’s basketball coach Heather Oesterle played at Michigan under Sue Guevara. In 2019, Oesterle succeeded Guevara, also her coaching mentor, at CMU. A stint as a Stanford volunteer assistant for Tara VanDerveer, the all-time winningest coach in the game, also was pivotal.

“I went to Stanford and saw more people who look like me,” Oesterle said of other women coaching. “And Tara is very adamant about having all-female staffs. That was one thing she made sure I knew — make sure you give women a chance, so right now I have an all-female staff and think that’s very important.”

Oesterle described the constant of her job, the daily, year-long grind, including recruiting, that has made many women who want to raise children hesitant about a coaching career. Coach Adia Barnes, who led Arizona in the NCAA basketball championship game earlier this month, is a mom and her husband was seen pushing the stroller and carrying the kids. McGraw, Barnes Arico and Michigan State basketball coach Suzy Merchant also have successfully juggled motherhood and coaching. It’s about balance.

Central Michigan coach Heather Oesterle.

Central Michigan coach Heather Oesterle.
Central Michigan athletics

“I’ve seen a lot of good women get out of the business,” said Beauregard, who credited her husband, Rick, with helping raise their son. “He said, ‘This is your job, this is my job, we’re going to do this together and share what we need to share.”

McGraw was recently appointed a Women Sports Foundation board member, and also is participating on an advocacy subcommittee. It’s one thing to see the national outcry after side-by-side photos of the men’s and women’s weight rooms at the respective NCAA basketball tournaments went viral last month, and it’s quite another to maintain the momentum.

“The question is, what’s the plan of attack? What do we want? What are we asking for? What is our list of, for want of a better word, demands? What do we need to see happen?” McGraw said. “And that’s the problem. We’re sitting back and saying, ‘Look at the inequities side by side. Look how this looks,’ and everybody goes, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s horrible.’  Our job isn’t finished right now. We need to have a plan of attack, we need a strategy.”

For women coaches, the “see her to be her” mantra is what this is all about. That’s worth finding a plan and strategy to improve the numbers.

“The most important message it sends is you can be a strong leader. Period,” Hutchins said. “You don’t have to be second because you’re a female and wait for the men to lead. It’s not just about coaching. It’s about opportunity. How can you want something if you never see it?”

Twitter: @chengelis

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