Back in the game
As female college coaches continue to lose ground, finding a way to stop that slide can seem daunting. "There's no one single biggest problem," says Judy Sweet, who started the Alliance of Women Coaches in 2011 as a way to address the issue. "I don't think there's any easy answer on how this changes."
But Sweet and other experts believe that small solutions, when added up, can start to reverse the trend.
Women don't apply for openings at the rate men do. So administrators, rather than shrugging their shoulders when roughly two-thirds of the applicants are male, must consciously broaden and deepen their candidate pools, actively searching for qualified female candidates.
That's what Lesley Irvine, an assistant athletic director at Bowling Green, did when the women's volleyball coach of 29 years, Denise Van De Walle, retired in 2011. "You're not going to get a diverse pool if you sit back passively and wait for that to happen," Irvine says.
Instead, Irvine hit the phones, calling national coaches associations, the NCAA championship committee, conference commissioners and schools that had recently made hires. She created a wish list, then picked up the phone again, recruiting candidates who hadn't applied. One of them was Danijela Tomic of Florida International. Before long, Irvine had persuaded Tomic to leave sunny Florida for Ohio.
"Coaches aren't going to take jobs if they don't believe they'll be successful," Irvine says. "For Danijela specifically, she found we were a fit for her. And it really began with that relationship we built."
2. Take it from the top
Want to hire more female coaches? Hire more female athletic directors. The ongoing Title IX study by Brooklyn College professors emerita R. Vivian Acosta and Linda Jean Carpenter has found that colleges helmed by female ADs employ female coaches at a rate 5 percent higher than programs run by men.
Maryland women's basketball coach Brenda Frese finds it interesting that at all three of her head-coaching stops, a female AD hired her: Andrea Seger at Ball State in 1999, Chris Voelz at Minnesota in 2001 (when Voelz was AD for women's sports), and Debbie Yow at Maryland in 2002. "I think my path is pretty unusual," Frese says. It's also a pretty good example for university presidents.
3. Sell a support system
As Frese's case shows, a school's infrastructure can make a huge difference in a coach's success once she's hired. Little things, like job sweeteners, need to be adapted to women's needs, the way other tools are used to lure top male coaches.
"Maybe a golf course membership won't always be the most attractive perk for a woman coach with kids," says Celia Slater, co-director for the Alliance of Women Coaches. So colleges should be prepared to focus on things such as child care, for those days when Mom is away recruiting, and helping spouses or domestic partners find employment in the community.
Coaches should also have an open forum for consulting with each other on campus. Regular departmental meetings, for instance, at which older coaches can offer advice and everyone can air gripes and exchange notes, go a long way to help programs come together in times of threatened resources. This is another area where Maryland stands out.
4. Build networks
"The best thing an aspiring Division I coach can do is have mentors," says Sweet, a former NCAA senior vice president and longtime AD for UC San Diego. The best way to find mentors? "Join professional development programs. Observe other coaches, not only in your sport, but in other sports. Learn as much as you can from the very best."
The Alliance of Women Coaches has already made an impact by setting up networks and offering useful how-to seminars and advice on finding and keeping jobs. In recent years, the NCAA's Women Coaches Academy has become so popular that its seminars can't keep up with demand. "I've been coaching for 22 years, and when I went to the women's coaching academy, I found it incredibly valuable," says Becky Burleigh, the women's soccer coach at Florida. "Women need this and want this."
Stanford women's basketball coach Tara VanDerveer says women need to organize from the top down. "Whether it's through the Women's Sports Foundation or the NCAA doing more programs to help female coaches, we must mentor women and put them in situations where they can be successful," she says. "We are not maximizing the potential of the great female coaches who are out there."