Giant leap for women: SRU alumna Angela Baker among the trailblazing female coaches in the NFL
Angela Baker, a 2021 Slippery Rock University graduate, is a second-year offensive quality control coach for the New York Giants (Photo credit: New York Football Giants).
July 26, 2023
SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. — It takes more than the 11 men on the field to win a game in the National Football League. Off the field, there are often twice as many coaches contributing to each team's success. For decades, those roles were filled almost entirely by men. But not anymore.
Today, a growing number of female coaches are making an impact on the sidelines of NFL games. More than a dozen full-time female coaches are now employed by NFL teams. Among them is Angela Baker, a 2021 Slippery Rock University graduate, who is entering her second year as an offensive quality control coach for the New York Giants.
"For a long time, (teams) excluded women, but now we're seeing people start to realize that everybody loves football and has the ability to coach, and right now there's a big focus on the women," Baker said. "It doesn't matter what you look like, if you played the game, or where you came from, whatever it might be, if you love the sport and have something to offer, there's an opportunity."
In 2022, Baker, along with Laura Young, the Giants' director of coaching operations, were named the first full-time female coaches in the team's nearly 100-year history. Baker was hired by the Giants prior to last season as the inaugural recipient of the team's Rosie Brown Minority Coaching Fellowship, which allocates a coaching position on the Giants staff for women or minorities.
The Buffalo Bills hired Kathryn Smith as the first full-time female coach in 2016, when she joined the club as a special teams quality control coach. Since then, the number of female coaches has steadily increased. Last year, there were 12 full-time women coaches in the league.
"The reason women are getting these jobs is because they can thrive, and now they're being given the opportunity to show that and they're excelling," Baker said. "People are seeing the path and getting opportunities, and I think it's going to keep rising from here."
The NFL's Bill Walsh Diversity Coach Fellowship program has created paths for people like Baker to become one of the 17-27 full-time coaches that each team has.
In the spring of 2020, the fellowship program provided opportunities to more than 170 minority and female coaches and team personnel. Baker was one of six aspiring coaches, including two women, who joined the Cleveland Browns that year. But because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Baker's participation in the Browns' offseason practices was limited to virtual meetings.
"That was a nice little dive into the NFL, but since it was virtual, it was more hands off," Baker said. "I still got to hear the verbiage they used, I got a little bit of experience with the way that they watch film, and, overall, how they do things without the pressure of me being in the building. That was the perfect introduction that I needed, because I was still trying to figure out where I wanted to go and whether I wanted to coach or be in administration. My goal was just to stay involved in football somehow."
Like many coaches, Baker first became involved in football as a player. During her freshman year at SRU in 2010, Baker saw an advertisement for open tryouts for the Pittsburgh Passion, a professional, full-contact women's football team that plays in the Women's Football Alliance.
Baker played eight seasons with the Passion, becoming one of the league's best players as a wide receiver and quarterback. She helped lead the Passion to two league titles and even had the chance to play internationally, representing USA on the 2017 International Federation of American Football world championship team that won a gold medal. Teresa Conn, '86, an SRU graduate, is the Passion's co-owner and she and Lisa Horton, '04, are co-head coaches. Several other SRU alumni have also played for the Passion.
Baker enjoyed playing football so much that she took a three-year hiatus from her studies at SRU.
"It got to the point where I was focused so much on football and trying to learn the game that my attention wasn't in the classroom," said Baker, who came to SRU as a health and physical education major on a teacher education track. "I was able to come back and choose the physical activity and fitness management paths with a minor in coaching, and that actually worked out exactly how it needed to."
"As a student in our program, Angela was highly motivated, well prepared and worked very hard to reach her goal of becoming a football coach," said Joanne Leight, professor of physical and health education, who served as Baker's academic adviser. "It's quite extraordinary that she reached the highest level of professional coaching in just two years. We are extremely proud of Angela's accomplishments and know she is just getting started in her professional journey. We can't wait to see all that she will achieve in the NFL."
After graduating from SRU in 2021, Baker began looking for coaching opportunities. She took a part-time job at the University of Redlands, a small college in California. There, Baker coached special teams and served as a defensive quality control coach.
"I only had those three weeks of virtual experience with Cleveland, so I was still learning quite a bit," Baker said. "We won the conference championship and made the NCAA (Division III) tournament. After the season, I was fortunate enough to get a call from coach Brian Daboll with the Giants. He said my name came across his desk for an opportunity after he got the job and he asked if I wanted to interview for a position."
Not many Division III coaches, let alone assistant coaches with one year of experience, are contacted by NFL teams, but Baker had connections from her time with the Browns, not to mention being one of the top WFA players.
"I was pretty stunned when I got the call, but I'm fortunate to have a good network of people that threw my name out there," said Baker, who interviewed via Zoom with Daboll, Young and quarterbacks coach Shea Tierney. "Twenty minutes after my interview, I'm on my way to one of my part-time jobs in California and I get a call from Coach Daboll and he said, 'Do you want to be a New York Giant?'"
Baker obviously said yes, but there was one accommodation she asked for. Baker wanted to represent her country at the 2022 IFAF world championship in Finland. She was trying out for the U.S. National Team and would need to miss the first two weeks of the Giants training camp.
"Coach Daboll and the general manager, Joe Schoen, said, 'We support you, we're really excited that you want to continue your endeavors in football and we'll figure it out during training camp and welcome you back,'" Baker said. "'Then they said, 'Just don't come back without the gold medal.'"
Baker not only made the team, she caught three passes for 36 yards in USA's 42-14 win over Great Britain.
Baker quickly got up to speed upon her return to the Giants. As a quality control coach, Baker analyzes game film, develops practice scripts, and helps prepare the scout teams. She also meets with a position group, assisting tight ends coach Andy Bischoff.
The Giants were among the hottest NFL teams for the first month of the 2022 season, winning six of the first seven games, before finishing with a 9-7-1 record and losing to the Philadelphia Eagles in the Divisional Round of the playoffs.
"My favorite part is that I'm getting to be around football and teach every day," Baker said. "I thought I wanted to be a teacher growing up. But to be around football, which is a sport that I love, and to have that mentorship or teaching experience with these players is unmatched."
Baker said people would be surprised by how receptive players are to women coaches and that relating to them wasn't a huge challenge. The Giants players even supported Baker from afar when she was in Finland, checking on the results during their training camp.
"The guys have shown a lot of respect and appreciation knowing that I've played," Baker said. "It's not the same level as the NFL, but I've been on the field. Our guys just want to be sponges. They want to learn from anyone who's willing to teach them. As coaches, we're all from different walks of life and we have our own backgrounds, and everybody's treated well here. Everyone has just been completely supportive. They asked me the same questions that they would ask the head position coach, and that, to me, shows a lot. They treat me as part of the family."
The other women coaches in the NFL also share a bond. They communicate with one another and share their experiences. Baker considers women coaches such as Jennifer King (Commanders running backs coach), Lori Locust (Titans defensive quality control coach) and Callie Brownson (Browns assistant wide receivers coach) as pioneers.
"It's hard to think of myself in that way because I'm only here because other people have opened the door," Baker said.
Her SRU education has served as a foundation for her entire career.
"I wouldn't be where I am now if it weren't for Dr. Leight and my other professors who found a way to help me finish my degree," Baker said. "I love that SRU is a smaller school and everyone's really close, but still, that name, Slippery Rock, a lot of people know it. It's got a lot of respect behind it. And everyone has been nothing but supportive while I was there. They helped shape me as an individual and I really learned how to be a better teacher and mentor while I was there."
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