In Portsmouth VA, Katina Roberts has been hired to handle football operations at Norfolk State University, becoming the only current female to hold the director of football operations post at the FCS or FBS level in Virginia.
Roberts was hesitant to apply because she doesn’t have a football background or any extensive knowledge of the game. It didn’t matter. She threw on her Superwoman cape, rolled up her sleeves, and got to work. She assumed the position in September, with the football team sidelined until 2021 due to a COVID pandemic.
“She’s a rock star,” said Norfolk State football coach Latrell Scott. “She was kind of pressed into duty last year to help with travel stuff, and she did such a great job I asked (athletic director) Melody (Webb) when she became AD if there was a possibility to hire (Roberts) full-time.”
MEAC Football Returns
Roberts was doing great in rehearsals, preparing for that big moment when the Spartans retake the field. Now it’s showtime as Norfolk State football will return in February as the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference announced its Spring league schedule Thursday.
The Spartans host Delaware State on Saturday, Feb. 20, in their season opener and will play six games in a regionalized schedule following the fall season’s postponement due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The nine-team conference will be split into two regional divisions to minimize travel, class absences and expenses.
“The mental and physical health and safety of our student-athletes, coaches, staff and fans must be at the forefront,” MEAC Commissioner Dennis E. Thomas said in a release. “With that in mind, creative and innovative scheduling was required to accomplish our goals. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we had to restrict travel to regional competition. Hopefully, the type of schedule is for spring 2021 only.”
Before being thrust into football organizational duties, Roberts, a graduate of the school, worked in the human services department for the Norfolk Community Services Board.
She also served as the travel coordinator in the NSU athletics business office for three years. There, she coordinated all travel for the athletics department, including staff and team travel, so she wasn’t totally oblivious to football, but things such as field movement, play direction and other football-related terms were very vague to Roberts.
Scott was so excited to have Roberts in the position that he helped prepare her for the task ahead, giving her pointers and plans to make the transition a lot smoother. Her crash course included learning what the game was about and the different positions. The hardest part was getting her to understand how the program incorporates 98 players into different teams but competes as one unified squad.
“It’s refreshing and it’s exciting,” Roberts, 44, a graduate of Norview High in Norfolk told the Virginia-Pilot back in September. “It’s a role that I would not have imagined myself to sit in because I don’t come from a background of sports.”
The responsibilities of Roberts’ new job extends far beyond the football field. Her administrative acumen is why Scott approved of her hiring. Roberts will also handle financial aid, meals, academics, football camps, and building relationships with NFL scouts.
Making sure that strong, organized systems are in place is especially important for the football program as student-athletes tread through these COVID-19 chartered waters. Keeping the infection rate down to allow the student-athletes to proceed on their unforgettable journey is a top priority.
Roberts and Scott will work closely with campus officials to keep the football program safe. Beginning each day between 4 and 5 AM, the tandem sends out reminders for the players to get COVID screening (Weekly, Daily and Random).
The young men see her as a mother to the program and her vision and experience outside of football allows her to see things they don’t — from a sagacious woman’s perspective. A perspective that has nothing to do with the ability to get the job done, but everything to do with culture and changing perceptions about women leaders in male-dominated sports.
New Trend In Hiring
She’s the first in NSU history to hold this title, but there have been others in Division 1 (FBS) to do the same and the numbers are rising.
In February, Notre Dame named Olivia Mitchell to the same position in South Bend. As Notre Dame’s director of football operations, Mitchell supervises and coordinates many of the program’s administrative and operational details, including team travel, preseason camp arrangements, the annual coaches clinic, and summer camps. She reports to Ron Powlus, Notre Dame’s associate athletic director for football and a former hot-shot Fighting Irish QB during the end of the Lou Holtz era.
Mitchell became the eighth woman actively working as a director of football operations for a Power Five program. She’s also the first Black woman to serve in that capacity at Notre Dame. Erica Genise held the title from 2002-04 under former head coach Tyrone Willingham.
Similar to Roberts, Mitchell worked her way up the ranks by performing exceptionally at her job.
Mitchell has been involved with the Irish football program since her freshman year as an ND student. In four years, she worked her way up to senior recruiting assistant. Mitchell, who also was a cheerleader for the Irish, interned with sports agency Athletes First and the Chicago Bears as an undergraduate.
In 2016, Danielle Bartelstein was hired by current head coach Justin Fuente to run things at VA Tech in Blacksburg as Senior Director of Football Operations. At the time, there was only one other female in that position at the FBS level.
In 2019, she was hired by the College Football Playoff as the organization’s director of football operations. Bartelstein got her start under former Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh and then under Gary Patterson at TCU before following Fuente from Waco TX to Blacksburg.
In a male-dominated field, it’s good to see women making a mark and showing they can do the job just as good and if not better than their male counterparts.