Mason alumna blazing a trail for women in the NFL

Callie Brownson
Callie Brownson. Photo courtesy of the Cleveland Browns.

George Mason University alumna Callie Brownson and her boss, Cleveland Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski, often joke that there is no job description for her role as the team’s chief of staff.

“It’s an anything and everything role,” said Brownson, who received her bachelor’s degree with a concentration in sport management from the College of Education and Human Development in 2016. “Basically, how we operate as a team runs through me. I kind of enjoy the challenge that no day is the same.”

While her job as chief of staff—the first female to hold the position in the NFL—usually pertains to logistics, operation, and organizing practice plans, Brownson has been a “utility player” for the Browns during an unprecedented season that continues Sunday in a playoff matchup against the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs. Most recently, she has put on a headset and fulfilled her true passion—coaching.

During three games this season, Brownson has filled in as a position coach for a Browns’ coaching staff dealing with positive COVID tests. On Jan. 9, she coached the tight ends during the Browns’ upset of Pittsburgh in a wild card playoff game, the franchise’s first postseason victory in 26 years.

The Alexandria native also coached the tight ends on Nov. 29 in a victory over Jacksonville, becoming the first woman to coach a position in an NFL regular-season game. The sideline jacket she wore that day and an autographed game ball sit in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Earlier in the season, she joined Washington Football Team coaching intern Jennifer King and game official Sarah Thomas in the first NFL game with a female official and female coaches on both teams.

“It’s really special what’s happening in the league,” said Brownson, who is in her first year with the Browns after serving as a full-time intern with the Buffalo Bills last season. “I think it’s a really cool time for women to see all these possibilities and all these barriers breaking.”

Mason sport management instructor Charley Casserly, a longtime NFL executive who won three Super Bowls with the Washington Football Team, recalled Brownson’s ambition and drive.

While pursuing her degree at Mason, Brownson was also playing football for the D.C. Divas—Washington’s professional female football team—and coaching softball and football at her alma mater, Mount Vernon High School.

“When they are already working on their life’s goals when they are still in college, those are the ones that are most successful,” Casserly said. “It was just a question of where she was going to be successful.”

Brownson said Casserly’s advice to “take advantage of every opportunity to get in front of people” has always stuck with her, whether she was at Mount Vernon, working a scouting internship with the New York Jets or on Buddy Teevens’ staff at Dartmouth as the first female full-time Division I football coach.

Brownson said the smaller size of Mason’s sport management program and having multiple classes with faculty such as Professor Robert Baker and Associate Professor Craig Esherick helped sharpen her skills, narrow her career direction and develop a plan to reach those goals.

“Ending up at that program was such a stepping stone,” she said. “The involvement and push: ‘What is your plan? How are you going to do it?’ That is extremely rewarding. It’s really special.”