NFL trailblazing coach Jennifer King got her start in NC

The Reidsville and Guilford College product became the first black woman to be a full-time coach in NFL

Jennifer King became the first black woman to be named a full-time assistant coach when she was hired by Washington. (Julio Cortez / AP Photo)

Guilford College women’s basketball coach Stephanie Flamini remembers the first time she saw Jennifer King display a football mentality.

“We did have a pickup football game in a parking lot one time,” Flamini recalled. “We were in Florida or somewhere like that, and sometimes, when we were bored, we’d do that.”

Normally, however, the Quakers’ basketball team didn’t have a player like King when they broke out the pigskin.

“She can play any sport she tries to play,” Flamini said of King’s performance in the game.

King, who earlier this week became the first black female full-time coach in the NFL, grew up in Reidsville and starred in basketball and softball while at Guilford, also using her four years in college to hone her leadership abilities.

“She was a really hard worker,” Flamini said, “the hardest worker on the team. She did a lot of things above and beyond — watching extra film, film of herself, film of her opponent.”

And, yes, she had that football mindset even then.

“She played through anything,” Flamini said. “If she was hurt, not feeling well, she played through anything. She was a leader on the court, a coach on the court and really dedicated, like more dedicated than your average Division III player.”

King piled up the honors while with the Quakers, winning Guilford’s highest athletic honor — the Nereus English Leadership Award. She was also named the school’s top female athlete and, as a senior, won the Ideal Athlete prize.

Flamini helped her to prepare for what seemed like a natural fit for the future.

“For sure, she did everything a coach would do,” she said. “She was always vocal. She knew the next play before it would occur. You could see she was going to coach. I got her into the WBCA’s ‘So you want to be a coach’ program her senior year. She went to our convention and learned how to become a coach.”

At the time, King’s future seemed to be in coaching basketball.

“I started coaching basketball because I thought that’s what you had to do,” King said in 2018 when she was a coaching intern with the Carolina Panthers. “Women didn’t coach football.”

Now, thanks to King’s efforts, they do.

She began her football journey as a player, first with the Carolina Phoenix in the Women’s Football Association. She’s a 12-year veteran of the WFA and has played quarterback, receiver and defensive back as a pro.

“I’ve been a quarterback in four different systems,” she said. “I’ve learned a lot of various offenses and, obviously, learned defenses as well. … I can draw from so many different areas. It’s helped me a lot, playing different positions.”

King continued the hard work that impressed Flamini at Guilford. While working with the Panthers as a coaching intern, she commuted to New York for practices and games with the WFA New York Sharks, where she was continuing to play.

“I don’t have a pet or any kids or anything,” she said at the time. “It’s my life. It’s what I do. I have really long days, but it’s all worth it to get this opportunity.”

That opportunity now has her cracking through the glass ceiling in NFL coaching. After a year as an offensive intern with the Washington Football Team — whose coach, Ron Rivera, was familiar with her from her stint with the Panthers — King has now been promoted to assistant running backs coach — a full-time job coaching NFL players.

“It’s great,” Flamini said. “We always talk about how men have more opportunities in coaching because they can coach women. Women don’t have the opportunity to coach men. (In basketball) the game is the game, but football is a little different. There really hasn’t been the opportunity for women in football. So it’s great to see that even in sports we don’t necessarily have on the women’s side, women can coach men.”

King has said she hopes to one day work her way up to become an offensive coordinator, although Flamini has even loftier goals for her former player.

“I would like to see her be a head coach one day,” she said.

Regardless of where she eventually ends up, King is getting used to her current position as a role model.

“I do (realize it) now,” she said last season. “I didn’t start out in this journey to do that, but I’m constantly receiving messages from people that I am a role model. Eventually, I realized that I kind of am. I don’t take it lightly.”

King also knows the importance of letting people see that a black woman can excel in a position normally reserved for men.

“Know that you can do anything,” she said while with Panthers. “It’s so special to see someone in a position you never thought you could be in. I’m kind of like Black Panther. There never was a black superhero, and now there is. It’s like, ‘Holy cow. That’s really cool to see.’ For little girls, what I want for them is to know that if that’s what they want to do, they can do it.”