Why Buddy Teevens' legacy is so important to NFL, Mannings

Late Dartmouth coach Buddy Teevens a major influence in the hiring of female coaches to Division-I and NFL programs. He also advocated for safer non-tackling practices. AP Photo/Paul Hawthorne, File

WHEN CALLIE BROWNSON thinks of Buddy Teevens, she thinks back to the first time they met in June 2018 at the Manning Passing Academy in Thibodaux, Louisiana.

Brownson, now the assistant wide receivers coach for the Cleveland Browns, was attending the Football Clinic & Camp for Women & Girls, a pilot program as part of the academy.

Teevens, the late Dartmouth coach who helped the Manning family run its camp for quarterbacks and wide receivers, was "a little flustered" after the group went through the plan for the clinic the next day, "because really this was his first time ever doing anything, not just with women and girls, but having to peel the layers back and start from a football 101 standpoint."

Brownson sat with Teevens for 15 or 20 minutes helping him map out everything and prioritize what needed to be covered the next day.

"He'd been coaching in college and, obviously, at the Manning Passing Academy for so long, so it was trying to teach him that it was back to square one," Brownson said. "I just remember having such an incredible impression of his willingness to understand, getting women involved in football and teaching them the game of football."

Two weeks later, Teevens called Brownson, asking her to come to Dartmouth's training camp as an intern. After that camp, Teevens hired Brownson, making her the first known full-time female football coach in Division I.

Brownson is one of many whose careers have been shaped by Teevens, a coach who never worked directly in the NFL but whose efforts to make the game safer and more inclusive have been replicated across the professional level.

"Buddy was a force -- a force for the good of football and for communities," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said. "He made football better, at Dartmouth for sure, but also at every place he was, he made it better."

Teevens, who was a head coach at five schools including Dartmouth and Stanford, died at the age of 66 Sept. 19, 2023, from complications from a March bicycle accident.

"Buddy was always about trying to find the next way of doing things," Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Omar Khan, who interned for Teevens at Tulane, said. "The one thing [I] really took from Coach T was he really cared about the game of football and the impact that the game of football itself can have on an individual."

ONE THING BROWNSON appreciated about coaching for Teevens was how her responsibilities as an offensive quality control coach at Dartmouth challenged and prepared her for what she'd have to do as an entry-level coach in the NFL.

"Unfortunately with where we're at with women in football, women are hired in these positions, which is massive, but they're not really given the full slate of responsibilities that maybe their male counterpart would," Brownson said. "That wasn't the case for me. Buddy expected a lot of me and he expected me to do it at the pace that my male counterparts were doing it, and that was only for my benefit."

NFL senior director of diversity, equity and inclusion Sam Rapoport called Teevens "integral" in inclusion in the NFL. Rapoport first met Teevens when he called and asked if he could be involved in the NFL Women's Forum, an event held at the NFL combine in Indianapolis every year to help the league "identify women currently working in college football to join its next generations of leaders."

"He wanted to meet young women coaches who were interested in the game, and he wanted to give them an opportunity, and he also wanted to help them with housing and other things to make sure that it's something that could work," Rapoport said.

And it wasn't just about hiring women, but making sure they are "in roles that they can sustain and succeed and thrive," Rapoport said. There was "no question" Teevens opened other coaches' eyes to the number of women who hadn't previously been considered for college football jobs, Rapoport said. While Teevens was the first to hire a woman as a full-time coach at a D-I program, Brown University followed. In 2020, Heather Marini became the first woman position coach in Division I football when she became quarterbacks coach at Brown.

"[It] started to snowball a little bit, and other coaches started hiring [women]," Rapoport said. "And not only did Coach Teevens develop and grow these coaches, but he also made calls on their behalf. I believe he was in touch with Sean McDermott when Callie was being considered to be hired [by the Buffalo Bills in 2019]. And he discussed how great she was for him, and that led Sean to hiring her."

Teevens was always learning and would call Rapoport with questions. The pair would discuss how he could do a better job supporting the inclusion of women in football.

"He would call me and say, 'I want to be better in this,'" Rapoport said. "'What is the proper terminology when I'm addressing the players? If I say men to the room, how does that make the woman feel?' And he really was proactive about asking those kinds of questions.'"

The season after Brownson coached at Dartmouth, Teevens hired Jennifer King as an offensive assistant. The following season, King was hired as an intern with the Washington Commanders and now serves as the team's assistant running backs coach.

"Obviously there's so many NFL coaches who are in the lineage or what have you of an NFL coach," Rapoport said. "But Coach Teevens created the first -- and still only -- women's coaching tree, where I think three women who coached under him all now have NFL jobs and still have NFL jobs."

WHEN TEEVENS RECRUITED, he had a unique pitch: We don't tackle teammates in practice.

Matthew Shearin, the Rams' manager of football administration who played at Dartmouth from 2015 to 2018, said it was one of the first things Teevens told him when they met. The coach told Shearin that his goal was "to take the head out of the game."

"[He said,] 'We understand, look, you come to Dartmouth ... Do guys have a chance of playing in the NFL? Sure,'" Shearin said. "'But for the most part, you're going to be CEOs and CFOs and VPs, etc., lawyers and doctors. So, at the end of the day, your body, particularly your brain, is the most important part.'"

Dartmouth players practiced tackling with the Mobile Virtual Player (MVP), a remote-controlled tackling dummy Teevens helped develop with students from Dartmouth's Thayer School of Engineering.

Early in his college career, Shearin said, he and his teammates were the guinea pigs for the MVP. At the time, it was a traditional tackling dummy with the weighted base cut off and a motor and a big tire with wheels added. "It was heavy and clunky," Shearin said. Now, the MVP has developed into something "sleek," Shearin said, something "10 times better than it was with the prototype."

"Not only is he pushing or talking the talk of taking the head out of the game, actually putting his own capital and energy behind trying to actually do it," Shearin said.

In February 2017 at Super Bowl LI, the NFL held a competition called 1st and Future, a contest focused on spurring innovation in athlete safety and performance. The MVP won the "materials to protect the athlete" category.

"I used to be the old-school coach: tough, physical, mash guys up," Teevens said during that presentation. "Now I'm a little bit more enlightened. There's a better way to do it."

According to the MVP Robotics website, when the prototype was launched in 2016, the device was being used by half of the NFL teams, 75 colleges and more than 100 high schools.

The season Teevens eliminated live tackling during practice, Dartmouth finished 6-4, a four-win improvement from the season before (2-8) and six from the 2008 season (0-10).

"I must admit, I wasn't certain it was the best way to prepare athletes for game day," Harvard coach Tim Murphy said. "There's a lot of ways to skin a cat, but Buddy proved the naysayers wrong and helped to make college football a safer sport. There's no question about that."

And then in 2015, Teevens and Dartmouth shared the Ivy League title. The following March, the Ivy League voted to eliminate all full-contact tackling from practices during the regular season in an effort to reduce the number of brain injuries and concussions.

That year, Teevens testified before the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, in a hearing called, "Concussions in Youth Sports: Evaluating Prevention and Research."

"You don't testify before Congress on hitting injuries if you're not trying to protect people," Rams vice president of football and business administration Tony Pastoors, who also played for Teevens at Dartmouth, said. "Our game has taken a lot of that to heart. And so it is about protecting players. It's about trying to prolong the game, keep it for today, tomorrow and the next generation. So I think so much of his fingerprints are on it."

THE MANNING PASSING Academy is an organizational nightmare, Archie Manning said. With more than 1,400 campers and around 100 coaches and 40 college quarterbacks who serve as counselors, there are a lot of moving pieces. The first camp was held in 1996 at Tulane, where Teevens was the head football coach.

Along with the Manning family and Jeff Hawkins, Teevens helped run a camp that started with 185 high school football players and quickly grew into a national camp. Last year, Eli Manning tweeted that the eight starting quarterbacks during the divisional round of the playoffs -- Patrick Mahomes, Joe Burrow, Josh Allen, Jalen Hurts, Dak Prescott, Trevor Lawrence, Brock Purdy and Daniel Jones -- had been counselors at the Manning Passing Academy.

Teevens "never stopped from the time he got there to the time he left," Hawkins said. Archie Manning joked that when people asked what would happen if Teevens or Hawkins couldn't work the camp, he would say, "there is no camp."

"It wasn't funny last year," Manning said.

In June, Teevens was in the hospital and the camp went on.

"But people did step up, just really in honor of Buddy," Manning said. "We weren't going to let the camp fall down. And we had several people that took on new responsibilities, probably another 10 guys who took on different responsibilities just to do the things that Buddy used to do by himself."

And during that June weekend, about 3½ months after Teevens' bike accident, he called from the hospital.

"The first thing he wanted to know was how many coaches are there?" Hawkins said. "Second thing he said, 'How many campers are there?' And the third thing that he said, which made us all feel that everything was going to be OK, 'What's your rain plan?'

"And all the things going on ... We weren't sure because he hadn't been able to talk. So we weren't sure what was behind those blue eyes. But when he said 'rain plan,' we knew he was on top of everything. He was on top of everything."

Teevens' passion for the camp, Khan said, was he "loved the idea of helping a young person grow and develop and become a better quarterback or player, even if it was just by a small margin."

"He took a lot of pride in seeing kids from the Manning Academy succeed," Pastoors said. "And very, very, very few of them went to Dartmouth. So it was seeing them succeed at Clemson or Notre Dame or Texas A&M or Oklahoma or wherever they went.

"He took great pride in seeing them go on to succeed at the college level, and then even plenty of them at the pro level. I think it was one of those things that was his way of helping them along the way."