Backed by trusted staff, Natalie Randolph set for debut as Coolidge High football coach
Thursday, August 26, 2010; 10:42 PM
Coach the Coolidge football team? Not a chance, Natalie Randolph told the school administration when the science teacher was first asked last winter.
"I wasn't ready to be a head coach," she said.
When the school persisted, Randolph knew that if she was going to do what few women nationwide had ever tried, she would need plenty of help.
While the 30-year-old Randolph will absorb the glare of the spotlight Friday when Coolidge opens its season at home against Carroll, standing in the shadows will be a staff of 10 assistants with varied backgrounds, ready to help the former wide receiver for the D.C. Divas women's professional team navigate a coaching playbook that extends far beyond post patterns and zone blitzes.
"I chose people who I could trust," she said of her staff, which is typical in size for area teams.
Aside from finding her comfort zone in just her third season as a coach (she worked with the receivers in 2006 and 2007 at H.D. Woodson), Randolph has had plenty of off-the-field issues to tend to, including a media glare that has intensified over the past five months. The school has received credential requests for Friday's game from all four local broadcast television stations, HBO, ESPN, the New York Times, Los Angeles Times and even Forbes magazine, among others.
"It's a billion times tougher than what I had to go through," said Coolidge offensive coordinator Torrance Dawkins, comparing Randolph's job to his tenure as head coach at Theodore Roosevelt in 2006 and 2007. "But she has more people with her than I did. And she has guys that want her to be successful. A lot of times, guys are looking to take your job."
Randolph anticipated her hiring would bring media attention. Handling the scrutiny, in addition to the responsibilities of being a head coach, made her uneasy about taking the job.
She reached out to a close friend at Coolidge, special education teacher Keino Wilson, for guidance. Wilson, who had coached boys' basketball at Spingarn and Woodson, called the one person who he knew could ease Randolph's concerns - longtime Woodson football and girls' basketball coach Bob Headen, 70, who spent 28 years as a head coach before stepping down in 1999.
"You tell her," Headen told Wilson, "that if she gets the job, I'll come help her."
After Wilson relayed the offer to Randolph, she called Headen, who was also on the Woodson staff when Randolph made her coaching debut in 2006. Headen was impressed with Randolph's know-how, organization and energy that season.
Randolph asked Headen if he was serious about the offer.