Mickey Grace takes on his role on UConn’s football coaching staff

Mickey Grace admits she was terrified when she took a job on UConn’s football coaching staff

It was only natural – after all, she was going to be one of the few women in the country, let alone women of color, to work on a male-dominated Division I college football team, carrying the weight of an entire kind on her. shoulders.

She had every reason to be nervous.

Except none of this had anything to do with Grace’s feelings of anxiety.

What worried her was the shift she would have to make from a career in defense to the attacking side of the ball. As usual with Grace, it was all about football. Take care of the football and this bigger picture will take care of itself.

UConn offensive football analyst Mickey Grace (UConn Athletics Photo).

Grace joined freshman UConn football coach Jim Mora’s team as the Huskies’ offensive analyst, working with wide receivers coach and passing game coordinator John Allen. Football teams have turned heads in recent weeks with two straight wins and are looking to tie their record this Saturday afternoon at Ball State

As excited as she is to have a full-time job in college football, her ultimate goal is to be an on-field coach. While those who know her have little doubt that Grace will eventually make it, the offensive analyst position will keep her as close as possible – and it was a way for Mora to add Grace to his UConn team.

Grace’s rise in the football profession is also being hailed this weekend as UConn hosts a 50th celebratione anniversary of Title IX and the commemoration of an enduring legacy of UConn women’s athletics since its university inception in 1974. Although Grace does not coach women’s sports, she is an example of how Title IX has helped women to advance in all areas of college athletics.

As a native of Philadelphia, she is well versed in UConn’s athletic history.

“One thing I say to players is, ‘We are the UConn that we haven’t been yet. We’re the UConn that’s not here yet,” she says. “We’re not trying to be a version of ourselves. We try to be the UConn that never was.

And she takes up the challenge.

“I’m religiously prepared every day to get through the day,” Grace says. “As a black woman under 30, as a mother (to Aria, 6), no one is going to tell me they don’t know what to do. I understood it. No one can pass me anything. I pushed the rock up.

But just because she’s into UConn football doesn’t mean she doesn’t realize the responsibility she bears because of who she is. She still runs a Women In Football support group for women who aspire to be coaches and scouts and mentors a group for high school girls called “She’sMyCoach”.

“When it comes to anything outside of the team I’m on, it’s about young girls and women and what they want to do in life and giving themselves permission to do it,” Grace explains. I use football to teach that. It took me a long time to give myself permission to do the things I was doing anyway. Someone told me I was a coach before they called me a coach.

“Right now, my focus is more on ‘How can we increase UConn’s red zone completion rate?’ I can’t focus on a statement because it distracts me from doing a good job, and doing a good job IS the statement.

“Mickey has a real intellect about him, an ability to see the game in a particular way, which really impressed me,” Mora said. “But more than anything with Mickey, it’s just her personality that drew me to her – female, male, whatever, it’s just the fact that she has such an endearing personality. She has toughness, she has empathy. She’s taught me a lot already – about how things are with this generation, how to communicate with them, their ways of thinking. She’s really an impressive person.

So what does an offensive analyst do?

“Offensive analyst means different things in different places,” Grace explains, “Here it means working with Coach Allen and the receivers, making sure we’re looking at all of our data, all of our numbers, and figuring out what what it means to us on a day-to-day basis. I’m really a bottom-up thinker, so when I see numbers all I think about is, what does it mean to us on a day-to-day basis? oday, we use our data to ensure that our learning is effective and efficient.

Which is of paramount importance as UConn sets up their new offense, which was the side of the ball that was foreign to Grace throughout her career as a player, coach and coach.

“I was horrified,” she admits, “but apparently all good coaches do this at least once in their career – they change. But I coached NFL athletes and a lot of them were defensive backs and linebackers. So, it’s good that I know enough about DBs and linebackers to now incorporate it into my study of wide receivers. It’s not as terrifying as I thought.

“But it’s a new setup with a new playbook, in a new position on a new side of the ball, with a new head coach – you kind of feel like you’re drowning, until you look up and realize you’ve been swimming the whole time.”

Grace, the middle child of three sisters, has been swimming in the waters of football since her days as an outstanding athlete at Germantown High in Philadelphia, where she also captained the softball team for three years, the center of the basketball team, editor of the school newspaper and president of the graduating class.

“It wasn’t like I really wanted to play football, but it was our only fall sport – it was football or nothing and I needed to practice,” Grace says.

So, after working as an assistant in the football office, she finally convinced the coach to let her train and she made the team as a kicker. But it wasn’t enough.

“We never kicked, we always went for two,” laughs Grace.

Instead, Grace found a place on the defensive line — becoming the first woman to earn All-Public League honors at the defensive end — and a career passion was born.

“Football kept finding me,” she explains.

We are not trying to be a version of ourselves. We try to be the UConn that never was. —Mickey Grace

Grace attended West Chester University where she was playing tennis when the women’s rugby coach heard the ‘footballer’ played tennis and recruited her.

“I told him: ‘Coach, I’m from the neighborhood… I don’t know what rugby is'”, she says with a smile. “He said, ‘We’ll teach you.'”

But football was already in his blood, returning to high school to become defensive line coach at Mastery Charter School and assistant coach of the Philly Phantomz women’s pro team. This led to a stint as a training camp intern with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and then a scouting apprentice position with the Los Angeles Rams.

It was the connections she made with the Rams that gave her the opportunity to take on an assistant defensive line coaching position at Dartmouth College last season and also gave her an introduction to UConn.

“I sent Coach Mora a CV when he got the job here and I had cold texted him,” she says. “Then I had enough people I knew that he knew to mention my name and I knew some of the staff he hired.

“I came to visit him and I just walked into his office and said, ‘Hey, I just want to introduce myself. I had all this Dartmouth gear on me, and he said, ‘Who are you? What are you?’ I said, ‘I’m the D-line assistant coach at Dartmouth,’ and he made the face that everyone does and said, ‘Are you? ”

Mora remembers the first meeting.

“I wasn’t surprised that she was a woman,” he laughs. “I was really surprised that Dartmouth had a D-line assistant coach.”

But the UConn coach soon realized he needed to know more about Grace.

“With certain people, as soon as they come into your life, you can feel something special about them,” Mora explains. “It may be a little outrageous at this point in Mickey’s career, but Dan Quinn (former Atlanta Falcons head coach and current Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator) came into my life as he was about the same age as Mickey I was a defensive coordinator for the 49ers and Dan came in for an interview for a quality control job, much like Mickey does, and the second I met him , I thought, “Yeah, there’s something special about him. And I have to say, I revisited the same feeling I had with Dan when I met Mickey. Sometimes you just an idea of ​​people.

Which led to more meetings and discussions and finally a job offer as an offensive analyst from UConn.

“I would like to take him on the pitch,” Mora said. “Her greatest asset is her ability to communicate with the players – being tough and demanding, but never demeaning. I immediately see a high degree of trust between the players and her, so I would like to bring her onto the pitch – Maybe be later. But nothing would stop me from hiring someone as qualified as Mickey, regardless of gender.

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