Katie Sowers’ pioneering tenure as the 49ers’ first female coach winds down Friday, coincidentally in her native Kansas City, site of the 49ers’ exhibition opener against the Chiefs.
Sowers, without pomp and circumstance, enjoyed serving as a summer intern in the Bill Walsh NFL Diversity Coaching Fellowship, which the 49ers icon launched 35 years ago to mentor minorities.
“I always tell people if you think grown men aren’t going to respect women, I’ve seen nothing but respect,” Sowers said. “They say, ‘Hey coach’ in the hallway. They treat me just like they treat everybody else.”
Walsh would be proud.
“Bill Walsh is one of my favorite coaches of all time,” Sowers added, “and I have a couple of his books I carry with me.”
That includes Walsh’s “Finding The Winning Edge,” a renowned coaches’ bible that came out in 1997.
Sowers coughed up $300 last year for one of the rare copies, taking it to her internship last summer on the Atlanta Falcons and this year to the franchise Walsh built.
Now it’s Sowers helping author the NFL’s inspiring tale about an eroding gender barrier.
Sowers blended in on the 49ers practice field like any other coach and intern at training camp. She not only helped coach wide receivers, she also watched, learned and didn’t stand by silently.
“No, that’s why I like Katie,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said of her input. “It would be an issue if you felt like she was in there and you had to be careful what you said, or, ‘Oh, there’s a female in there. Don’t swear.’ Katie hangs out. She’s one of the coaches.”
“It’s groundbreaking and all that stuff, but the more normalized it is, the better it is,” Sowers, 31, said. “As a female, the more someone can ask me what I do and I say ‘I coach football,’ the less shock on their faces will mean the better direction we’re moving.”
Were their awkward, battle-of-the-sexes moments?
“Never, never, never,” veteran wide receiver Jeremy Kerley said. “We’ve got a group of guys who have the ultimate respect, anyway. She sits back and comes at you like anyone else would. I love it.”
Sowers beams at having celebrated her last two birthdays as a coach in NFL training camps. Her reward goes beyond birthday cakes from the Falcons’ Julio Jones and the 49ers’ Marquise Goodwin.
She has loved taking notes about X’s and O’s, about how to lead a team, but not about how to integrate herself into the male-dominated world of football.
She’s played football professionally and for the U.S. national team — at quarterback, wide receiver, linebacker and safety. “I haven’t studied the tape but I’ve heard she was very good,” Shanahan said.
Her playing career succumbed to an ailing hip last year. But she’s stayed involved as general manager of the Kansas City Titans in the Women’s Football Alliance, where her twin sister, Liz, is a star receiver. Katie Sowers also been a USA Football adviser, and she’s been devoted to football since she was an 8-year-old growing up near Wichita in Hesston, Kansas.
Coaching has always been her dream, stemming from a family tree in which her dad, Floyd, coached Bethel College’s women’s basketball team.