The Redskins recently hired Jennifer King as a full-year coaching intern, making her the first African-American female in NFL history to hold the position, and she brings plenty of experience as a player and coach.
Football has been King's main passion for her entire life. She won multiple championships as an All-American player for the Carolina Phoenix. As a coach, she's worked at the collegiate and professional levels, including two internships with head coach Ron Rivera when he was with the Carolina Panthers.
But while she was pursuing a career in football, she was also coaching women's college basketball, including 10 years as an assistant coach at Greensboro College in Carolina.
King used the same skills she developed on the football field to excel on the basketball court, and she is known for being an exceptional teacher. That's why Redskins.com spoke with Greensboro College head coach Randy Tuggle for an inside look at King's career in college basketball. Below is our conversation:
Question: Before becoming coworkers, you served as King's AAU coach and coached against her in college. What was she like as a basketball player?
Tuggle: Oh, she was a very good basketball player. One of the things that I'm sure she teaches in football is how to do some fundamental stuff and how to make a nice cut on your passes. That was her. She wasn't an unbelievable athlete, but she knew how to play the game. It really helped her out tremendously.
Q: How did the situation play out when she became one of your assistant coaches?
Tuggle: Well, when my cousin took over the program, I helped him out for seven years. So I've been at Greensboro for 18 years. When he decided to apply for the Greensboro College job and got it, we tried to get up with Jennifer. We tried to get up with Jennifer, we talked with her, but she had already committed to Guilford college.
We went on about our business and about four years later, she's graduating, so we talked to her about helping us out, and she came on board. I took over the head coaching job and asked her to stay with me, so she was with me for another six years at least.
She's a person that you can count on, someone that was constantly working with the kids to get them better. Things happen in these days where nobody's teaching anything. They're just saying, "Go play." What made her a good basketball player is that she knew how to play, she knew the fundamentals, simple stuff that nobody teaches. That's why she was very valuable for us.
During the summers at the Division III level, we can't work with kids. So during the summer, we're out recruiting some and then we've got a lot of dead time. When she was with me, she played football during the summer. My wife and I went and watched her play and it was fun to watch them. It was really a good football game. They were tough. I wouldn't want to have to go tackle one of them.
Q: You talked about who she is as an athlete, but tell me a little bit about like how that translated to being a coach.
Tuggle: When I got involved on the women's side instead of the men's, I looked at it and I said, "I can teach fundamentals, I can teach how to do stuff." And that's her. She could teach you how to make a nice move on somebody and how to work. Instead of learning 15 different moves, learn one that you feel comfortable with and then learn to counter, and then we'll teach you how to set your person up so that you can make that one move. And that's where the teaching comes in.
She's a great teacher, and that's the big thing about Jennifer. She's been in that situation. Jennifer wasn't the fastest person in the world, but she knew how to change speed with dribbling so she could go by somebody. She wasn't faster than that person. Those are fundamentals and teaching that helped her become a very good basketball player, and I think that will help [the Redskins] out. You got guys that run the 40 in 4.3 [seconds], so yeah, maybe they can outrun anybody no matter what. But what about the guys who have 4.5 speed? How do they get by somebody? Well, these are some fundamentals we need to work on.
Q: What about her relationships with her players? What was that like?
Tuggle: One thing with coaches coming in at our level, we go there and we do it because that's a passion and that's something that we want to get involved in. That's the same thing with Jennifer, but she got out as soon as she got out of college. We played Guilford a couple of times, so she was used to or knew some of the kids and played against some of them.
She was very good about separating herself from being a player and becoming a coach. Jennifer had in her mind that coaching was a passion of hers. I didn't find out until I saw her playing football that her passion for football is 100% more than for basketball. I was asked about her being the first African American female coach in NFL history. I said, "Well that's good, but I don't think she's doing it because she wants to be the first African American female in it." Now that's going to be a perk for her, but she doing it because she's very passionate about wanting to be a football coach. And you won't find anybody more passionate than her.
Q: I read an ESPN article where she said she felt she had to coach basketball because she felt like women couldn't coach football. Could you tell that, while she did love basketball, her true passion was elsewhere on the football field?
Tuggle: Oh, no, no, no. Once the season was over with, she could turn her passion to football. That's one of the things with Jennifer. You're going to find that whatever she decides she's going to do. She's either gonna do it all and put everything into it, or else she wouldn't be taking the job.
Q: It sounds like she's able to flip that switch from being a coach to being a player pretty quickly.
Tuggle: That's how she became a good player. She had to learn. She knew she had to become fundamentally sound and know how to do the things that other people who just live on their athleticism or their height all the time. Well, she couldn't do that. She's athletic, don't get me wrong, but she was able to take what athleticism she had to become fundamentally sound and became a very good basketball player.
And then when you got to see her on the football field, she was very good at that, too. She has the ability to go from one sport to the other. Fundamentals are fundamentals, whether it's basketball, baseball, football, whatever.