Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

49ers coach Katie Sowers discusses her role as an NFL trailblazer

Jan 29, 2020 at 12:15 PM--

San Francisco 49ers assistant coach Katie Sowers is in the spotlight this week, and that is fine by her. While she knows there is a job to do in Miami, as her team prepares for Super Bowl LIV against the Kansas City Chiefs, she also knows it's important to offer hope to those who may be watching at home.

Sowers isn't just the first female coach to take the field during a Super Bowl, she is also the first openly gay coach to reach the big game. She is one of three women who have full-time coaching jobs in the NFL.

"Being the first, it is historic," Sowers told NFL Network's Steve Wyche on Monday during Super Bowl LIV Opening Night. "I mean, there always has to be a first to make change, but the most important thing that I continue to say is just to make sure I'm not the last."

Those are inspiring words from the 49ers' inspirational coach.

Sowers is from the Kansas City area and her family grew up fans of the Chiefs. She has a tattoo of Kansas City on her arm. She won't hide it on Sunday because she is proud of where she comes from.

Sowers is in her third season with San Francisco, after a season as an intern with the Atlanta Falcons in 2016. That's where she met then-offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. So when the opportunity arose to bring Sowers to the 49ers, Shanahan jumped at the chance.

"I allowed him to see who I am, what my dreams were, what my goals were, and he truly believed in diversity within the NFL," Sowers said. "And he was happy to help me, which I am so grateful for. I mean, he truly became a mentor, taught me the culture, and really led me to where I am."

49ers CEO Jed York sat down this week with NFL Network's Colleen Wolfe and was asked about Sowers.

"[Shanahan] wants to make sure that there are diverse coaches on our staff," York said. "And you look at our coordinators; we have three minority coordinators, you've got Katie who's out there, and it sends a message to everybody that you can maybe look different than what the normal makeup of a coach is.

"And Katie, especially, she works so hard, and she's been such a great part of our team. It's inspirational to see that a young lady can come in and step up and be the first woman to stand on the field during the Super Bowl."

Shanahan explained in 2017 that he didn't bring Sowers aboard just because he values diversity on his staff, though. He hired her because he felt she could help his team.

"The receivers respect her," Shanahan said at the time. "She helps our receivers coach (then Mike LaFleur) with a lot of his work."

While Sowers still works primarily with the 49ers receivers, that isn't where her work is limited today. Shanahan trusts Sowers so much that she helps organize practices, draws up plays for the scout team, and spends her mornings prepping drills.

It is the life that she dreamed of. If that means being viewed as a trailblazer along the way, so be it.

"I also realize how important it is to tell my story because, at one point, I was the one sitting on the couch and saw (San Antonio Spurs assistant coach) Becky Hammon coaching in the NBA, and I realized, 'Wait a second; I can coach in the NFL,'" Sowers told NBC Sports Bay Area on Monday night. "So to know that maybe I'm making someone's path a little clearer, it motivates me."

The 49ers receivers have grown this season, thanks in part to the work of Sowers and the other coaches. Wyche asked Sowers about her role in that development.

"I believed in them," she responded. "Bill Walsh always said the most important thing you can tell someone is, 'I believe in you.' And that's what I continue to reiterate to my players because it's amazing the growth that happens when you just tell them, 'I believe in you.'"

Kay Adams of Good Morning Football on Wednesday summed up Sowers' presence on sports' biggest stage well.

"All the kids watching out there, watching this Sunday, they won't see this as a barrier-breaking story someday soon," Adams said. "Katie didn't ask for this. She doesn't want to be the story or the poster child. She followed her dream, and I really applaud her for embracing that influence, for inspiring me, us, and for inspiring change."

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