Callie Brownson knew football was her calling when she felt the devastation of an unexpected defeat.
Brownson, whose father Bruce graduated from the University of Miami, was an adolescent in Northern Virginia when the Hurricanes lost the 2003 Fiesta Bowl to Ohio State in dramatic, stunning fashion. Her favorite team's dream season had ended in demoralizing fashion, and Brownson was crushed.
"I was devastated for weeks," Brownson said. "I didn't want to go to school."
Years later, no matter the obstacles that stood in her way, Brownson has carved out a career in the sport she loves, first as a player and now as a coach. After serving as a full-time coaching intern with the Buffalo Bills last season, Brownson has been named the Chief of Staff for Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski.
"I'm excited because Coach Stefanski is one of these up-and-coming coaches who has a lot of great ideas. He's a progressive coach and he loves the game of football. He understands that football is ever-evolving, which is cool to be a part of on a staff like this," Brownson said. "We talked through it and he had this very specific vision for how he wanted this role to work out and how involved he wanted it to be, and to me it sounded like a phenomenal opportunity and I was very impressed with him and impressed with everyone in this building and I'm excited to be here."
Brownson's role is similar to the one Stefanski had under Brad Childress in 2006, when he took his first full-time NFL job as assistant to the head coach with the Minnesota Vikings. It was an invaluable experience that jump-started Stefanski's career, and it was imperative he did the same for someone else.
"It's very involved in every aspect of a football operation," Stefanski said. "Callie is uniquely situated where she can go interact with football ops or PR or the locker room or the equipment room. She's really the liaison to the rest of the building for me. I'm going to lean on her heavily and already have.
"I think she's a go-getter. She's self-motivated. She's going to put all of her energy into this gig. What's exciting for me is ultimately I want to develop young coaches. She's someone that has worked on the offensive side of the ball, worked on special teams, has a great knowledge of the game and I want to let her expand that knowledge and develop her as a head coach."
Brownson was involved in a number of different areas with the Bills throughout their run to the playoffs. In a surreal twist of irony, Brownson was able to coach alongside Ken Dorsey, Buffalo's quarterbacks coach who was the quarterback of the Miami team Brownson watched fall to the Buckeyes on that fateful night in 2003. He was one of many coaches who helped Brownson leave Buffalo "a different person" than when she began the internship.
"I could get my hands as dirty as I wanted to," Brownson said. "I was involved in the offensive side of the ball, the defensive side of the ball and I got to do a lot with the special teams. For me, not just someone who was trying to grow my resume, but grow your inner portfolio of things that I can do, that's really what matters at the end of the day when you join a staff. What are you bringing to the table? How can you make us better as a staff which ultimately makes us better as a team?"
Brownson grew up in Alexandria, Virginia, and played in the Fairfax County Youth Football League into her middle school years. She considered playing football at Mount Vernon High School but ultimately shifted her focus to softball. Brownson, who attended George Mason University, figured her football playing days were long in the past, but a last-minute tryout with the D.C. Divas of the Women's Football Alliance launched an eight-year playing career (2010-17) that included five seasons as a captain and four as an All-American. Brownson, who played safety, running back and slot receiver, also won a gold medal with Team USA at the International Federation of American Football Women's World Championships in Finland in 2013 and Vancouver in 2017.
Brownson got her first coaching experience at Mount Vernon High midway through her playing career. Already coaching softball at the school, Brownson joined the staff of Barry Wells and spent three seasons with the program.
"I had the coaching skills and I was playing football so it made perfect sense," Brownson said. "I had let society's dialogue tell me that I hadn't really thought about that. He opened that door for me."
Brownson attended the NFL's first "Women's Careers in Football Forum," and, shortly thereafter, landed her first job in the NFL as a college/professional personnel scouting intern with the New York Jets in 2017.
"That was where I was like, 'This is where I belong,'" Brownson said. "I knew it was going to be hard and it was going to be tough to make it a permanent thing but I remember leaving there and saying, 'I've got to get back.'"
After attending the first-ever women's clinic at the Manning Passing Academy, Brownson landed her first full-time coaching job in 2018 as an offensive quality control coach under Buddy Teevens at Dartmouth, making her the first full-time female coach in Division I history. The next year, she turned a preseason internship into a full-time opportunity with the Bills.
Now, Brownson is ready to tackle her latest challenge in the same position that helped launch Stefanski's NFL coaching career.
"The education you gain in a position like this, you're not privy to some other position on the coaching staff. You're right outside. You're involved in every little operational aspect that has to do with his schedule and his decisions that he's making," Brownson said. "You're starting at the bare bones of creating a program. It's not just hiring staff, it's 'How do we want to run our offseason program? How do we make sure that this staff is given everything that they need from a programming perspective to then make sure that our guys are prepared and ready to play?'
"It's the bare bones stuff, and that is something that I'm going to be actively involved in creating with him. Everything from the creative content around the building, the sayings that the players see on the wall and murals, the design is going to be all based off of his vision and being able to be a part of that is an education and experience you don't get in these other positions."
Callie Brownson's Professional Playing Background:
2010-17: D.C. Divas, safety/running back/slot receiver
Callie Brownson's Coaching Background:
2015-17: Mount Vernon High School, assistant coach
2017: New York Jets, college/professional personnel scouting intern
2018: Dartmouth College, coaching intern
2018: Dartmouth College, offensive quality control coach
2019: Buffalo Bills, coaching intern
2020-: Cleveland Browns, chief of staff