Sept. 10, 2004
In a sport ruled by men of imposing stature, it’s a woman standing all of five-foot-two that rises above the pack in the Notre Dame football program.
Erica Genise is in her third year as the director of football operations for the Irish, making her the only woman in the nation to hold such a post at a Division I-A football institution. That’s a distinction that isn’t lost on the Elgin, Ill., native.
“First and foremost, I’m honored to be working in such a tremendous program,” Genise says. “The fact that I’m a woman in this position is significant, but hopefully in the future, there will be many women who have the chance to work in a similar job in a program like this.”
In her role at Notre Dame, Genise is responsible for maintaining the football program’s budget, as well as coordinating the travel plans for a party that can number well in excess of 100 people. She conducts daily meetings with Irish head coach Tyrone Willingham and often serves as his liaison to various offices within the Notre Dame athletic department and the rest of the University.
With the amount of responsibility Genise holds, it is imperative that she have the respect of the coaches and players in the program. That’s a charge that she and Willingham both take extremely seriously.
“Ever since I’ve known Erica, she has shown herself to be very professional and organized,” Willingham says. “I have every confidence and trust in her to help manage our program in a tremendously efficient manner.”
Genise’s career path is an interesting one, especially considering the fact she began as a member of the media. She worked on the campus paper at the University of Iowa for two years, but it was a summer internship in the Iowa athletic department that eventually cultivated her desire to move into athletics administration.
Not long after beginning in the athletics department, she was hired as a public relations intern during training camp for the NFL’s New England Patriots. She impressed her superiors so much that she was recalled for a six-month PR internship with the Patriots in the fall of 1992. That position expanded when the Pats’ director of public relations resigned in midseason and Genise was called upon to take over as the team’s publications coordinator.
Following her graduation from Iowa in 1993, she went to work for the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings in various capacities, ascending to the role of coaching and pro personnel assistant.
It was with the Vikings that Genise first met Willingham, who was then the team’s running backs coach. When Willingham was hired as the head coach at Stanford in 1995, one of the first calls he placed was to Genise. However, personnel delays meant the two did not reunite until the ’97 campaign. Still, it was a combination that proved highly effective, as Stanford advanced to the ’99 Rose Bowl and ’01 Seattle Bowl during their tenures on The Farm.