Women are rising up the ranks throughout professional football, earning positions of power in a space that for too long was ruled almost exclusively by men. We're seeing more and more women breaking barriers in the sport, but what are the stories beyond the headlines? Who are the women shaping and influencing the NFL today? Answering those questions is the aim of the Next Woman Up series. While the conversational Q&As are edited and condensed for clarity, this is a forum for impactful women to share experiences in their own words. Without further ado, we introduce:
Nancy Meier, New England Patriots
Position: Director of Scouting Administration
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How did you get your start in a career in the NFL?
I hardly intended it to be a career, that's for sure. When I was in high school, it was common for the boys to take business or finance classes and the girls to take home economics; it was very gender-driven. I went to college for fashion merchandising and didn't have a job after I was done. So at the time, there was a girl here, Judy Quimby, who was a little bit of a pioneer in her day. She was a family friend and needed someone to come to the Patriots to type and file for the scouting department, which meant nothing to me. Scouts were girl scouts and boy scouts to me. Same with the draft. I was familiar with the draft in military terms, but never in the sports world.
So, I went in. Let me tell you, knowing nothing and being so young and having scouting thrown at you was great. I learned what a running back was, a tight end, and that if you were 300 pounds, you wouldn't be a running back. It started in simple terms, but the foundation was just wonderful. They continued to give me opportunities to grow. Seriously, I think I worked for $3 an hour. That's not even a joke in the 1970s. That's what you made. To have been able to grow from that and be part of the support for a professional football team has been a blessing for me and my life.
Can you walk me through your role when you first started?
We didn't have computers. Everything was typed on a typewriter and copied into notebooks. That evolution from typewriters to computers changed everything, particularly in scouting.
My first draft was in 1975, and our first pick was tight end Russ Francis. He went on to have a nice career, and he was very charismatic. To this day, I have a picture in my office of him -- the first draft choice I was a part of with the Patriots. He still, to this day, stays in touch.
How has your role expanded?
Technology has really allowed it to change, with more employees and roles, regardless of gender. When I started working in 1975, departments were very small. We had three scouts. Now we have 10-12 scouts on the college level and a whole other department on the pro level that really didn't exist back then.
People ask me about working in the same place for 45-plus years because it sounds very stagnant. But it's really changed as the years have gone on, with more employees, assistants, technology. Everything has just gotten bigger and better. Coaching staffs got larger. As it grew, there were more things to do.
Now, I do more supporting of the general manager -- even though we don’t have that specific role now -- than I did years ago, which was more scouting reports and tags for the boards. I've grown away from that. At the Patriots, our footprint is probably different than most teams. Football is its own area of the stadium. So we don't have a lot of interaction, particularly with COVID, outside of the building. We are contained as coaches and scouts, so I support everyone, if we have a new coach or player coming in or if we're releasing a player. All of those transactions on and off the field come through my office.
You've been through nine different coaching staffs with the Patriots. What are those transitions like?
I haven't had a coaching change in over 20 years, which is amazing. Prior to that, we went through coaching staffs every few years for a while. It's a difficult transition, because when a new staff comes in, they want to change everything. They want to change the furnishings, the way the organization does things, who's in what role, and all of those things. Regardless of if the new hires are people you know or not, you really need to walk out the door and walk back in with an open mind. We all think the way we do things is the best way, but I've really seen how you can do it better, but you have got to be willing to change and can't be stubborn. And more than likely, you'll have an opportunity to present to them the way you've done things. I've learned to be flexible, because I wanted to keep doing my job, even though there were changes in the staff, and thankfully, I've been able to continue.
I like that approach. When talking about having consistency within the franchise since Bill Belichick was hired, what has it been like to be part of all of the success?
First of all, I feel so thankful that all of the success happened on the second half of my career. I've been able to ride high for a long time, and as I've gotten older, I've realized that when I retire, it will probably still be at a high standard, which is great. What I think that we have in the organization that people maybe don't believe is we have a lot of trust in one another and a tremendous amount of respect from the top down. Our Patriots ownership -- Mr. Robert Kraft, Jonathan and the Kraft family -- they have always provided great respect and support for my role. There was a big shift in the stability and success of the Patriots after they purchased the team. For New England Fans, and especially me, we were so thankful the Patriots would stay in New England, as the organization was on the brink of moving to St. Louis. We interact a lot and know that everyone must do their job to make it easier on everyone else.
Coach Belichick leaves no gray area when it comes to what is expected but does it in such a respectful way. It's the whole "Do Your Job" motto. If you do your job and allow others to do theirs without climbing all over each other, you'll have a certain respect, because you take away the ego. There are plenty of places in life to have ego, but if you're not committed to putting your team first in your workplace, on the field or off of it, you're not going to be successful.
Have you had mentors along the way?
I have had so many mentors over the years. From the day I walked in the door, I have had good relationships, from former Patriots executive Bucko Kilroy, who's a real blast-from-the-past name in professional football, to the people I work with today. I've worked with so many others, including Bobby Grier, Nick Caserio, Scott Pioli, and now I'm back working somewhat with Matt Patricia. All of these guys have been so supportive of me and have allowed me to continue to do my job. Because I've been with the Patriots for so many years, I have helped a lot of them out when they came into their roles. Nick (who is now general manager of the Texans) started out as my assistant before becoming the director of player personnel -- then I was his assistant. It's great to see the roles change and still have the respect, because they know I'm still a wealth of knowledge when it comes to day-to-day work after all these years.
We're all in this together, and the fact that I'm still sitting here is just an amazing, wonderful gift in life. I have never had to interview for a job. Imagine that. It was, "Hey, we need someone to type. Can you come in?" And I never left.
Having worked in the league for 45-plus years, how have you seen the industry change for women?
When I started, women were secretaries, and that was the standard. It was like the Mary Tyler Moore Show, and we were happy in those roles. Then the "s" word was no longer acceptable, so we were called administrative assistants. Then directors and so on. The effort to incorporate women in the NFL has increased in the last 20 years, but there can always be more. It's great to see women in certain roles and think nothing of it, and maybe, women like me have paved the way for that a little bit.
What is the most challenging part about your job?
It is making sure I interact with everyone in the best way possible and making sure I'm not prioritizing one person's needs over anybody else's. Making sure you're available is also important, and that has been challenging over the last two seasons with the pandemic. It's a job that's a big commitment.
Lastly, what are you most proud of?
I think I'm really proud that I've been part of the New England Patriots and the success for so long. I am so fortunate to have been part of winning Super Bowls, going on the field afterward, hugging players and coaches and sharing these moments. And at the same time, getting to share it with my family. It's really the ultimate goal, and the entire process is absolutely euphoric.