In an era when the women’s rights movement was in full effect and there was talk about equal opportunity, gender inequality and the proverbial glass ceiling, Connie Carberg was making it in a man’s world as a scout for the Jets. And not just making it but in fact, excelling.
The first ever female scout in NFL history, Carberg grew up in and around football for nearly her entire life. Her father, Dr. Cal Nicholas, and her brother, Dr. James Nicholas, were doctors for the team dating back to the time when they were known as the Titans; her love for the Jets and the sport started young as players visiting her home was a common occurrence. She graduated high school (with former Jets wide receiver George Sauer in the audience as a family guest) and went to Ohio State, where she befriended the late Woody Hayes and became a constant presence at practice and games, often engaging the legendary Buckeyes head coach in conversations about his team.
A degree in Home Economics and Dietetics was supposed to lead her into a job as a teacher but after graduating college, Carberg took a position with the Jets as a receptionist who doubled up her duties as the scouting department’s secretary.
“As more secretaries were added they promoted me to Scouting Assistant to Mike Holovak. This man had been an All-American at Boston College and former coach of the then Boston Patriots. He was the finest judge of football talent I have ever seen,” Carberg said.
“It was before computers, pro days, or combines and I learned so much from him. In my second draft, in 1975 – there were 17 rounds then – the coaches and my boss turned to me and told me to make the last pick. I chose Mike Bartoszek, a tight end out of Ohio State and it was the first time a woman ever made a draft pick in the NFL. As far as I know no other woman has made a specific pick and called it in since then as well.”
The success of that first pick led Carberg to continue to embrace a larger role with the team in the scouting department. Next year, General Manager Al Ward and Director of Player Personnel Mike Holovak offered her a chance at a promotion to become the first woman scout in the NFL. In the span of two years, Carberg went from the gender-acceptable role of receptionist to the ground breaking job of being a NFL scout.
She attended the Orange Bowl, watched game tape and recalls many dates with her then boyfriend and now current husband where they stayed at home and watched reel upon reel of potential draft picks.
“It sounds strange but since I grew up in football I never thought of myself as a ‘woman trying to break into a man’s world.’ I just loved the game and it has always been what I have been most confident and comfortable talking about with players, coaches, and people in general,” Carberg said.
“I never had a man challenge me or make me feel uncomfortable or that this was unusual, just a lot of respect and great conversations.”
Eventually Carberg would no longer hit the road at the request of new Jets owner Leon Hess, who “didn’t feel comfortable with a woman scout/spokesperson” but she continued to work in the department behind the scenes. Carberg continued to watch tape on college players, provide evaluations and conduct pre-draft interviews. But her greatest accomplishment came one winter day in 1979.
The Jets coaching staff was in charge of running the practices for that year’s Senior Bowl and one of the defensive linemen on the roster went down injured. Carberg received a call asking her to review films of players to find a replacement and only one of six defensive linemen made her cut, even though he was a relative no-name out of East Central Oklahoma State.
“My boss, Mike Hickey was on the road scouting, he called me and asked me to look at films, read the reports, make calls and decide and call him back. I spent time doing that and only one out of the six stood out on film and yet he was thought to be a sixth round pick from a small school,” Carberg said. “The phone call with his enthusiasm of readiness and attitude clinched it for me. The Name: Mark Gastineau.”
Of course, Gastineau went on to raise his draft stock and become a second round pick of the Jets who went on to five Pro Bowl selections and to become a fan favorite.
Now Carberg is retired and living in South Florida with her husband. She is still involved with football and recently taught “Football 101” for the Dolphins – “not my team but I’m teaching football not how to root for the Dolphins” – and she still tracks college players as if she was on payroll for the Jets. It has been awhile since Carberg was with the Jets but her legacy is still felt. In a time and an era before equal opportunity and Title XI, Carberg was a trendsetter in a man’s game and what was (and in many ways still is) a man’s world.
“As far as women being in scouting, I can understand how it still is a tough world to break into. I don’t know how many scouts ever played at least high school football and now there are women that play not just flag, but tackle football,” Carberg said.
“It’s just something that still may take a while for acceptance. I just feel proud that I did it way back in the mid 70’s!”
by Kristian Dyer on June 7th, 2012
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Follow Connie Carberg on Twitter @ConnieCarberg