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The Big Ten’s first female soccer coach gives the Michigan Wolverines a new perspective

ANN ARBOR — Milan “Mimi” Bolden-Morris was a reluctant trailblazer. She’s been in football for as long as she can remember. Growing up, her dad always coached her brother, and she was always the water girl. During her college summers, she coached flag football and loved it. As a basketball player at Georgetown last season, she volunteered for the football program. She had an offer to join the staff and move up the ranks, but she was also emailing other programs about the opportunities.

His mother suggested they contact his brother’s head coach, Jim Harbaugh.

Bolden-Morris told her mother she didn’t want to upset Harbaugh or interfere with her brother Mike’s situation. Both were true, but she too was afraid. Michigan football, in every way, is a step up from Georgetown. Was she ready for this?

Her mother, Melanie, believed she was. Besides, she told her daughter, the worst that could happen would be for Harbaugh to refuse and stay in Georgetown. The upside was a chance to work with some of the best minds in the sport.

She told her mother she would think about it. It was her mother, unknown to her daughter, who called.

Bolden-Morris’ initial reaction — “Why would you do that?” — quickly changed to gratitude. She needed a boost, and that led to phone conversations with Harbaugh in which he learned more about his work with Georgetown football. They discussed a potential internship in Michigan. Then, in February, Harbaugh shook up his staff, promoting graduate assistant Grant Newsome to tight ends coach. Harbaugh suggested Bolden-Morris replace him.

Michigan announced its hiring on March 15. She is the first female assistant coach to graduate in Big Ten history and the first at a Power Five school since a woman helped the Georgia Tech kickers in the late ’80s, according to the AP.

“I have always believed in providing opportunities for football enthusiasts and Mimi is someone who has shown that drive to become a football coach,” Harbaugh said in a statement at the time.

Three and a half months into her new role, she made Harbaugh smart. While pursuing a second master’s degree at Michigan’s School of Public Policy, she works closely with Wolverines quarterbacks, attending their daily meetings with Harbaugh and offensive quarterbacks coach/coordinator Matt Weiss. Bolden-Morris listens a lot but steps in when she can add value. She suggested technical tweaks, ways to incorporate analytics, and even specific games.

Walk past her desk and she’s probably there, watching a movie or sketching diagrams.

One day the Michigan quarterbacks were working on a new move that needed a name. It reminded Bolden-Morris of something his Georgetown basketball coach had taught him. She lends her expertise to the drill and shares the name she gave it: “anchor pivot”.

“Perfect!” said Harbaugh. This is now the name.

In practice, she is active, correcting mistakes and praising quarterback successes. Harbaugh is busy overseeing all practices and Weiss is a relatively quiet guy.

“He’s not one to scream and go crazy when we make a good play,” Davis Warren, a sophomore quarterback, said of Weiss. “But you can always count on Mimi to be fired up and excited, doping us up after a good game.”

After her brother, a senior defensive lineman, forced a fumble against Colorado State, she bent in his direction, mimicking her favorite celebration.

The siblings got along well. When Mike called Mimi to congratulate her on the job, she teased him. Don’t call me Milan. Don’t call me Mimi. Call me coach. a falsely serious voice from time to time.

He loves having her around. He never worried about joining the Michigan program. His were baseless. For starters, they don’t see each other much. Mike has classes and defensive meetings. In training, they are on opposite sides of the field. They’ll throw a soccer ball during warm-ups, but that’s about it.

During her first two months on the job, Mike regularly asked about her and received rave reviews from assistant coaches and quarterbacks. She and strength trainer Ben Herbert went on an outing after which Herbert reported to Mike that she was going to be successful in life because she took notes.

Melanie and Mike Morris Sr. attend most of Michigan’s home games, traveling from Belle Glade, Florida, and recording every game to watch later. Now they have two dependent children.

Their daughter is making her mark behind the scenes. She and another graduate assistant — there are four in total — lead the defensive scouting team, preparing them to mimic the next opponent to help Michigan’s offense. On match days, she is on the sidelines, helping with substitutions. She was especially busy in Michigan’s 2-0 start. Ninety-six Wolverines saw the field last Saturday against Hawaii. A similar number could play against Connecticut this Saturday.

Bolden-Morris came to Michigan after her college playing career. After three seasons at Boston College, she transferred to Georgetown, earning a master’s degree in sports management and leading the Hoyas in scoring.

“She went through the ups and downs of a college athlete,” Warren said. And given that Georgetown, like Michigan, takes academics seriously, “it always has some good nuggets of wisdom” about time management. She also provided staff with new recruitment ideas.

Ask any staff member inside Schembechler Hall about Bolden-Morris and the first thing they note is his intelligence. They talk about his work ethic and upbeat attitude. And they really, really hammered home how much she wants to learn.

“She always asks me about high school,” co-defensive coordinator Steve Clinkscale said. “‘Hey, what’s that blanket? What are you doing here?’ I think it’s going to be great for her in this industry. She’s a humble person and she has no ego. I think she’s in the right profession.”

“She asks questions but also makes suggestions,” said Moore, co-offensive coordinator. He added: “The way she thinks about things from a different angle has been really cool.”

Georgetown assistant coach Steve Thames was impressed with how quickly Bolden-Morris embraced football concepts. “I would draw something or tell her, and she would immediately repeat it to me,” he said. “She had this brain power to figure things out.”

The idea that someone couldn’t fully understand football, let alone the coach, because he didn’t play football, was dismissed in Michigan. Jay Harbaugh didn’t play after high school. Weiss was a walk-in bettor in college. Bolden-Morris only played flag football.

“Using that as an excuse for her not being a good coach in the future is total BS,” Warren said. “I don’t think anything can stop her from rising through the ranks as a coach. … You can tell when someone has a natural ability to convey ideas and get their students to learn, and she can do it.

So it doesn’t matter that she didn’t play. It doesn’t matter that she is a woman. Michigan did not send out a press release when it hired one of its other graduate assistants. ESPN College GameDay did not come to Schembechler this week to interview these young men.

Bolden-Morris is aware of this.

“I think that’s one of the most exciting, humbling and motivating things that comes with this role,” she said. It’s what keeps her going through tough times, breaking down the movie at 2 a.m. and trying to make up for her limited experience.

“I came from being a student-athlete, from being the best at what I did. I was the leader of the team, someone people leaned on. Now I rely on the others to help me grow. I’m the weak link in quotation marks for now. When I say to myself: “It’s hard, I don’t know if I want to go, if I want to do this or that”, I think about my goal and why I wanted to do this.

She believes that her opportunity, and any publicity that accompanies it, can create opportunities for other women. She met Jennifer King, assistant running backs coach for the NFL’s Washington Commanders, before coming to Ann Arbor. King has realized over the past two years the impact she can have on young women. It inspired Bolden-Morris.

“I feel like it’s not even just for women,” Bolden-Morris said. “Anyone who might feel marginalized. They see someone who is not just a woman, but a black woman. This opportunity to represent and be a source of motivation is really important to me.

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