ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Mimi Bolden-Morris had a trailblazing season at Michigan, becoming what is believed to be the first female graduate assistant football coach at a power conference school since the late 1980s.
If her mother didn’t call coach Jim Harbaugh, it wouldn’t have happened.
Bolden-Morris will be on the sideline Saturday when the second-ranked Wolverines play No. 3 TCU at the Fiesta Bowl in a College Football semfinal, helping to substitute tight ends into the game whose winner will play for the national championship.
The 23-year-old Bolden-Morris, who played basketball at Boston College and Georgetown, reached out to college football programs across the country to inquire about potential opportunities. It didn’t cross her mind to attempt to join Michigan’s staff because her brother, Mike, is a senior standout defensive end on the team.
“My mom said, `Why don’t you just reach out to coach Harbaugh,”‘ Bolden-Morris recalled in a recent interview at Schembechler Hall. “I was like, `No, I don’t want to bother my brother.’ She called anyway.”
Melanie Bolden-Morris, the principal of Glades Central High School in Belle Glade, Florida, contacted Harbaugh last spring to ask if her son could be excused to attend his sister’s graduation ceremony at Georgetown. After getting the OK, she asked if there was an internship available with the Wolverines, perhaps for the summer, for her daughter.
“I caught him off guard, but he was very positive about it and said he would look into it,” she said. “He called me back the next day and said she would have to interview. You have to ask for what you want in life. The worst thing he could say is no.”
She got a yes. And in doing so, Bolden-Morris ended a long drought for female coaches at the highest level of college football since Carol White worked with Georgia Tech kickers in the late 1980s.
In the NFL, Tampa Bay Buccaneers assistant defensive line coach Lori Locust became the league’s first female position coach in 2019 and Jennifer King is in her first season as Washington’s assistant running backs coach and her second on the staff.
“Hopefully, women in sport is something that becomes absolutely normal,” Bolden-Morris said. “And hopefully, I’m able to pave the way for that.”
Bolden-Morris is from Belle Glade, an area west of West Palm Beach referred to as “Muck City” and known for producing dozens of professional football players and growing sugarcane.
She grew up around the game, standing on sidelines with her father, Mike Morris Sr., and throwing footballs around.
Bolden-Morris played a lot of sports, but she was best at basketball. She was named to the all-ACC freshman team in 2018 while playing for Boston College and started every game last season at Georgetown, averaging nearly 13 points to lead the team as a graduate transfer.
While pursuing a career in basketball may have provided an easier path, coaching football became her goal after leading a youth flag football team entering her final year with the Hoyas. To prepare her for the potential transition, she sat in on meetings with Georgetown football coaches.
In March, Harbaugh announced Bolden-Morris was joining his staff.
“I have always believed in providing opportunities for individuals who are passionate about football and Mimi is someone who has shown that drive to become a football coach,” he said.
Bolden-Morris acknowledged she has, and continues to have, a lot to learn about football. She had to figure out a long list of plays, concepts and formations on the fly.
She helps the offensive staff with scouting reports, researching the history of opposing defensive coaches and analyzing what plays and personnel could work well for the Wolverines.
“For example, the defensive coordinator at TCU (Joe Gillespie) used to coach at Tulsa so we look back to see what we can pick up from their philosophies,” she said. “I’ll also watch all of TCU’s plays to see perhaps what Texas did to make some explosive plays.”
During games, Bolden-Morris assists tight ends coach Grant Newsome with the position group substitutions and basically blends in with the staff.
Bolden-Morris, who plans to return for a second season as a graduate assistant, hopes her work will help other women with the same dream.
“Knowing that I’m inspiring other people, being able to plant trees that I won’t see grow, knowing that a girl, boy, whoever is looking up to me and is inspired by what I’m able to do and see me every Saturday on TV and saying, `OK, I can do whatever I want to do because Mimi’s doing it,”‘ she said. “That has been the greatest experience ever.”