Horse racing may be the sport of kings, but football is the king of sports for Texans.
But while Texas’ love for football can be endearing, let’s be real — since its beginnings, the state’s football scene has been a “guy thing.” There is certainly no shortage of women who work behind the scenes to support teams. But on the field dealing with the X’s and O’s? Well, that’s typically been left to the men.
Until now. Desireé Allen BS’99 is crashing one of the most exclusive clubs in the state.
Name a mainstream sport and odds are that Allen (formerly Desireé Squire) has likely played it, coached it or would be game for trying it.
Before starring on the UT Dallas soccer field, she excelled in high school basketball and track and field. She’s coached, at various times, those sports too, along with volleyball.
But it’s her work on a different playing field that’s landed her in the headlines: Allen is a high school football coach, now in her third season with North Dallas High School.
Allen didn’t grow up around the sometimes cultlike Texas football scene. She was an Air Force brat who bounced from base to base with her military parents. While she loved sports — and that might be an understatement — football never appealed to her. “I’m not going to lie — it was boring to me,” she says. “I just couldn’t get into it because I didn’t know or understand the rules.”
The interest began when a friend suggested she try football. Not long afterward, during a training session for video coordinators, Allen met Tonnell Wilson, who was then the defensive coordinator for the Dallas Diamonds women’s team. He invited her to try out. Allen thought, “Why not?” And that was all it took. She loved it. Add another sport to the list of those she plays.
She is in her sixth season as a player — five of them in the Women’s Football Alliance. Allen has competed for the Dallas Elite the past three years as a wide receiver, defensive back and kicker. “If I could, I’d just play receiver,” she says before pausing. “No, that’s a lie; I want to play all three.” After making it to the championship game three years in a row, the Dallas Elite won the 2017 WFA title with a 31-21 win over the Boston Renegades.
“I’ve wanted to coach a boys sport. Guys are always coaching girls sports. I could do it just as well and if I wanted to be an athletic coordinator, I needed to know more football…”
—Desireé Allen BS’99
Allen has also participated in the Women’s World Football Games during the NFL’s Pro Bowl festivities. The event gathers women players from around the world to practice, learn from coaches and play games. “I got so much out of the practices,” she says. “I could take that back to my players and show them how to do certain things.”
Allen’s path to coaching began at UT Dallas. She was an assistant coach with the women’s basketball team after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics. After teaching at Winfrey Academy Charter School, Allen joined Dallas ISD and eventually landed at Lincoln High School. Reginald Bell, the school’s girls athletic director and track and field coach, became her mentor. Allen was helping coach the track and field squad. And the soccer team. And the volleyball team. And she was video coordinator for the football team and boys basketball team.
Then about three years ago, Charles Moss called. Moss, who was head football coach of North Dallas High School, needed a defensive back coach. Allen agreed to come aboard.
Allen has spent three seasons with the team, the past two under Moss’ replacement, Fred Johnson, who has become another mentor. While working with the defensive backs this past season, Allen was also the co-special teams coordinator. “We managed to not have a single point scored on our special teams units,” she proudly says.
“I’ve wanted to coach a boys sport. Guys are always coaching girls sports. I could do it just as well and if I wanted to be an athletic coordinator, I needed to know more football,” she says. “If you can’t understand what those coaches are going through, then they’ll never buy in to you being an administrator over them.”
Women are securing high school coaching jobs around the country, but Allen is one of only a handful in Texas.
Nationwide, the glass ceiling remains intact in the college ranks, but women have started breaking through in the NFL. In 2015, Jen Welter — a teammate of Allen’s from her first season playing football — spent the preseason as a position coach for the Arizona Cardinals. Kathryn Smith joined the staff of the Buffalo Bills in 2016, and in 2017, Katie Sowers became a full-time assistant when she joined the San Francisco 49ers.
It’s easy to assume that a woman in a male-dominated sport would have plenty of obstacles and challenges, but for Allen that hasn’t been the case. “I’ve worked in DISD for 11 years, so people in the district know me,” Allen says. “There are a couple of jerks out there. But they usually were being a jerk to everyone, not just to me.”
“I love the kids here. They’re so different and it makes the school what it is.”
Coaching high school students comes with hurdles particular to each campus. For North Dallas, a high homeless rate means some students may live in a hotel or a shelter. The historic school is nestled in the West Village area of Dallas, surrounded by high-rises. Low-income housing is on the opposite side of Central Expressway. “I love the kids here. They’re so different and it makes the school what it is.”
Allen, who was named a 2018 Trailblazer Award recipient by the South Dallas Business and Professional Women’s Club, holds aspirations to move up the ladder, but she isn’t dead set on any position.
“I just want to be involved in sports,” she says, “whether as an athletic coordinator at a school or a director. As long as I’m connected to athletics in some capacity, I’ll be happy.”