Tiffany Faaee might be the first but she definitely does not intend on being the last.
At the end of November, Faaee was appointed as an assistant coach by Rugby United New York (RUNY), becoming the maiden female coach to hold such a role at a professional men’s club.
As the former USA Women’s Eagles captain admits, New Yorkers pride themselves on being different, on “always thinking outside of the box”.
It is perhaps only natural, therefore, that it is in the Big Apple, and with the Major League Rugby (MLR) expansion side, that Faaee has earned her big break.
“When I was offered the chance to work with the team I was excited but also always put pressure on myself to do a good job,” she said.
“I do in a way feel like I want to represent the women coaches to the best of my ability.
“Being the first at anything can raise eyebrows but I’m keen to just get on with it and let my work speak for itself.”
Since hanging up her boots after captaining USA to fourth place at Women’s Rugby World Cup 2017 in Ireland, Faaee has seen enough of her contemporaries go into coaching to know the future is bright.
“I definitely know I won’t be the last,” she added. “There are so many brilliant female coaches out there.”
The extent to which Faaee is subtly attempting to break down barriers for women in rugby can be seen in her day job with the Monroe College Mustangs in New Rochelle.
It is here that the 36-year-old has spent the majority of her time since becoming head coach of both the men’s and women’s rugby programmes in August.
And it didn’t take the former Women’s Eagles player to put her own stamp on proceedings at Joseph F. Fosina Field. Primarily working with crossover athletes, Faaee has combined her sessions so that both squads learn at the same pace.
She has found that the female players pick things up quicker than their male counterparts, who then drive the physical standards of the group.
“My approach is pretty much the same for both,” she said. “I then read the room and reassess.
“In my experience with Monroe, the women seem to pick up the concept faster but the men are faster and stronger, so I have them training each other and helping each other out.”
Route to success
Whether a pathway will open up for those athletes to move onto a professional environment with RUNY remains to be seen. But their coach would appreciate a clearer route to beat the New York traffic.
Growing up in Samoa and New Zealand, California-born Faaee was accustomed to living in easy reach of rugby pitches. The two-hour commute between her two roles has therefore taken a bit of getting used to.
Faaee has, of course, knuckled down with long days in New Rochelle followed by chilly nights at RUNY’s training facility on Randall’s Island.
“The [RUNY] players have actually been very welcoming,” she said. “Like most rugby players - especially in that environment - we all want to succeed, so we work with each other to make each other better.”
Her role with RUNY has also given Faaee the opportunity to work alongside New York rugby royalty in Mike Tolkin.
During a 30-plus-year back-room career, Tolkin has taken charge of Xavier High School and New York Athletics Club - both for more than a decade - and served as defence and head coach for the USA men’s team.
Simply the best
Faaee is keen to soak up as much knowledge as she possibly can while working with the man who coached the Eagles at Rugby World Cup 2015.
“Mike has coached at the highest level for the men’s game,” Faaee said. “He’s taught me so much already.
“His coaching plan is broken down to building a foundation, ‘hard wiring’ then adding layers with dynamics and decision-making.
“He simplifies the game which is great since a lot of coaches overcomplicate it.”
Tolkin admires the way that Faaee sees the game, and she brings a unique skill set to her new role having played the game in numerous positions.
Primarily a centre or number eight during her club career, it was as a prop that the 36-year-old excelled on the international stage.
She is currently coaching RUNY’s scrum but is open to working on open-play situations, primarily those positions that link attacks - something her background in rugby league should aid her in.
“I’ve been told as a coach my strengths are being very transparent with the players,” Faaee explained.
“I am very direct with what I want and expect everyone to hold themselves at a high standard.
“Technically, being fresh out of the Eagles system the scrums are fun for me to coach, I also enjoyed defence and open play shape.”
As for her long-term ambitions, Faaee is open to becoming a head coach but for now just wants “to help people achieve their goals”.
Should more opportunities open up for female coaches in professional environments, they will know who to thank.