Danielle Bartelstein doesn’t view herself as a pioneer or different than any other football operations director at a Football Bowl Subdivision school. She just wants to do her job to help the Virginia Tech program succeed.
Bartelstein was hired at Virginia Tech by new coach Justin Fuente in December after working in various roles at Stanford, TCU and Texas Tech. She is not the first or only woman to serve as football operations director in the FBS. She is the first, though, at a Power 5 school.
“There really isn’t any significance for me personally,” Bartelstein said. “I try to go in every day and positively contribute to the program.
“If there’s some significance for those women who are interested in obtaining a role like I have and if I helped pave the way for them, that’s wonderful. But it’s not something I think about on a regular basis.”
As part of Girls Sports Month, USA TODAY High School Sports spoke to Bartelstein about her love of football, her career path, the new coaching staff at Virginia Tech and more.
Q: Your grandfather, Stephen Reid, is in the College Football Hall of Fame and played on Northwestern’s Big Ten title team in the 1960s. Is he the source of your interest in sports and especially football?
A: I grew up playing probably every sport under the sun, but I wasn’t a Division I athlete in terms of skill. I had the opportunity to continue to work in athletics as an undergrad at Illinois and worked in the football office. My love for football continued from there.
My grandfather played football and I always watched football. It was a passion of mine. My grandfather and father are huge role models in my life and sharing football with them played a significant part. I always say I’m the son my father never had.
Q: When did you know that you wanted sports to remain a part of your life?
A: The moment when I realized that I wanted athletics to become more than a hobby but a career was when I no longer had athletics in my life on a day-to-day basis. I went in into the workforce and was an elementary school teacher. I loved being around the kids and seeing all their successes but I realized my passion was athletics. There is a certain atmosphere and energy that surrounds college athletics. When I had the opportunity, I jumped at it.
Q: How did you get on the path to your current role?
A: When I graduated from Illinois, I moved to California and was an elementary school teacher for 4 ½ years. About two years in, there was a job opportunity at Stanford and I applied. Coach (Jim) Harbaugh had someone else in mind. The opportunity to work the summer camps at Stanford would allow me to continue teaching. The role escalated and grew within a two-year period, then I went to TCU, then Texas Tech for two years. I was out of football for eight months working as a senior adviser at a law firm in Texas. Then I got a call from Justin Fuente and I couldn’t pass up the chance to get back into athletic and work with Coach Fuente, whom I respect. I know what he’s going to do here at Virginia Tech is going to be special. With the opportunity to be part of that, I jumped at his offer. It wasn’t a very long conversation.
Q: Explain what the football operations director does. What are your responsibilities?
A: I just help out with everything outside of X’s and O’s. I handle the day-to-day scheduling, the plan for traveling for away games and home games and help out with current roster in terms of needs they have. It also involves communication about logistics and operations.
Q: What is the ultimate goal from a professional standpoint for you?
A: Right now, I’m living in the here and now and want to be the best football ops person I can be. My main focus is to be an asset to the program and help out wherever I can in my current role.
Q: You obviously deal with men on a regular basis and there are men in similar roles at the schools that your school has played. Has there been any backlash for you?
A: I have not had any resistance in terms of roles and positions I’ve had in various football programs. A lot of that is due to the coaches I’ve been around and their willingness to have me be part of their programs. I’m grateful for the opportunities and appreciative that the coaches have not made it any issue.
Q: What advice would you give to others who want to do what you do?
A: The biggest thing is gaining as much experience as you can in athletics in various roles and not allow anyone to tell anyone you can’t. Have that passion and be willing to go above and beyond. I’ve been blessed to be around great coaches and great staffs that have allowed me to grow within the profession.
Q: Big changes in Blacksburg with coach Frank Beamer’s retirement after a long tenure. What’s your impressions of the transition to Justin Fuente as the new coach thus far?
A: In my opinion, it’s been a smooth transition. They have lot of similarities in terms of how they run a program. There are different things that make them unique and individuals. A lot of that credit goes to the administration here as well as Coach Beamer.
Being here in Blacksburg, you can see how incredible a coach he is, the character that he did things with, how important he is to the community. I’m very privileged to be part of it and hopefully we can be able to bring that to the future. It’s incredible what he’s done. Hokie Nation is a phenomenal place.