Most NFL coaches come from the same background: They played in high school, then college, maybe some in the pros before starting all over again when it comes time to hang up the cleats and take to the sidelines. But Bruce Arians, head coach of the Arizona Cardinals, has a problem. He’s scrambling to find a solution to knocking off the Seattle Seahawks and their record-breaking defense from their three-year perch atop the NFC West. To do that, he needs to compile best coaching staff possible, even if it means straying from the “normal” path to find exceptional talent.
On Monday, Arians did just that, hiring Dr. Jennifer Welter, BC ‘00, as the Cardinals’ training camp intern and coach with inside linebackers. It is widely believed that Welter is the first female head coach in the history of the National Football League. She joins former WNBA All-Star Becky Hammon, an assistant coach with the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs, as one of two female coaches for members of the Big Four professional sports in the United States.
She played rugby at Boston College for all four years before suiting up with the Massachusetts Mutiny of the National Women’s Football League in 2001. Welter went on to have a 14-year playing career in professional football, predominantly as a linebacker for the Dallas Diamonds of the Women’s Football Alliance, with whom she won four league titles. She became the first woman to play a non-kicking position in a male football league, joining the Texas Revolution of the Indoor Football League as a running back and special teams player in 2014 before moving on to their coaching staff this February.
Welter has seen herself as an inspiration to girls who want to break gender stereotypes in sports since her playing days at BC. “Playing on a women’s football team is something we all dreamed about when we were little, but never thought it was possible,” Welter said in a 2002 interview with The Heights. “The dream makes the struggles worthwhile.” Arians says he has no problem with the fact that she never played football at the NCAA or NFL levels. His philosophy is that coaching is merely teaching—something Welter is an expert in, given her master’s degree in sports psychology and Ph.D in psychology. He cares about the product on the field, and believes that Welter will give him that product. “One thing I have learned from players is, ‘How are you going to make me better? If you can make me better, I don’t care if you’re the Green Hornet, man, I’ll listen,’” Arians said to azcardinals.com on Monday.
Although the position is just a training camp internship, Arians believes it could be the beginning of a bright future for Welter as a coach in the NFL. For her part, Welter says she isn’t afraid of the challenges that lie ahead. “After all, I’m 5’2” and not that strong,” Welter said, “but if I can play professional football then I can do anything.”
Taken From Heights Archives / April 30, 2002