Cardinals hire first female coach in NFL history

TEMPE, Ariz. – Back in March at the NFL Owners Meeting, Arizona Cardinals’ head coach Bruce Arians was asked about female coaches, and if there will ever be any in the NFL.

“The minute they can prove that they can make a player better, they’ll be hired, because all players want (to know) is, ‘How are you gonna make me better so that I can make this living?’” Arians said. “As long as you can do that, (and) teach them to get better, I don’t care who it is coaching them, they’ll take the advice.”

Arians and the Cardinals made history on Monday, adding Dr. Jen Welter to the team’s coaching staff, in an intern capacity. Welter’s believed to be the first female to hold a coaching position of any kind in the NFL.

In addition to hiring Welter, Arizona hired former two-time Pro Bowl linebacker Levon Kirkland to coach the outside linebackers for the next two seasons. Kirkland will become the inaugural participant in the Bill Bidwill Coaching Fellowship.

Welter will be a part of the Cardinals’ coaching staff throughout training camp and the preseason, as she’ll be working with the inside linebackers.

“Coaching is nothing more than teaching,” Arians said on Monday via Darren Urban from azcardinals.com. “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.’ I really believe she’ll (Welter) have a great opportunity with this internship through training camp to open some doors for her.”

In February 2014, Welter played running back and special teams for the Indoor Football League’s Texas Revolution, becoming the first female to play a non-kicking position in a men’s professional football league. This past February, Welter became the first female to coach in a men’s pro football league when she was hired by the Revolution to coach linebackers and special teams. In that role, she worked under Revolution general manager and 2015 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee Tim Brown.

Welter – who played rugby at Boston College – has more than 14 years of professional football experience as a linebacker, mainly with the Dallas Diamonds of the Women’s Football Alliance. They won four titles during her time there. Welter also earned two gold medals with Team USA at the International Federation of American Football (IFAF) Women’s World Championship in 2010 and 2013.

Welter holds a master’s degree in sport psychology and a PhD in psychology.

The Bill Bidwill Coaching Fellowship is a program created by the Cardinals, which provides recently retired NFL players with the opportunity to gain coaching experience at the NFL level.

Arizona owner Bill Bidwill has always been proactive when it comes to providing opportunities to talented individuals, no matter what their race or gender may be.

In 2010, Bidwill was presented with the Fritz Pollard Alliance’s Paul “Tank” Younger Award for promoting diversity in the NFL. In 1978, Adele Harris became the first African-American female executive in the NFL, when she was hired as the Cardinals’ director of community relations. In 1981, Bidwill hired attorney Bob Wallace, making him the first African-American to handle contract negotiations for an NFL team. The Cardinals were also the first NFL team to have an African-American general manager/head coach duo (Rod Graves, Dennis Green, 2004), and last season they were the only NFL team whose offensive and defensive coordinators were African-American (Harold Goodwin & Todd Bowles).

Kirkland was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the second round (38th overall) of the 1992 NFL Draft out of Clemson. He played 11 seasons with the Steelers (1992-2000), Seattle Seahawks (2001) and Philadelphia Eagles (2002).

Along with his two Pro Bowl selections (1996-97), and being first-team All-Pro in 1997, Kirkland played in 176 games (155 starts) and racked up 1,110 tackles, 19.5 sacks, 11 interceptions, 16 forced fumbles and nine recoveries. He was also one of six linebackers selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s All-1990’s Team, joining Junior Seau, Derrick Thomas, Kevin Greene, Hardy Nickerson and Cornelius Bennett.

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