NFL: Cardinals hailed for hiring league's first female coach

Arizona Cardinals team president Micheal Bidwill (left) and head coach Bruce Arians stand with Levon Kirkland and Jen Welter after they where introduced as additions to the team's coaching staff.
Arizona Cardinals team president Micheal Bidwill (left) and head coach Bruce Arians stand with Levon Kirkland and Jen Welter after they where introduced as additions to the team's coaching staff. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - The Arizona Cardinals were being hailed as groundbreakers on Tuesday after hiring the National Football League's first female coach.

The Cardinals on Monday hired Jen Welter, a 37-year-old former pro football player, to be a coaching intern during training camp this year, working with inside linebackers.

Football fans took to Twitter to express their sentiments about Welter's hiring. "#NFLTrainingCamp hasn't even started and the @AZCardinals are already winning," The Dude (@Calicardsfan) said.

Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians said the internship would be a great opportunity that could "open some doors" for Welter.

"Coaching is nothing more than teaching," Arians said in a statement on Monday. "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.'"

Welter, who has a Ph.D. in psychology, joins the Cardinals' staff after playing for the Texas Revolution of the Indoor Football League.

She became the first female non-kicker to play in a men's professional league when she played running back for the Revolution in 2014.

"I could not have dreamed big enough to have dreamed this day would ever come," said Welter. "The last 24 hours has really just been getting wrapped up in the wings of the Cardinals."

She said she would feel "honoured" to be considered a trailblazer for other women wanting to follow in her footsteps. She noted: "I think the beauty of this is that though it's a dream I never could have had, it's a dream other girls can grow up and have."

Cardinals' players report on Friday for training camp, which lasts about a month. The team finished the 2014 regular season with an 11-5 record but lost in the first round of playoffs.

Welter won two gold medals playing for Team USA in the International Federation of American Football Women's World Championship in 2010 and 2013.

"S/O (shout out) to @jwelter47....Welcome to AZ coach," tweeted Cardinals linebacker Kevin Minter.

Last year, the National Basketball Association's San Antonio Spurs made Becky Hammon, a former WNBA All-Star, an assistant coach of the team. She recently led the Spurs to the NBA's Las Vegas Summer League title.

"First Becky Hammon became the first full-time female NBA coach. Now @jwelter47 becomes the first female coach in the NFL! Congrats!," Minnesota Twins pitcher Michael Pelfrey tweeted.