New Cardinals coaching intern Jen Welter (right) has a laugh during Tuesday's introductory press conference as head coach Bruce Arians looks on. Welter is the first female NFL coach.
The first paycheck Jen Welter got from professional football was for $12 – and it was for a whole season, a dollar a game, including a championship.
Welter never bothered cashing that check, instead making it a keepsake and inspiration that she still carries around today, tucked into a purse that Tuesday was upstairs at the Cardinals' Tempe facility while she talked to everyone about being the first female coach in the NFL.
Welter is one of seven interns Cardinals coach Bruce Arians has brought aboard, and her work with the inside linebackers will only last through the preseason. Her future as an NFL coach is unknown, but that doesn't change the meaning of the moment.
"I didn't start playing football to be here," Welter said. "The beauty of this (is), while it wasn't a dream I could have ever had, now
it's a dream other girls can grow up having."
Welter goes to work with the rest of the coaching staff Wednesday as the Cardinals conduct Quarterback School with rookies and a handful of other players. The vast majority of the roster reports to camp Friday, and Welter will be asked – like the other six interns – to "jump right in," coach Bruce Arians said. Arians is confident Welter's presence will not be a distraction, and reiterated it is important to him to provide opportunities for young coaches. Welter just happens to be one of them.
"I feel like the league is changing, and we're seeing this in our lifetimes," inside linebacker Kevin Minter said. "Gay players, women coaches – it's kind of cool to be a part of it.
"Whether you are a women or a dude, if we're doing our thing and getting better as a team, I'm all for it."
Cardinals president Michael Bidwill said that Commissioner Roger Goodell extended congratulations on a phone call Monday when Bidwill talked to him.
"The best phrase that's been used is really what Bruce said, is 'opening the door,' " Bidwill said. "It's probably opened the door for many other opportunities for women across not only our league but other leagues as well and other traditional male-dominated industries."
Getting connected with Arians wasn't entirely smooth. Welter, an assistant coach with the Indoor Football League's Texas Revolution, heard about Arians' comment about the possibility of a woman coach when he said as much at the March owners meetings. Revolution head coach Devin Wyman suggested giving Arians a call to let him know of Welter's background – 14 years playing the sport, including a stint in a men's league; playing rugby in college; a pair of gold medals playing for the United States in women's tournaments.
Welter wasn't sure how easy it would be to even make contact. But one of her longtime friends is former NFL player David Diaz-Infante – who just happened to finish a stint as a Cardinals' coaching intern himself. He too suggested to Welter she should look into a spot.
Once Arians finally got a chance to meet Welter and learn of her experience, "I knew this was the type of person I was looking for to start this."
Welter knows Arians was at the forefront of her hire but that it only came to pass with support from ownership, the front office and the other coaches. Already, she said, fellow intern Levon Kirkland – who will work with outside linebackers – was trying to find time when they could delve into the playbook to prep.
"You can't blaze a trail alone, otherwise you'll get stuck in the woods," Welter said.
Welter believes she can reach the male players, showing just by her presence that a player can overcome any limitation. Her master's degree in sports psychology and PhD in psychology won't hurt either, and she has no doubts about her football knowledge.
"I've been in love with this game for a long time," Welter said.
Welter's NFL dreams have gone from non-existent to reality. The new dream? "The dream would be staying on," she said. "I can't say what that means yet. I have to live in this moment."