Cardinals coaching intern Jen Welter talks to linebackers Edwin Jackson and Alani Fua during the team's preseason game against the Chiefs.
The notes were personal, tailored to the inside linebackers she coached every day, and it is those that will stick with the Cardinals long after Jen Welter’s coaching internship ends next week.
Welter and the Cardinals made national and international news a little more than a month ago when Bruce Arians hired her as one of his training camp assistants, the first woman to join an NFL staff – even if it was only through the preseason.
“At first, it was a big thing, woman coach and whatnot,” inside linebacker Kevin Minter said. “Now, she’s just one of the coaches.”
Welter fit in nicely with new inside linebackers coach Larry Foote, at a position that holds more rookies than most. She knew her football – second-year linebacker Glenn Carson said Welter was great at drilling
the fundamentals, third-year linebacker Kenny Demens noted how she taught leverage and physicality -- but she was able to tap into other areas of motivation that might have been overlooked.
So when the Cards were about to play the Chiefs in the preseason opener, her players found the notes in their lockers.
“I saw it, so I asked the guys, Kev, (Sean Weather)Spoon, if they got one,” Demens said. “They said they got one too. It was different. You don’t get that in this kind of game. She brought something different to our game.”
The messages resonated.
“With mine, it was, ‘Be the leader you are supposed to be, be that guy everyone knows you can be, you’ve been doing great so far. Just continue to get better and let this team lean on you.’ Stuff like that,” Kevin Minter said. “It’s nice to hear that from a coach.”
Said rookie Edwin Jackson, “Every time I read it I get chills. It’s somebody looking at you and knowing what you’re going through.”
The notes, Welter said, were simply something she thought was something she would have liked to get from a coach when she was a player. Following her intuition and belief to something that was so well received from the players fills her with pride.
It took some players a little longer to warm to her than others, Welter admitted, but she doesn’t doubt they all got there.
“Everyone kept waiting for the other shoe to drop,” Welter said, “and it really never did.”
To a man, the linebackers Welter coached talked about how she saw them as a person as well as a player. That was at the heart of her notes, and what Arians believes are her biggest strengths.
“The way she approaches it is a little bit different from a lot of people because she is female and she thinks differently,” Arians said. “But it’s good to have that on your staff.”
It didn’t mean the players acted totally different around her. Minter and Carson admitted at first, they weren’t sure quite how to act around her, whether the jokes could flow as freely or even foul language. They found out quickly Welter was willing to trade barbs with the best of them.
Welter reiterated what her stint has meant to women in sports. She understands the barrier she had broken, even if it was rare for her to think in historical terms – mostly, she was just a football coach trying to advance up the food chain.
“Having five sisters, I know how big of a role women play in society,” Jackson said. “This means a lot for young women coming up that want to be anything. It inspires a lot of people.”
Welter’s time with the Cardinals is coming to an end. Arians already has one of the biggest coaching staffs in the league, and that doesn’t even include Bill Bidwill fellow Levon Kirkland. There’s just no room to add another coach, male or female.
“I’d like to keep (the interns) all on a permanent basis, but it’s not possible,” Arians said.
So Welter will be a free agent after the Cardinals complete the preseason. She’ll have an impressive – and unique – entry on her résumé.
“I am waiting to see what will happen next, and I am excited,” Welter said. “I consider this a complete win. The question coming in was, ‘Would guys respond in the NFL to a woman coaching them?’ Obviously that’s a yes.”
Images from the 17th training camp practice at University of Phoenix Stadium