Jen Welter is making history this week as she joins the Arizona Cardinals’ coaching staff as the first female NFL coach. For Jen this isn’t about making history. It’s about living her dream and encouraging others to live theirs. It has been a long journey driven by determination and her ability to take a few hits. Melissa Mahler of Pro Player Insiders spoke with Jen earlier this year about her career, goals and passion for football.
“I have been playing football for over 14 years and it took being hit on the field by a man to get noticed,” Jen said. That hit came during a pre-season game on February 15, 2014, between the Texas Revolution and the North Texas Crunch. She proved to everyone “I can take some hits, get back up and do it again.”
The Revolution’s then coach, Chris Williams, said, “It was amazing to see. And I’m going to tell you I never thought I would see a female play the game and then guys hit her the way they hit other guys like it happened in the game tonight.” A few days later the Revolution signed Jen to their regular season roster, making her the first woman to play a non-kicking position in a men’s professional league.
Growing up Vero Beach, Florida Jen said, “football was like a religion.” She laughed that the whole town would gather on Friday nights to watch football. Maybe even more than the rest of the town, she loved watching the game.
She started playing rugby at the age of four and continued on to play for Boston College then temporarily hung up her cleats at the age of 23. More than a few people told her at 5’ 3” she was “too little for rugby.” Two years later, she heard there was a spot on a women’s tackle football team the Mass Mutiny. She joined the team and later moved to Dallas and played with the Dallas Dragons for one season and then made the Dallas Diamonds where she played 10 seasons.
“Woman’s football is $1 a game,” Jen said. She played for the love of the game definitely not the money. Her total earning for the 2004 season with the Dallas Diamonds was $12. That’s a check she never cashed but keeps it as a reminder to herself of where she came from. “You have to realize that this is bigger than yourself.”
“I couldn’t possibly know what opportunities there could be. I had to be a pioneer. There was no road map.” She ventured into this new territory pushing herself, mentally and physically, to be the best every day. Failure was not an option.
At the end of the season the Revolution asked her to join the team as part of the coaching staff. Jen’s initial response was to say no. “I wasn’t sure if I still wanted to play.” She had to choose between playing and coaching.
Jen shared a conversation she had with the team’s then Coach and former Dallas Cowboys cornerback Wendell Davis. He wanted her on his staff. He said, “This is the next logical progression. You are a leader and command attention. Other players respond to you. You weren’t the girl that played football. You were their running back.”
On February 12, 2015, the Revolution named Welter as their new linebackers and special teams coach. She is the first woman to coach in a men’s professional football league. During the announcement, Revolution’s general manager and 2015 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee Tim Brown said, “Jen is incredible and she proved that last year. It’s going to be a challenge for her, but I think she’s going to be great.”
“I felt very prepared to step into a coaching role with guys after playing last year,” Jen said. “I proved myself on the field as a player and my passion for football is second to none.”
It’s that passion and proven ability that brought Jen to the attention of Cardinals’ Head Coach Bruce Arians. According to the team website Arians was asked about the possibility of female coaches in the NFL at the owner’s meeting. He responded, “The minute they can prove they can make a player better, they’ll be hired.” That response triggered a call from the Revolution about Jen. “She came for an OTA and I met her, and I thought she was the type of person that could handle this in a very positive way for women and open that door,” Arians said.
Jen knows that she’s being looked up to as an example for others. She remains humble and committed to her profession. Her message is simple. To reach your dreams, “you have to be willing to do some things outside your comfort zone and listen to yourself not the critics.”
The Texas Revolution gave her a crack in ceiling and she shattered it. Now she is embarking on the next leg of her journey with the Arizona Cardinals and together they are bringing a season of change.
Follow on twitter @Melissa_PPI @Jwelter47 @AZCardinals
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