The calendar has turned to August and in all reality, football season is here. In between the discussion of teams starting back to training camp and Tom Brady and his deflated footballs, there was a huge step forward made in the history of the National Football League; the Arizona Cardinals hired the first female coach in the history of professional football.
The hire was prompted by the Cardinals’ own head coach, Bruce Arians. Earlier in a press conference this year, the entertaining and blunt coach was asked how men would react to a woman coach and if women would or could coach in football. The award-winning coach said, “The minute they (women) can prove they can make a player better, they’ll be hired.”
That quote caught the attention of Jen Welter, who at the time was working with a team in an indoor football league. So, what exactly did that work with the indoor football team entail? Actually, quite a bit.
Welter played running back – yes, running back – for the team, the Texas Revolution, and after a year playing running back, she started coaching the linebackers. She also played 14 years in a women’s league as well. She knows her football. In her spare time, she has picked up a master’s degree and a doctorate degree, both in sports psychology.
That background, both on and off the field, is what was attractive to Mr. Arians. The coach has always stated that the most important aspect of coaching is the teaching. Dr. Jen Welter represents someone who has played on the field and has the ability to get the most from her players. She has the street smarts a player respects and the book knowledge a player needs.
And the more I think about the hire of Dr. Welter, the more I think that no other team in the league could have pulled this off. This isn’t to disparage other teams; not at all. But rather it’s to put the focus on Bruce Arians and the particular job he has done by literally reinventing his own coaching career.
For years, Arians was the offensive coordinator of the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers were never one for offense. The impression the team gives is that they want to win each game 3-0 with their defense carrying the day. After the 2011 season, he was let go with no future prospects; retirement seems real. Then a call from an old friend, Chuck Pagano, would change his course.
Mr. Pagano was hired by the Colts as their new coach and early in his tenure, he was diagnosed with leukemia. Mr. Arians temporarily took over the team and lead them to the playoffs. The next year, Mr. Arians was hired by the Cardinals as their head coach. In two short years, Mr. Arians has lead the Cardinals to a combined 21-11 record and became the only coach to win the AP Coach of the Year award twice in three years for two different teams.
What all this means is that Mr. Arians has earned the swagger to bring in who he wants and he has the muscle to have the back of who he brings in. I am sure there is a lot of chatter around the league about the “new girl” coach. I can guarantee that Mr. Arians isn’t going to put up with it. He is going to do everything he can to make sure she can succeed.
And that is what makes the story of Dr. Jen Welter so amazing. Dr. Welter admitted in a press conference she loved football ever since she was young. Her determination and drive is immeasurable. The work she has put in on and off the field cannot be denied. Mr. Arians sees all of that and when I bet when he looks at her, he doesn’t see a woman, he sees a football coach.
The world needs more people willing to take risks like Mr. Arians and more importantly, the world needs more people to blaze new trails like Dr. Welter.
William (Bill) Lutz is executive director of The New Path Inc. He can be reached at [email protected]