Glendale, Ariz. — The problem with dreams, you see, is that sooner or later you wake up and it all comes to an end.
It holds true for all of us, including Dr. Jen Welter.
A training camp coaching intern, Welter has spent her time working with the team’s inside linebackers. She said the experience has been “fantastic. The entire organization took what could have been a challenging situation and turned it into anything but.
“It’s been like a dream come true, like I said,” she added. “Somebody asked me earlier if I had to pinch myself every day. Yeah, I kind of did.”
Soon, though, it will be time to wake up. With training camp set to come to its conclusion, so will Welter’s internship. The first woman to hold any kind of coaching position with an NFL team, her tenure coming to an end does so with the historical context of her being a trail blazer, a pioneer.
At the time of her hire, there were some who thought it was a move the team did not — and should not — make.
“Everybody kept kind of waiting for the other shoe to drop,” she said. “Like, ‘oh my gosh, what’s going to happen? What’s going to go horribly wrong?’ and it really never did. All the players were really respectful.
“Some came from the jump to really open their arms and welcome me,” Welter added. “I think it took others a little bit longer. But really, overall, it was fantastic. So I think that that would be the best thing is that people were waiting for the worst thing, and it wasn’t there.”
A distraction she was not. This camp has shown her to be nothing more than another coach on the field who helped prepare a team that has Super Bowl aspirations.
“That wore off really fast, maybe two days, it was like, ‘she’s a coach’ and doing a great job,” Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians said when asked if the novelty of having Welter on the staff has worn off. “All our interns have done such a fabulous job. I’d like to keep them all on a permanent basis, but it’s not possible.”
In Welter’s time with the team, she has proven to be a knowledgeable and relatable football mind, someone who has been a real asset.
What impressed Arians most?
“Her teaching skills and her insight to the game,” Arians said. “The way she approaches it is a little bit different than a lot of people because she is female and she thinks differently, but it’s really good to have that on your staff.
“The way she wrote notes to the players — they’d never even gotten notes before. She’s always done that with her players. I had a coach do that for me a long time ago, and they’re special little things that you’d never forget. It’s a really good teaching tool.”
Welter said she wrote the notes between the first and second preseason games, the words coming from her heart.
“It’s something that, to me, is something I would have wanted as a player,” she said. “It never occurred to me that other people weren’t doing it, and yet the feedback from all the guys was really fantastic.”
To that point, there has not been one player who was asked about Welter who had anything bad to say.
Quarterback Carson Palmer, who admittedly hasn’t had much of a chance to see how Welter has coached, said he’s talked to her a little bit.
“She’s very nice, I think she’s knowledgeable from what I’ve heard, and it’s been good to have her around,” he said.
Truth be told, in the time between late July, when the team added Welter to the staff, and Wednesday, when she chatted with the media, she has not really been much of a topic. She has more or less blended in with the rest of the staff.
Moving forward, Welter said she would love to entertain other opportunities to stay in the NFL, and given her performance this camp, it’s possible she will be do just that. But she knows it’s not really up to her.
Whether she ultimately turns this internship into a full-time gig remains to be seen, but if nothing else, Welter is excited how her time with the Cardinals has shown little girls that anything is possible, including a role in a traditionally male-dominated profession.
“That is breathtaking to me,” she said. “It’s something that I never thought was possible. I was that little girl who ran around in a football helmet and got tackled by her cousins, got up, and was like, ‘Hey, let’s do it again!’
“But I didn’t have dreams or know that the NFL was something that could even be broached.”
It will be difficult to quantify the impact Welter has had on the Cardinals, at least on the field. In terms of perception, however, her presence has certainly changed what people think of the team in a positive way. And who knows, maybe the end of her internship will not be the last we see of her with the organization.
If it is, though, Welter said she leaves with “a bunch” of interactions with players she will always remember, moments and stories that will be a joy to tell. There’s also the whole Hall of Fame thing, which Welter said is “really freaking cool.”
But she’s not quite ready to focus on her post-internship career. And regardless of what is in store, nothing will take away from what she has already accomplished.
“I’m waiting to see what will happen next, and I’m really excited,” she said. “I consider this a complete win. The biggest question coming in was would guys in the NFL respond to a woman coaching them, and obviously that’s a ‘yes.’ So I couldn’t be more happy and that’s what I’m focusing on right now.”