The Arizona Cardinals made some history on Monday with the addition of a pair of coaches to the training camp staff. They announced the addition of Jen Welter, who is believed to be the first woman coach in NFL history. Also announced was the addition of Levon Kirkland, who joins the staff as the first member of the Bill Bidwill Coaching Fellowship.
Welter will work with the inside linebackers during training camp and the preseason.
In February of 2014, she played running back and special teams for the Indoor Football League's Texas Revolution, becoming the first female to play a non-kicking position in a men's professional football league. This past February she became the first female to coach in a men's pro football league when hired by the Revolution to coach linebackers and special teams. In that role she worked under Revolution general manager and 2015 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee Tim Brown. A rugby player at Boston College, Welter has more than 14 years of professional football experience as a linebacker, mostly with the Dallas Diamonds of the Women's Football Alliance, helping them win four championships. She also earned two gold medals with Team USA at the International Federation of American Football (IFAF) Women's World Championship in 2010 and 2013. Welter, 37, holds a master's degree in sport psychology and a PhD in psychology.
The move to add Welter was actually foreshadowed months ago when, at the NFL owners meetings, Arians said a woman would be hired as a coach "The minute they can prove they can make a player better." He clearly believes Welter can do that.
Adding Welter means the inside linebackers, a position of concern entering the offseason, will have lots of coaches to give them attention. They have Bob Sanders, the linebackers coach, Larry Foote, the inside linebackers coach (assuming he does not decide to return to the playing field) and now Welter.
Kirkland is a former Pro Bowl linebacker and gets this opportunity through the fellowship created by the Cardinals designed to give recently retired players the chance to coach in the NFL and gain experience. Kirkland will coach Arizona's outside linebackers for the next two seasons. When James Bettcher, formerly the outside linebackers coach, was promoted to defensive coordinator, no one was added specifically to coach the outside linebackers. so Kirkland will fill that void.
Bruce Arians believes in breaking down barriers for coaches. He clearly believes Welter can help his football team. It will also perhaps lead the way to someday a woman being hired to some full-time staff. It wasn't for the reaction, but he knew what he was doing.
Arizona adds coaching interns during training camp frequently. We have seen former players like Marcel Shipp before. This is just a bigger move in terms of profile because it is historic. We will see how it turns out. All eyes will be on Welter in the weeks to come.