TEMPE, Ariz. -- The Arizona Cardinals' hiring of Jen Welter, who is believed to be the first female NFL coach, shouldn't be a surprise.
Not in the least, especially when you look at who made it.
Cardinals coach Bruce Arians showed his hand in March at the NFL owners meetings, when he, unprompted, brought up the idea of female coaches in the NFL. He said he was asked when a female would be hired. His response was: “The minute they can prove they can make a player better, they'll be hired.” It didn’t take a rocket scientist to see the ball was already rolling.
This is a typical Arians move. It’s risky and it’s bold, just like his offense. If it works, Arians will look like a genius. And a trendsetter. If it works, it's because Welter is in the right place with the right coach. Hiring Welter takes an open mind and thick skin. Arians has both. Football is widely considered to be a tight-knit fraternity.
Arians knows this well; at 62, he’s been around the game a while. There might be a faction that chastises him for making the fraternity coed. Some will call Welter’s hiring a publicity stunt. But Arians will let all that roll off his shoulders. He’s used to ignoring the naysayers, having been passed up for a NFL head coaching job until he was 60.
Arians is progressive and nontraditional. All it takes is one look to know Arians thinks outside the box. He wears trendy eyeglasses and stylish jeans and shirts, and he tops it off with his signature driving hat. And just look at his coaching staff. For the last two years, it was a mix of young and old, black and white, experienced and inexperienced. The Cardinals have three assistants who are 70 or older. One pass rush specialist, Tom Pratt, turned 80 this summer.
While most head coaches are looking for the next young gun to hire, Arians went looking for coaches who could teach, regardless of their age or gender. He valued their brains over their birth certificates. That’s why it’s not surprising he brought in Welter.
Welter fits right in. She’s experienced, having played professional football in a women’s league for 14 years before playing a season in a men’s league. She also coached men for a season before being hired by the Cardinals. She has been described to me as a football junkie who loves to study and knows the game inside and out.
But there’s another reason why this hiring is so very Arians: He doesn’t mind playing rookies. A couple of years ago it was defensive back Tyrann Mathieu. Last season, it was wide receiver John Brown. Arians' teams have thrived the past few years in part because of it. If he thinks they’re good enough, Arians has no qualms about giving rookies a shot. That’s what he’s doing with Welter during training camp and the preseason. Now it’s up to her to prove Arians was right.