Stories, memories will stick with Jen Welter after Cardinals internship ends

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- There was the time Jen Welter asked Arizona Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu how he got the Honey Badger nickname.

Or the time Welter sat with wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and talked about psychology, traveling and life.

Or her first time walking onto the field at University of Phoenix Stadium and players asking if she was OK.

Those are just a few of the memories Welter, the first female to coach in the NFL, will take with her when her time with the Cardinals is over.

“There are so many stories that I’ll take with me for the rest of my life,” Welter said. “Like making history. That didn’t even really occur to me, I don’t think, as much as it did to other people. I didn’t see the Hall of Fame thing coming but that’s really freaking cool."

Welter's coaching shirt is on display along with a photo of her and line judge Sarah Thomas, who is the NFL's first full-time female official, in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

“It gives any woman something concrete in the Hall of Fame to say that there’s a place for you in football," Welter said. "So, there are probably more stories than I can think about.”

With a week left in her coaching internship, during which she has coached Arizona’s inside linebackers during training camp and the preseason, Welter is already reminiscing about her experience, which has been both groundbreaking and effective.

Earlier this month, four inside linebackers showered praise on Welter, not just because of her football acumen but because of her ability to connect with players.

Before Arizona’s first two games, she left notes for each of her inside linebackers. Inside, she wrote personal messages unique to each of them. Cardinals coach Bruce Arians knew the notes would have an impact. He hasn’t forgotten the note he received from a coach when he played.

“It came from the heart,” Welter said. “It’s something that I would have wanted as a player. It never really occurred to me that other people weren’t doing it. I think that all the feedback from all the guys was really fantastic.

“They were saying, ‘Coach we’ve never had anybody do that before.’ To have just gone with my intuition on what the right thing was and to be true to myself and my belief that these guys needed to know that they were important as people, and not just as players, was a really great feeling.”

One of Welter’s more important takeaways from training camp will have nothing to do with football. She saw firsthand what all her NFL friends had been talking about for years: that, to the public, football players are viewed as just athletes.

“They are so much more than that,” she said. “They are fantastic people and I think that gets lost a lot of times.”

Arians said the “novelty” of Welter being the first female coach in league history wore off “real fast.”

"Maybe two days, it was like, 'Hey, she's a coach and doing a great job,'" he said.

Arians has been most impressed with her teaching skills and her insight.

“The way she approaches it is a little bit different than a lot of people because she is female and she thinks differently,” Arians said. “But it’s really good to have that on your staff.”

When Welter was hired on July 26, she knew what the obvious challenge could be: getting male football players not only to adapt to having a female coach but respecting her. But it was never an issue, she said.

Some players embraced her from the moment she was introduced to the team while others needed time to warm up to her.

“People were waiting for the worst thing and it wasn’t there,” Welter said.

“It’s been fantastic,” she added. “This is such a good group of guys who I really think embraced what could have been a really challenging situation, and they just ran with it. These players and coaches have been fantastic for me. It’s been like a dream come true. Like I said, somebody asked me earlier if I had to pinch myself every day, and yes, I kind of did.”

After Mathieu told Welter the story of how he became the Honey Badger, she couldn’t contain her excitement, saying, “Oh, I love that!” Then she told Mathieu how some people used to tell Welter she reminded them of a “little spider monkey [on the field] because you’re just so fierce and all over people.”

Mathieu laughed.

“Oh, I love that,” he told her.

“I’m honored to say that it’s much bigger than me,” she said. “And that’s the best thing you can hope for in this world.”