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GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Jen Welter's groundbreaking days as an interim NFL coach are nearing an end.
"It's been fantastic," she said. "This is such a good group of guys who I think really embraced what could have been a challenging situation, and they just ran with it. I mean these players and these coaches have just been fantastic for me. It's been like a dream come true."
When coach Bruce Arians brought in Welter as an intern working with inside linebackers, she became the first female to hold any coaching position in the NFL.
"We showed little girls that even in the final frontier of sports that anything is possible," she said. "That is breathtaking to me. It's something that I never thought was possible."
Arians cleared the way for her acceptance, Welter said, "just by being a man who is true to himself in how he coaches and how he deals with people."
"I heard one player say it best: 'I knew Bruce and the kind of guy he was and he wasn't going to bring anybody here who didn't belong.' "
Arians said the way Welter "approaches it is a little bit different from a lot of people, because she is female and she thinks differently."
"But it's good to have that on your staff," he said.
One of those "different" things was leaving notes for her players in their lockers before games.
"It came from the heart," she said. "To me it's something I would have wanted as a player. It never occurred to me that other people weren't doing it, and yet the feedback from all the guys was really fantastic. They were like 'Coach, we never had anybody do that before."
They were notes of inspiration individualized to each player.
She said he had "just gone with my intuition on what the right thing was and to be true to myself and my beliefs that these guys needed to know they were important as people, not just football players."
Kevin Minter, the starter at one inside linebacker position, praised her work.
"She's a great lady," he said. "She's helped a lot and she's a stickler about fundamentals and what not. She knows a lot about making you better as a person, too, with the notes she left on your locker, the words of encouragement from what she sees on film. She was like a real good person to feed off of."
Known as Dr. Jen back in Texas, Welter has a PhD in psychology. She talks about putting on a helmet as a small child and asking her cousins to tackle her. She played in women's professional football, and for one season played on a men's team, the Texas Revolution of the Indoor Football League.
Her hiring in Arizona came as a result of a comment Arians made at the NFL owners meetings in Phoenix, when he said a woman would be hired to coach "the moment they can prove they can make a player better."
The coach of the Revolution got in touch with the Cardinals, and Dr. Jen soon was on the staff.
She joins a group of women who have worked their way into previously men-only sports jobs, including Sarah Thomas, the first female NFL official. Thomas spoke with Welter before working the Cardinals-Chiefs preseason opener.
Becky Hammond is an assistant coach with the NBA's San Antonio Spurs, and the Sacramento Kings have hired Nancy Lieberman as an assistant.
Welter, though, elbowed her way in to the rugged world of football coaching at its highest level.
"I am 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 the obvious answer is yes."
She said that the situation never turned sour.
"Everybody kind of kept waiting for the other shoe to drop," Welter 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. I think it took others a little bit longer, but really overall it was fantastic."
Her internship lasts through next Thursday's final preseason game at Denver.
After that, of course, she would like a full-time coaching job.
"I would love to entertain other teams, an opportunity to stay obviously in the game because it's been a part of me for so long, and that's really exciting to see," Welter said. "I couldn't be more thrilled as to where I am right now because it really did show something to the world."
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