In 2015, Dr. Jennifer Welter became the first female coach in NFL history, coaching inside linebackers for the Arizona Cardinals during training camp and in the preseason. Six months later, Kathryn Smith has followed in her footsteps.
Smith, who has worked in the NFL for more than a decade, will serve as a special teams coach for Rex Ryan and the Buffalo Bills. She is the NFL’s first full-time female coach.
Welter could not be happier for her.
“As Bruce Arians said to me, ‘This position didn’t happen for her if it wasn’t for you’ – and that means the world to me,” Welter said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “Kathryn Smith has been very qualified and doing her job for a very long time for that very same staff, and yet, the fact is she didn’t get her shot to be a coach in the NFL until we proved in Arizona that guys in the NFL would not only respect but would love a coach who was female as long as she could make them better. So guess what? I feel honored to know that what we did opened the door for another female. There’s no better compliment. We set the gold standard. I mean, when Rex Ryan is calling Bruce Arians to say, ‘How did this work?’ and ‘Can we do this?’ and he’s saying, ‘Absolutely, look what we did,’ what better compliment is there in this world?”
Welter said that coaching male players was an enjoyable experience and that the players had no issue with a female as an authority figure.
“Oh my gosh, the players that I coached were the best that you could ever imagine,” she said. “I would encourage anybody who asks that question about how male players would respond to a female coach – go back and read the press clippings of what Kevin Minter and all the other guys from the Arizona Cardinals who I coached said about having me as a coach. Just read them and answer it for yourself. I don’t have to speak; they’ve spoken for me. These guys were all-in, and they’re great people, they’re great men, and they’re great friends to this day. I’ve texted with these guys both before they played in the playoff game and lost, and after. They still call me coach to this day. That’s the best compliment I could get.”
Welter believes that more women will be hired as full-time NFL coaches in the future.
“It was a special team with a fantastic coaching staff,” Welter said of her experience in Arizona. “But do I think it’s unique in that it can’t happen again? No, I don’t. I think it can happen again, but it’ll happen in its own unique way. No one will recreate what we did in that desert, but that’s okay. It’s not about recreating; it’s about creating your own destiny – and Kathryn Smith has her own. And guess what? I wasn’t the first and the only. She’s not the next and the only. There will be other fantastic female coaches in the NFL, and it’ll happen very soon. I’m excited to see how that destiny progresses.”