The majority of NFL coaches are white men. While the Rooney Rule has helped bring some diversity to the NFL’s coaching ranks, there’s still a significant gender gap. In recent years, a few teams have taken efforts to remove that barrier by adding female assistant coaches to their staff. Let’s take a look at the brief but rapid rise of women as coaches in the NFL.
The first female coach in the NFL
The Arizona Cardinals made NFL history during the 2015 preseason when they named Jen Walter as an assistant coaching intern. Walter received widespread support from the media as well as the Cardinals players within the organization.
Walter left the team after the third preseason game, as that’s when all their coaching internships went through. This left some fans and the team a little confused:
“A league source tells Fortune that many of the players, in fact, “fully expected her to be there when the season starts.” Linebacker Kevin Minter told the Associated Press, “She’s helped a lot and she’s a stickler about fundamentals… She knows a lot about making you better as a person, too… a real good person to feed off of.” Linebackers Kenny Demens and Ty Mathieu both tweeted photos of themselves with Welter along with supportive captions.”
Walter’s time with the team may have been short, but the impact was significant. She helped pave the way for other female assistants by knocking down some misguided preconceived notions of whether a woman could coach on an NFL sideline.
The Bucs hire two female coaches this offseason
This past offseason, former Cardinal and current Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians again made history by being the first head coach to hire two female assistants to his staff. The team named Maral Javadifar as the assistant strength and conditioning coach and Lori Locust as the assistant defensive line coach. Arians welcomed the two with a team-released statement:
“I know how hard it can be to get that first opportunity to coach at the highest level of professional football. Sometimes, all you need is the right organization to offer up the opportunity. The Glazer family and our general manager, Jason Licht, were extremely supportive of my decision, and I know Maral and Lori will be great additions to my coaching staff.”
Bruce Arians has clearly paid a huge part in helping to correct the NFL’s gender gap when it comes to coaching. After adding Walter to the Cardinals’ staff as an intern, he’s now added two women to the Bucs.
Are there any female coaches in the NFL?
There are currently several female coaches in the NFL. In 2018, the NFL had 10 female coaches total, including seven interns and three full-time staff members. This season saw three female full-time coaches — the Bucs’ two new additions and San Francisco 49ers assistant Katie Sowers.
The future of the NFL
The NFL has also created an event called The Women in Football Forum meant to encourage women who have played and participated in football to pursue careers in coaching, scouting, or front office roles. The NFL is also trying to develop women coaches at lower levels. Locust elaborated on why this is important:
“Being able to develop a path or widen it at certain points is super important because you can be a great coach, but you have to be technical, and you have to know how to do things in a manner that’s a higher level,” Locust said.
Ultimately, the NFL is trying to help mimic the pipeline that exists for male coaches for female coaches. It’s at the beginning of the process, but if progress in recent years is any indicator, women should have a much more prominent role on NFL sidelines in the years to come.