When the Arizona Cardinals announced in late July that it had hired Jen Welter as an assistant coaching intern, the media went nuts—in the best possible way.
Welter was the first woman ever to coach in the NFL, a storyline that delighted and inspired both die-hard football fans and those who have never cheered a first down. Google Welter and you’ll find page after page of stories that all mention, “NFL’s first female coach.”
Now, just five weeks later, the NFL once again has zero female coaches.
Welter’s role was an internship from the start. The Cardinals always called it that, and while some of the articles about Welter failed to mention that detail, her internship (and all of the coaching internships) was only scheduled to run through the third preseason game. Now it has ended, Welter confirmed to Fortune during a visit to our offices on Wednesday. The Cardinals have another preseason game on Thursday, against the Denver Broncos, but Welter (and the team’s six other training camp coaching interns) won’t be there.
Despite the fact that Welter was an intern (her official title was “assistant coaching intern,” working with outside linebackers) many were hopeful the team would hire her on for the full season.
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.
Welter is a seasoned football veteran who has played the sport—both on women’s and on men’s teams—and coached it. She told Fortune last month, speaking about newly minted NBA assistant coach Nancy Lieberman, “Look at what she did and when she did it. And yet it’s taken this long for Nancy to work in the NBA?” The same could be said for Welter herself—her resumé is impeccable, full of the relevant experience, to the point where a coaching job at the sport’s highest level made perfect sense. So why didn’t the Cardinals keep her?
The team has not issued any official statement about Welter’s internship ending, and spokespeople for the team did not respond to a request for comment. An NFL spokesperson declined to comment, as it is “a club issue.” And Welter says that the duration of the internship was always clear to her. The Cardinals did not, in fact, hire on any of its coaching interns, and Welter was told there wasn’t a spot for her.
That does not mean fans won’t be disappointed by the news.
Welter told Fortune today she would happily talk with any other interested teams, would like to keep coaching in the league, and she is still optimistic that her Cardinals internship could lead to a permanent job next season, even though it didn’t this year.
But it’s fair to say that many of the fans who celebrated Welter’s appointment may not have realized it was temporary, and will be sad to see her go so quickly. They may also be surprised, considering her qualifications and the positive attention it brought the league, that no team has scooped her up yet.
Last week the NFL put Welter’s coaching shirt from an August 15 preseason game, alongside a flip card signed by female referee Sarah Thomas, in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.