When Tampa Bay Buccaneers coaches gather for a staff meeting, it is unlike any other staff meeting in the NFL.
Among head coach Bruce Arians’ 28 assistant coaches is a two-time Olympic gold medalist, multiple Super Bowl-winning former players, a daughter of Iranian immigrants, a single mother, and a man who won his first Super Bowl as a coach in 1979 and has no interest in retiring at age 82.
Given that the Buccaneers are playing in Super Bowl LV on Sunday, winning three road games as the NFC’s No. 5 seed to advance, it’s a mix that works.
Arians has gotten a lot of attention for the makeup of his staff, and rightfully so: No one in the league seems to value diversity the way he does. His top four lieutenants — offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong and assistant head coach/run game coordinator Harold Goodwin — are Black, a first in the long history of the NFL. He’s become a champion of adding women into the fold, starting with Dr. Jen Welter’s training camp coaching internship in 2015 when Arians was with the Arizona Cardinals.
But Arians has long since recognized that coaching is just teaching, and a good teacher can come in any form, any color, any background.
“A player is going to ask a coach: how are you going to make me better?,” Arians said on Monday. “He doesn’t really care if the answer comes from a male, a female, Black, white, brown, who? Just help me be better.
“The best school teachers I ever had were all different races, all different ethnic groups and male and female. So if you can teach, you can coach. As far as the women, it was time. It was time for that door to be knocked down, and allow them, because they’ve been putting in the time they’re very qualified. The ones that we have are overly qualified. As far as race, that was not by design; those are the best coaches I know.
“But to hear voices in a staff meeting that are not the same, don’t look alike, but they all have input, you get better output. For the players, the same thing. Not hearing the same thing over and over, to hear from different people, from different ages, from 27 to 82 and every kind of ethic group there is, and male and female. I know our players learn from that, I know I do, and so does our staff.”
As Bucs coaches answered questions from media members from around the country, the usual spectacle of Super Bowl opening night reduced to Zoom chats, they stressed that what some outsiders may think — that Arians wanted praise or was pulling some kind of stunt — couldn’t be further from reality.
“I think it’s great,” Bowles said of the staff. “First it falls on Bruce, and he has got a bunch of people that know how to coach. He got a bunch of people that know how to coach; he’s not just going to hire somebody to hire somebody. He assembled a very diverse staff of people that are very good at what they do and work well together. That’s the biggest thing that you get out of this: we’re all in it as one, we all have our niche to make the team better and we’re trying to do that.”
“This is unique. This is not the norm of how this league and how the coaching staff looks across this league,” said Leftwich. “It’s a blessing that [Bruce] has this view that he has. I just hope no one believes that he’s giving us anything.
“If you know him, you know he’s not giving you anything — you’ve got to earn everything that you get from him. Nobody's been given anything, everybody’s earned this, obviously everyone’s doing their job; the fact that we’re here with the players putting us in position to win this football game, to be in this type of game.
“Hopefully more people are starting to see it, it should be about opportunity, it shouldn't be about skin color, it should be about if you’re capable of doing the job, or gender.”
Lori Locust is assistant defensive line coach, a woman who began playing tackle football at age 40 and spent nine years as an unpaid assistant coach at Susquehanna Township High School in Pennsylvania, before getting chances to coach semi-pro teams and with the Alliance of American Football in 2019, all while raising two sons.
Maral Javadifar, a former Pace University basketball player, has a doctorate in physical therapy and was earning recognition and interest from NBA teams as well when she joined Tampa Bay as a member of the strength and conditioning staff. As a girl growing up in Iran, Javadifar’s mother wasn’t even allowed to watch sports, let alone take part in them; her mother fled the country in 1984, and Javadifar was raised in Queens.
“You have to understand, this is not just something that’s done because of checking boxes, it’s not done because of an initiative, it’s who [Bruce] is and has always been,” said Locust, a Temple graduate who got Arians’ attention in 2019 with an email that appealed to his roots as an Owls head coach. “That’s why I think it works so well here, is he’s gathered individuals that he knows will benefit the organization.
“He has people he can trust around him and it doesn’t matter what we look like; he’s put together that staff because it’s people that he feels will help the team win. And clearly that combination has worked.”
This is the second year this Bucs staff has been together, and with seven NFL owners who hired new head coaches in recent weeks essentially ignoring Tampa Bay’s coordinators, it looks like they’ll have a third.
Bowles did get interviews with teams for a second possible chance at being a head coach, but Leftwich did not, for which Arians expressed frustration.
Tampa Bay coaches expressed hope that things will change next year — it always seems to be “wait for next year” for Black coaches in this league — but for now they’re happy showing the rest of the league what’s possible.
“Obviously it’s working, and hopefully it will set an example to the rest of the league to take notice and stop being so narrow in their candidate search,” Locust said.
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