Last month, at the Women’s Careers in Football Forum, which exists to aid the National Football League in identifying “qualified women to join its next generation of leaders,” newly-minted Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians announced his plan to hire a woman as a full-time assistant coach this season. On Wednesday, Arians over-delivered on his promise by hiring two full-time female coaches: Maral Javadifar, an assistant strength and conditioning coach, and Lori Locust as assistant defensive line coach.
There has been a lot of hand-wringing over the last couple of decades about the best way to increase diversity in the the NFL’s coaching ranks. But Arians has led the way forward with a deft demonstration of his process: He simply…hires women and people of color!
“I know how hard it can be to get that first opportunity to coach at the highest level of professional football,” Arians said in a statement released by the Buccanneers. “Sometimes, all you need is the right organization to offer up the opportunity.”
In 2015, it was Arians — then the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals — who made history when he hired Jen Selter as an assistant coaching intern for training camp and preseason, making her the first woman to ever coach in the NFL. She wouldn’t be the last.
In 2016, Kathryn Smith became the first full-time female assistant coach in league history, when Rex Ryan hired her to be the special teams quality control coach for the Buffalo Bills. In 2017, the New York Jets hired Collette Smith as a defensive backs coaching intern for training camp. Last year, Kelsey Martinez became the assistant strength and conditioning coach for the Oakland Raiders, Jennifer King was hired as a coaching intern for the Carolina Panthers, and Phoebe Schecter earned a year-long coaching internship with the Bills.
Most of these coaching stints have been short-term hires only; Katie Sowers, who has spent three years as an offensive assistant for the San Francisco 49ers, is the longest-tenured female assistant in the league. She is also the only openly gay coach in the NFL.
Locust played semi-professional football for four years, then launched her career as a coach, most recently working as a coaching intern for the Baltimore Ravens during last year’s training camp, a defensive line/linebackers coach and co-special teams coordinator of the Lehigh Valley Steelhawks of the National Arena League, and a defensive line coach for the Birmingham Iron of the Alliance of American Football.
Javadifar — who played college basketball at Pace University — earned a doctorate of physical therapy degree from New York Medical College, and completed her sports physical therapy residency at Virginia Commonwealth University in August 2018. Most recently, she worked as a physical therapist at Avant Physical Therapy in Seattle.
“I have known Lori going back to my days at Temple University and I’ve seen firsthand just how knowledgeable and passionate she is about this game,” Arians said. “I was equally impressed with Maral’s background in performance training and physical therapy and I know she will be a valuable asset to our strength and conditioning program.”
Busting the barriers to coaching careers is nothing new to Arians, who has also been a leader when it comes to hiring black men as coaches. Despite the fact that 70 percent of the league’s players are black, the NFL is continues to struggle with this task. But during his tenure with the Cardinals, Arians pro-actively recruited and mentored recently-retired black players on his coaching staff. Now in Tampa, all three of his top assistant coaches are black — offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, and special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong.
If Arians has proven anything, it’s that it isn’t hard to diversify your staff. The candidates are there; hire them.