TAMPA — In the historical sense, Bucs assistant coaches Lori Locust and Maral Javadifar will forever be linked as the trail-blazing duo on the first NFL coaching staff to include two female fulltime assistants.
And while they took very different paths here, their roles on new head coach Bruce Arians’ staff are equally as important in Arians’ outside-the-box plan to make the Bucs a winner.
Locust, the team’s assistant defensive line coach, has football in her blood. She was a semi-pro player, then worked her way up the coaching ranks, gleaning expertise at every stop along the way.
Javadifar, a strength and conditioning assistant, is a former college basketball player who now owns a doctorate in physical therapy, and she offers the Bucs training expertise that few NFL teams have.
“Having these opportunities let other people know that these opportunities are available, you just have to work hard and continue to grind,” Javadivar said. “These opportunities are available in the right organizations and I think the Bucs are doing things well in giving other people and other women and all of us opportunities to show that we can do it too.”
They will receive attention for their gender, but as members of the Bucs coaching staff, Locust and Javadifar are treated as just that.
“It’s great because you sit down and you hear they’re women coaches, but then you get into the meeting room with them and they’re just coaches,” said inside linebackers coach Mike Caldwell. “You get into the weight room and all of a sudden you’re being taken through a drill that you’ve never heard of before and it makes so much sense to you.”
Locust grew up along central Pennsylvania’s rust belt in the state capital of Harrisburg, just 30 minutes north of Arians’ hometown of York. They’ve known each other since Arians’ days coaching at Temple, as he coached her ex-husband with the Owls.
Javadifar, known among the staff as M.J., grew up in the New York City borough of Queens, but her family is from Iran. Her mother, Mojgan Mobasheri, fled the war-torn Middle Eastern country in the early-1980s.
“She was escaping a revolution and she didn’t have any of these opportunities to be a woman in society,” Javadifar said. “So when she came here, it was kind of like, ‘We’re going to break down barriers.’ She kept her last name. Little things like that. So for me, it was an opportunity for me to say, ‘Thanks, mom. Thanks for that. I appreciate that.’”
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Locust found her first opportunity to play football at the age of 40. She played semi-pro for four years, then went into coaching. She spent several years coaching in semi-pro, women's and arena leagues before joining the Ravens as a defensive coaching intern during training camp, where she learned under Joe Cullen, the former Bucs assistant coaching defensive line for Baltimore. When the Bucs hired her, she was coaching defensive line for Birmingham of the ill-fated AAF.
Locust called Cullen her “spirit animal” because of his emphasis on teaching and his colorful language. He was just one of the coaches Locust tried to mold her own style after. She loved former Jets coach Herm Edwards’ intensity, and she followed Arians closely over the years. As a coach, she aims to be the ideal mix of motivator and game planner.
"You pick and pull some of the things you want to incorporate, but you also also have to put in your own style, which is what I try to do," Locust said.
“She’s an extremely talented coach,” Bucs defensive line coach Kacy Rodgers said. “When we are sitting there having football conversations, it’s just like talking to a male even though she is female. She is a coach. She is Coach Locust. She is very knowledgeable. She puts the work in, she puts the time in. She’s always asking questions, she’s hungry, she wants to learn. She is no different than any other coach I work with.”
Javadifar’s role is more unique because she is able to combine being a performance coach with a sports medicine background. Her focus is on breaking down the way a player moves to build routine for them to optimize performance. Her background forms a natural bridge between the team’s strength and conditioning staff and its medical team.
“She brings a different dynamic because she is an expert in certain things that we are not,” head strength and conditioning coach Anthony Piroli said. “Having a doctor of physical therapy with a performance background on a strength staff in an of itself is more than something that most of us strength coaches would like to have. But it’s not always practical or not always able to be done for whatever reason.”
While both coaches would prefer to be recognized just as coaches instead of female coaches, they are well aware of their role in setting a path for fellow females. Arians hired the first female coaching intern, Jen Welter, in Arizona in 2015. Last year, NFL staffs included just three full-time female assistants.
“I think in any position like this, there’s that added responsibility of just making sure you’re doing things the right way, and I feel that all the time,” Locust said. “Sometimes, adding all that additional on, it does get to be a lot, but what I’m trying to do is for anybody, whether it’s young women, young men, hard work will hopefully open the doors for you.”
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @eddieintheyard.