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We’re just getting started’: At women in NFL forum, Buccaneers show why they’re pioneers in championing diversity

Lori Locust is assistant defensive line coach for the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who have made diversity on their staff a priroity.Daniel Kucin Jr./Associated Press

Twenty-five years ago, when Jason Licht started working in the NFL, a woman walking through the football offices was more often than not an administrative assistant.

Now, Licht is the general manager of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who just won Super Bowl LV with two women on their coaching staff. Assistant defensive line coach Lori Locust and assistant strength and conditioning coach Maral Javadifar, both in their second seasons with the team, became the first female coaches to ever win a Super Bowl.

“How far we’ve come is great,” Licht said. “We have a long ways to go.”

Locust and Javadifar are the lone women on Tampa Bay’s coaching staff, but Licht made sure to give shoutouts to others involved in the operation, such as director of football research Jacqueline Davidson, director of performance nutrition Stephanie Kolloff O’Neill, and scouting assistant Carly Helfand.

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Maral Javadifar, the Buccaneers' assistant strength and conditioning coach, stands on the sideline during the Super Bowl LV victory earlier this month.Kevin C. Cox/Getty

On Day 1 of the fifth annual Women’s Careers in Football Forum on Wednesday, the Buccaneers were presented as the NFL’s leader in setting the standard for gender and racial diversity. Licht, Bucs coach Bruce Arians, and club co-owner Darcie Glazer Kassewitz all participated in a panel to discuss the organization’s commitment to inclusion and the success that has followed.

When the Buccaneers were searching for a head coach in 2019, Licht remembers one of the first things Arians told him was that he intended on including women on the coaching staff. Arians — who was also responsible for hiring Jen Welter as an assistant coaching intern for the Arizona Cardinals in 2015 — followed through.

“The women that Bruce hired made such big impacts on our season in many different ways,” Licht said. “I don’t know if we would be where we’re at without them.”

Not only are the Buccaneers the only NFL team with two women on their coaching staff, they also are the only team with all Black coordinators: special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong, defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, assistant head coach/run game coordinator Harold Goodwin, and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich.

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All were hired by Arians.

Offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich hugs quarterback Tom Brady following the Buccaneers' Super Bowl victory.Mike Ehrmann/Getty

“I want many, many voices,” Arians said. “We have great input from all these different voices so we have outstanding output. There’s never a dumb question. There’s never a dumb suggestion.”

Arians noted that maintaining a diverse staff is one thing; actually listening to them is another.

“To keep everybody excited, you have to take their input,” Arians said. “It doesn’t always work out perfectly, but to keep everybody at a high energy and continuing to improve, you have to listen. You have to use their input so that you have that great output. I think we still have the best staff in the league because it’s so diverse with age, race, and gender.”

One participant in Wednesday’s forum asked, how does the team get it all to work? According to Arians, players will not be accountable to their coaches if they are not accountable to each other first. Team chemistry, he says, doesn’t matter as much so long as there is accountability.

One thing the Buccaneers implemented this season, for example, was a sheet where players’ names would appear if they committed a mental error or penalty during practice. The whole team would see the sheet before each meeting.

“Guys don’t like being on that list,” Arians said. “If you’re on that list too much, you’re telling me you can’t play, you can’t help us win. Either you don’t care or you’re too dumb. If you’re dumb, I can teach you. If you don’t care, there’s no place for you in this club.”

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The two-day Women’s Careers in Football Forum aims to connect its 40 female participants, many of whom currently work in football at the college level, with league coaches and executives. In addition to the Bucs representatives, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, two club owners, six head coaches including Bill Belichick, and five general managers are scheduled to speak to the group.

Locust, who previously attended the forum, said the event allowed her to make valuable connections and gave her confidence. Had she not attended the forum, she says it would have taken her much longer to reach her current position in the league.

To those hoping to follow in her footsteps, Locust recommends taking every learning opportunity, whether that’s attending nearby coaching clinics or calling local high schools to try to sit in on a film session.

“I just want to be known as a good coach, one that contributes, one that can help players get better, one that can help a team win,” Locust said. “I think all of us bring something unique to the table. I think the strongest attribute you can have coming in is that you’re authentic.”

Led by Darcie Glazer Kassewitz (right) and her brother and co-owner Joel Glazer, the Buccaneers have devoted resources specifically to girls and women interested in football.Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

Along with diversifying their personnel, the Buccaneers have devoted resources specifically to girls and women interested in football. On Thursday, they will host their third annual girls’ flag football tournament, the largest of its kind in the country. They also have committed $250,000 in scholarship money to benefit female high school football players.

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“We’re just getting started,” Kassewitz said.


Nicole Yang can be reached at nicole.yang@globe.com.Follow her on Twitter @nicolecyang.