Before the Buccaneers made history as the first team to play in a Super Bowl in their home stadium, they had been making history with the coaching staff that arrived at the start of 2019. Head Coach Bruce Arians brought with him the most diverse staff ever seen by the league in more ways than one. All of his coordinators were Black, which was a first. He also hired two women to full-time coaching roles.
Assistant defensive line coach Lori Locust became the league's first woman position coach when she arrived in Tampa. Though, she doesn't want to be known by that 'woman' qualifier. She's just a coach, brought here to help deliver this team a championship.
"M.J. (Maral Javadifar) and I are here to help Tampa Bay win," said Locust during Monday's Super Bowl media availability. "It wouldn't matter if we're second in or 273rd in. We acknowledge the fact that there hasn't been many before us, but it's not anything that we keep in the forefront of what we do on a daily basis."
There's no better example of that than how well Locust was able to assimilate into this staff. Long before Arians took over as the Bucs' head coach, his first head coaching job was at Temple in Philadelphia, Penn. Look around at his current staff and you'll see many of his former players and even staff members from that Temple team in the 1980's. And though Locust didn't play football at the time, she was there, also attending Temple. She knew guys like Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles, Special Teams Coordinator Keith Armstrong, Cornerbacks coach Kevin Ross and running backs coach Todd McNair as fellow students back then.
Fast forward to now and that's probably one of the reasons she was able to fit right in. The other reason? Simply because she's qualified. That made her one of the staff right away.
"From day one," said defensive line coach Kacy Rodgers, who Locust assists on a daily basis in her role. "The moment Coach Lo got here she has been one of us from the first meeting, from my first introduction to her, to our first meeting together, to our first meeting with the players, she has stepped in from day one. We don't see her as a woman, we only see her as Coach Lo and she steps in and performs her role admirably."
She also knows how to trash talk when it's needed because what good coach doesn't?
"With our group, you have to have thick skin and she can give it back to them," Rodgers laughed. "It's a give and take and it's all love but she is a welcomed addition and the thing is for me, being the first time having a female assistant, I was like how is this going to be? But you would not know the difference. She just steps in and performs her role and we get on down the road."
Maral Javadifar, or "M.J." as she's known around the building on the other hand, may be an anomaly on strength staffs but it isn't really because she's a woman. It's because of her unique and incredibly qualified background. Javadifar has a doctorate in physical therapy, which is something not seen on many strength staffs around the league.
"My name was being circulated through other professional sports and in the NFL, there aren't many PT/Strength coaches or strength coaches who are also PTs," she explained in how she ended up in Tampa. "It was a newer entity that they were looking for. I think it's definitely an area that is needed and we see a difference here.
"It's less about the rehab side of it where I come in," she continued. "It's more about hey, when training camp starts let's do individual assessments on each player, kind of get an idea of how that player moves, how they work and fine tune the intricate details. Elite athletes, they know how to go from A to B and for us to get them to the next level or make them feel their best, fine tuning some of the intricacies of their body and their movement allows us to do that and program for them, specifically. That's been paramount, I believe, in our training program."
Now, as the Bucs get set to take on the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday for the Lombardi Trophy, they'll become the first team in NFL history with multiple female coaches on their sideline in a Super Bowl. In addition to both Javadifar and Locust, Sarah Thomas will also become the first female to be on a Super Bowl officiating crew. Fitting, given the home team that is playing.