Lori Locust takes coaching prowess from Birmingham Iron to NFL’s Tampa Bay Bucs

Lori Locust takes coaching prowess from Birmingham Iron to NFL’s Tampa Bay Bucs
Lori Locust doesn't think of herself as a trailblazer. She just wants to be respected as a good football coach. The former Birmingham Iron assistant has just been hired by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. (AAF)

Lori Locust just wants to be one of the guys.

Specifically, she wants to be one of the guys coaching a pro football team.

After beginning the inaugural season of the Alliance of American Football as the defensive line coach of the Birmingham Iron, Locust recently stepped into a bigger spotlight as an assistant coach with the National Football League’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The Bucs became the first NFL team with two female full-time assistant coaches when head coach Bruce Arians hired Locust to be an assistant defensive line coach and Maral Javadifar as an assistant strength and conditioning coach.

Lori Locust has been coaching football for years at various levels. Now she has moved from the Birmingham Iron sideline to the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers. (Solomon Crenshaw Jr./Alabama NewsCenter)

In a video interview with Buccaneers.com, “Coach Lo” was asked about being an inspiration to girls who aspire to do what she’s doing. She said that has never been her motivation.

“I’ve always just wanted to coach and hoping that my hard work would get me here,” the 54-year-old said. “I hope that that’s an example that anybody can follow. But, yeah, there’s another responsibility to it.

“I want to be an effective coach,” she continued. “I want to be seen as somebody who’s here for the right reasons, and not for, you know, publicity or anything like that.”

Before Locust moved on to the Bucs, Birmingham Iron head coach Tim Lewis said he never hesitated having her on his staff. It’s all about the opportunity, he said.

“It was absolutely on the forefront of my mind that everybody should be given an opportunity,” he said. “It doesn’t really matter about whether female, male, what color, race, creed, so forth. (AAF founders) Bill Polian, Charlie Ebersol saw the vision of this being a league of opportunity. They’ve bestowed the opportunity on me and there’s no way that I would exclude anyone from being a part of our staff.”

Locust began playing football when she was 40 on a women’s team in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. When she was sidelined by a knee injury, she turned to coaching her team, and later joined other teams as an assistant, including the varsity team at her alma mater, Susquehanna Township High School in Pennsylvania.

Locust has coached for the Lehigh Valley Steelhawks of the National Arena League, the Keystone Assault of the Women’s Football Alliance, the East Preps talent showcase and the DMV Elite community football program. In fall 2018 she interned with the Baltimore Ravens under a Bill Walsh Diversity Fellowship.

Lewis said Locust wanted him to make no concessions for her when she was with the Iron.

“’Coach, I just want you to know that you don’t have to make up any accommodations for me,’” he said, recalling their first telephone conversation. “’I’ve been doing this for a long time. I’ve been coaching men’s football for a long time. You can say, do whatever you want. I’m good.’”

Lewis acknowledged that a locker room can have some salty language, and that Locust helped make it that way.

“She’s one of the guys,” he said. “No one holds back anything that they want to say or do. It’s really funny how football kind of transcends. You go from being teammates to family and brothers. That’s what we’ve done here. And she’s one of the guys.”

After 13 years as a coach, Locust said an opportunity presented itself with the Bucs, which gave her a chance to renew acquaintances with Arians. They crossed paths when she was a student at Temple University and he was the football coach.

“I was gonna say five or six years ago in college, but it’s been about 35, 36 (years) since we were at Temple,” she said, laughing. “I was there … when he first came in. And that’s how I know a lot of the assistant coaches — coach (Todd) Bowles, coach (Kevin) Ross and coach (Todd) McNair and coach (Keith) Armstrong.

“That’s another added bonus of being here now, to be reunited with a lot of the guys I knew from Temple and being part of this program.”

Speaking to ESPN.com, Arians said it’s about time females join the ranks of NFL coaches.

“It’s time, and I’ll be happy when it’s not news anymore. … That’s where it should be heading,” said Arians, who hired the NFL’s first female training camp intern, Jen Welter, with the Arizona Cardinals in 2015.

“They’re what we need. The fact that their gender’s different, who gives a s—?” said Arians, noting that players gravitated toward Welter because of her unusual method of teaching.

“I always go back to Dot Murphy at Hinds (Community College) when I was at Mississippi State. She was one of the best receiver coaches I’d ever seen. This was 25 years ago. So my answer (when asked), ‘Can they coach?’ Hell, yeah. I’ve seen it. It’s just getting opportunities.”

During Women’s History Month, Alabama NewsCenter is celebrating the culture and contributions of those who have shaped our state and those working to elevate Alabama today. Visit AlabamaNewsCenter.com throughout the month for stories of female Alabamians past and present.

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