TAMPA: In this file photo taken on December 20, 2019 OJ Howard #80 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers works with assistant defensive line coach Lori Locust before the game against the Houston Texans at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. – AFP

LOS ANGELES: If the Tampa Bay Buccaneers upset the odds and defeat the Kansas City Chiefs in the Super Bowl, it will be a victory for diversity as well as Tom Brady. Brady may understandably hog the limelight heading into Sunday’s NFL showpiece, but the quarterback’s journey to a 10th Super Bowl has been powered by a backroom staff that is the most diverse in the league.

At a time when NFL teams have faced accusations of systemic racism for their failure to promote minority coaches to senior coaching roles, the Buccaneers have been a rare beacon of diversity. The Buccaneers are the only team in the NFL to have black coaches in all four coordinator roles — offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong and assistant head coach Harold Goodwin.

Tampa Bay are also the only team in the NFL to employ two women in full-time coaching positions in the shape of assistant defensive line coach Lori Locust and assistant strength and conditioning coordinator Maral Javadifar. The Bucs coaching staff is also no bastion of ageism. Among the employees who will be providing input on the sidelines this weekend is the 82-year-old offensive consultant Tom Moore. Bruce Arians, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach and architect of the diverse back room staff, insists that his hiring policy is simple: picking the best candidate for the job.

‘Best coaches I know’
“They’re the best coaches I know,” Arians told reporters on a Zoom call on Monday. “It starts with that.” Arians, who at 68 years and 127 days would become the oldest head coach to win a Super Bowl if the Buccaneers triumph on Sunday, compares coaching to school teaching.

“A player is going to ask a coach, ‘How are you going to make me better?’ He doesn’t really care if the answer comes from a male or a female, black, white, brown or yellow or whoever,” Arians said. “We’re glorified school teachers. The best school teachers I ever had were all different races and ethnic groups, male and female. So if you can teach, you can coach,” he added.

The hiring of women coaches Locust and Javadifar was long overdue, Arians maintains. “It was time for that door to be knocked down,” Arians said Monday. “A lot of (women coaches) have put in the time and are very qualified, and ones we have are overly qualified.”

Arians believes that the range of backgrounds, ages and genders in his coaching staff leads to better outcomes. “To hear voices in a staff meeting that aren’t the same, that don’t look alike, you get better output and for the players it’s the same thing,” he said. “Not hearing the same thing over and over. To hear it from different ages whether it’s 27 or 82, and every kind of ethnic group, male or female. I think our players learn from that. I know I do.”

Not ‘checking boxes’
Locust, who arrived in Tampa Bay after working her way up from coaching jobs in high school and semi-professional grid-iron, praises Arians’ commitment to hire staff from all backgrounds. “This is not something that’s done because of checking boxes,” Locust said. “It’s not done because of an initiative. It’s who BA is and who he has always been.” Arians meanwhile is frustrated that more members of his coaching unit did not come into contention for the handful of head-coaching jobs that fell open following the regular season. Arians said Monday he was peeved that offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich didn’t get an interview.

“I was very pissed that Byron didn’t at least get an interview this year for the job that he’s done,” Arians said. “I get way too much credit and so does Tom Brady for the job that Byron has done. Hopefully people will see that he took (former Bucs quarterback) Jameis Winston and broke every single passing and scoring record here, and now Tom has broken both. He’s done a fantastic job. He’s everything that everyone is supposedly looking for — quarterbacks, play-caller, he’s African-American and a great leader. All those guys should be getting interviews for head coaching jobs.” – AFP