Bringing You Another Side Of The Story

Bruce Arians’ uniquely diverse staff fuels Super Bowl run

AP Photo by Scott Eklund

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will field perhaps the NFL’s most diverse coaching staff when they line up against the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV. Buccaneers’ head coach Bruce Arians’ group includes offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich and defensive coordinator Todd Bowles while Harold Goodwin serves as the assistant head coach and run game coordinator.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever been a part of anything like this. This is unique, it’s different. This is not the norm of how coaching staffs look across the league. It’s a blessing that BA [Bruce Arians] has the view that he has,” Leftwich said of the diverse Bucs staff.

Personal experiences have driven Arians to make it his goal to create opportunities for diversity on his coaching staff.

“Because the fact that I didn’t get a shot until I was 60,” Arians responed when asked why he is so willing to give minorites an opportunity to coach. “Chuck Pagano had to get sick with Leukemia for me to become a head coach. I was a Super Bowl winning offensive coordinator and didn’t even get a phone call. The lack of opportunities has made me want to give more opportunitites for more people.”

Arians shared that most of the minorties he’s hired to coach either played alongside of him or for him in the past. Leftwich said his relationship with Arians started a long time ago when he was a quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers with Arians as the offensive coordinator in 2010 and 2011. They talked a lot of football during their days together in Pittsburgh. Those convos continued once Leftwich retired and Arians continued to coach. 

“Me and BA would talk and I’d tell him what I saw through the TV. BA always wanted me to coach. It was just something I wasn’t ready to do,” Leftwich said. 

Leftwich was finally ready to coach in 2017 and joined Arians as the QB coach for the Arizona Cardinals eventually taking over as the interim offensive coordinator in 2018. 

Health issues forced Arians to take a break from football after that season. But he jumped at an opportunity to coach the Bucs in 2019 with Leftwich as his offensive coordinator.

Bowles played defensive back for Arians when he was a coach at Temple in the 1980s. He served as Arians’ defensive coordinator with the Cardinals in 2013 and 2014. Choosing Bowles to take charge of the defense once again was a no brainer for Arians when they got the band back together in Tampa.

The Bucs defensive coordinator hopes that the teams success starts with Arians being open to making decisions regardless of race or sex. Bowles hopes it will set the tone for the rest of the NFL.

“This isn’t something that is done because of checking boxes or because of some initiative. It’s who BA is and has always been,” Bowles said. “That’s why it works so well here. He’s gathered individuals that he knows will benefit the organization.”

“It doesn’t matter what we look like,” Bowles continued. “He’s put together that staff because he feels it’s people that will help the team win. It starts with ownership and with BA. The freedom that he has to make those types of choices has been invaluable. It’s working and hopefully it sets an example for the league to stop being so narrow in its candidate search.”

Arians believes in his coaches. That’s why he was upset that Leftwich didn’t get a legitimate shot to interview for any of the head coach vacancies this season. Assistant head coach and run game coordinator Harold Goodwin said that Arians is “pretty much hands off” with Leftwich even though he’s a young coordinator. 

“It’s been shocking to me knowing how much he loves to call plays that he’s been hands off. He’s letting Byron do what he wants to do and it’s been successful,” Goodwin said.

Jameis Winston set a single-season franchise record when he passed for 5,109 yards in 2019. The Bucs averaged 30.8 points per game during the regular season with Tom Brady executing Leftwich’s offense. That was the third-best average in the league. 

The diverse staff also includes assistant defensive line coach Lori Locust and Maral Javadifar who is serving her second season as the as assistant strength & conditioning coach. 

“The women, that was a door that needed to be knocked down and I’m so happy that the two that we have are so overly qualified and doing such a great job,” Arians said.

“The biggest thing I think is for organizations to implement a big pool to welcome people to the coaching process. Being with Coach Lo [Lori Locust] the last two years, we’ve had the opportunity to work under Coach Arians and the Glazer family. They’ve really opened up the doors for us and given us the opportunity to embark on a successful season this year,” Javadifar explained.

Don’t be mistaken. Arians doesn’t just give opportunities to coaches that aren’t qualified. The opportunities aren’t simply free handouts. Leftwich wouldn’t have it any other way.

“If you know him, you know that he’s not giving anybody anything. You have to earn it,” Leftwich said. “Hopefully, people will see it should be about opportunity not about skin color or gender, it should be about if you’re capable of doing the job.”

“He is just not going to hire somebody to hire somebody. He assembled a very diverse staff of people that are very good at what they do and collectively work well together,” Goodwin added.

Making it to the Super Bowl is the most obvious evidence that Arians and his staff are doing things right. Tampa is the only team that employs more than one female coach. 

Being the second franchise in NFL history to make it to the Super Bowl with a female on the coaching staff should open up more doors for younger female coaches who are striving to get to the pro level. There isn’t a shortage of candidates. The opportunities just haven’t been as abundant.

“What it looks like sometimes is that we just sprung up from nowhere,” Locust said. “But there are 100s of coaches that are in various levels whether it be college and semipro that have been earning those positions on their own without any help from anyone else.”