Interview transcript: Lori Locust, Assistant Defensive Line Coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Liz: Welcome to the show, Lori, how are you?

Lori: I’m good. Thank you so much for connecting. It’s nice to have these conversations, you know, in this time of change. But, as I said to you, good morning, good afternoon, don’t know the time difference, but it’s nice to hear your voice, nice to connect.

Liz: Absolutely. And I know how busy you guys are. Obviously, despite the circumstances we are in and how hard you’re all still working for the season ahead. So thank you so much for taking the time out to speak to me.

Lori: Not a problem.

Liz: I would love if you could start us off with a little background on you, your history with football and what’s brought you to where we are today.

Lori: Sure. I’ll try and make a very long and boring story short, but, I had always been a fan of football since I was a little kid and can remember watching the Pittsburgh Steelers on television when I was five and something about that team just drew me in. And I think from that moment, I was sort of hooked on football and following it through the years, fast-forwarding up through high school, obviously like as a fan, I played a really heavy two-handed touch team in college. And that was kind of like a taste of it, but it kind of ended there. Like you watch football, it’s on Sundays, that’s where it stopped. But then when I was just about to turn 40, I saw an ad in my local newspaper for a women’s team that was coming to the Harrisburg area and I’ve sort of, I don’t want to say it was a Daredevil, but I was kinda like, you know, why not? You’ve loved football for so long. How cool would it be to actually get a chance to play? So, I did. 

I started playing the year before I turned 40 and was able to play, had some injuries, but on and off for about four years in the women’s league. And it was a semi-pro league, full equipment, full NFL rules. We had a blast. Some of my best friends to this day are from teammates that I had on that team. And my one injury that I couldn’t come back from, it was a pretty severe knee injury. So I started coaching at the women’s level and then kind of got bit by the coaching bug at that point and went from coaching women to high school boys football and then to men’s arena to men’s semi-pro football. And then did some showcase teamwork.

 I was able to attend the NFL Women Career Forums that Sam Rappaport put together, two years straight. And during that time I had applied for the internship program, the Bill Wallace Fellowship Program and was chosen to go to the Baltimore Ravens, which was an incredible experience, sitting in that defensive line room, learning things there. And then after that, I went to the Birmingham Irons in the now, defunct AAS League, always as an assistant D-line coach, pretty much the whole way through my career. And then got this opportunity with Tampa Bay while I was still at Birmingham. And then, I’ve been here for a little over a year right now. So starting the second year of my contract and looking forward to a really good season. And like you said, we’ve basically been working every day just finding ways to do it remotely and through Zoom and trying to make it work.

Liz: Wow. I mean, you’ve done so much. I mean, have you been able to like, I guess, step back and like properly take in everything that you’ve achieved?

Lori: It’s some days it feels like it really hasn’t been that much. And then there are other days when we talk or I have conversations like this where it’s spanned a lot of time. I mean this April will be 16 years since I took my first step onto the field as a player. And there has been a lot and I’ve been very fortunate along the way to have really good mentors and really good coaches that gave me an opportunity. And I wouldn’t be here without their assistance, just like any other coach, you know. I mean everybody else that’s kind of come up the coaching tree, they’ve been brought along where they’ve been mentored or they’ve been given chances to prove themselves. And I feel as long as you’re given an opportunity, what you do with it then lies on your shoulders. That’s why I’m a big proponent of making sure that you’re ready, making sure your experience, be in it for the right reasons and just work really, really hard and hopefully, you know, I’ve been very blessed, but hopefully, everybody would get an opportunity then to do something that they want to do at a level that they really wanted to get to.

Liz: Is it true that an email to the team is kind of what got you on their radar? I’d love to hear more about that story.

Lori: Okay. Yeah. So, there’s a little bit to that story. You have to be creative sometimes in how you get people’s attention. But Bruce Arians was the college coach where I was at and he coached my ex-husband. So the guys that I’m with right now, Todd Bowles, who’s the defensive coordinator, Kevin Ross who’s a secondary coach, Keith Armstrong is our special team’s coordinator. Nick Ripon, who’s another secondary coach actually coached my ex-husband in his position. These are all guys I went to school with or I was around when I was at college and that was a long time ago also. That was even further ago than the 40 years. So along the way, when I made the decision to stay in football, I would let the guys know what I was doing. I would reach out and every once in a while, no matter where Todd was at, I’d say, Hey, I just want to let you know, this is what I’m doing. Hope your family’s well. 

Didn’t ask him for anything, just kind of stayed in touch. Kevin has youth camps in New Jersey and he asked me to come up and help work his youth camps a couple of summers in a row. And that’s how I kind of stayed in touch and I kind of stayed relevant to them because they could see what I was doing. I wasn’t asking for anything at that point, I just wanted to coach and get better. So when it came around that I had heard through the grapevine that, I call him BA, Bruce Arians had made a pledge at the Combine, at the Women’s Forum that year to, over the course of that next 12 months, hire a woman coach. I was like, Oh, that’s great. You know, BA is a good guy. I’ve known him, you know, from a distance obviously, but I’ve known him for a long time.

It sounds like a great program. And then a really good friend of mine, Katie Sower’s who’s with the Niners right now, we all know her from the Microsoft commercials in the Super Bowl but she strongly suggested that I apply. And at the time I was working for the Iron. At the time, I had a position and I was grateful to be there and in that, I was like, you know what, why not? I think my philosophy right now have come around, I don’t know if it’s age or sometimes stupidity, but I think that’s my question, I always ask is why not? Like, you can’t say, what if, because that’s no action. You know, you’re really not taking, stocking yourself and you’re really not taking the next step. To me, it has to be, why not? So I did.

I emailed Bruce that day. Katie actually got me his email address and that was pretty much how I started from a marketing standpoint in my corporate life. I threw a title on the email that I hoped would get his attention, but it was, ’36 years later, I’d love to work with you.’ And that was the title of the email. And I went back through and I reintroduced myself. I told him, basically in summary, what I had been doing for the Iron, I attached my resume and 30 minutes later I got a response from him. So it was definitely a catalyst that kind of started the ball rolling. But there was certainly a lot of other stuff in the works that kind of brought it to that.

The general manager for the Iron at that time, Joe Pendry, was actually the gentleman who hired Bruce in Kansas City when Bruce was an assistant there. So Joe, without me knowing about it, talk to Bruce probably 10 minutes before I sent him that email telling him about me and how he should consider me. So there was a lot of other stuff outside of my control in motion. But yeah, you do have to be self-advocating at times. I think some people can go a little bit too overboard with that so you have to find a balance for self advocation. And that email was definitely kind of part of the chain and the reason that I’m here.

Liz: That’s so cool. And what is it like to be working with Bruce now?

Lori: He’s a phenomenal leader, he’s a phenomenal coach. He just has a style that’s so unique. He lets the other coaches coach. It’s something that I would say I would find it to be hard to be emulated anywhere else because he’s just so unique in his approach. And his treatment, I mean, we’re all treated like family. He makes family very important. During the course of the season, he’s very, very strict on, you don’t miss anything that your kids have going on. I want you home at a decent hour. Like, he’s a very unique head coach. Obviously, everybody has their own style, but it’s just been such an honor to be part of his coaching staff. And obviously here, we’ve had some great coaches that I’ve gotten a chance to work with my D-line coach, Casey Rogers has been incredible to be a mentor and I worked really closely with him and Todd. It’s a great place to be right now and I’m very happy to be on the staff and learning and getting better and hopefully creating a winning culture with them.

Liz: That’s so lovely to hear. What does a typical day, I guess as an NFL assistant coach look like?

Lori: Sure. Well, now it’s not typical. If we were in regular times when we get back to regular times, the thing that I’ll always tell people about like a football schedule is that you lose track of what day, calendar day, it is because you’re on football days. So we have like day one, day two, and so on and so forth as you prepare to go into a game. So you do the same thing on day one every day one, no matter when in the season it is and so forth down the line. So I mean, I get into the office probably a little bit before 6:00 AM. There’s prep work to do for that day’s practice. There are scripts that are made up. It can vary anything from like helping to distribute scripts, helping to type up presentations, create presentations for my position coach, get them loaded into the system because we present to the guys. We meet as an entire team in the morning, we kind of lay out the game plan for the day.

We review plays that maybe didn’t go well or ones that did go well and it’s sort of like just everybody gets together and then we split up. Then we go to our defensive meeting, so we meet as a whole defensive unit, then we break out and you meet as position groups. You watch films, you talk about upcoming plays that need to be put in. I mean, those kinds of things; repeat, repeat, repeat. Then we have practice and then we come back in and we’ll watch practice on film as a coaching staff and then you watch practice again with the unit and then you go back and you do a walkthrough and it just kind of continues like that. Like the review, you do it, you review it, you review it, you make changes, you review it, you review it and kind of keep kind of rolling that forward throughout the day.

And then when the players leave, then you meet and you prepare for the next day or the next week or whatever is needed to be prepared for. You’re always working, hopefully, you’re always working ahead, but it’s that rolling kind of responsibility that repeats itself the whole way through. And we walk out of there on the heavier prep days, we’ll probably walk out of there 10:30, 11 o’clock, but normally it’s maybe like a 9:30, 10 o’clock, end of the day when we’re able to go home and then start the same time pattern all over again the next day. But it kind of never feels like work. Like, once you get into it, it’s just always football. So to me, it just never feels like work, it’s just part of like the prep phase of it. And you know, some guys love the prep phase and others don’t, but I think it’s part of it so I really enjoy all of it.

Liz: Sounds like you can possibly never switch off though. It sounds so hectic.

Lori: You find ways. By the time you get home at night, sometimes you’re just like really ready to catch a few hours of sleep and get up and do it the next day. But I think when you’re so anxious to like go to work and can’t wait for like get there, you don’t realize how much rest you’re not getting until you have like an off day or you have like a day when we have some time to kind of breathe a little bit and then you do try your best to catch up when you can.

Liz: And let’s say if you love your job, it doesn’t feel like work. So it’s a great position to be in.

Lori: It is. It absolutely is. It’s tough to find elsewhere. There’s always a difference and I’ll tell my son this all the time. There’s a difference between working because you have to and working because you want to. And if you can find the one two position or the one two career, then it’ll never feel like work and you can’t wait to get up in the morning to go back and do it again. And that’s definitely what it’s been here.

Liz: That’s amazing. And what are you most looking forward to as the season starts this time?

Lori: Yeah. So, I mean, obviously, we want the season to start, that’s the first thing, but I’m sure that we will, God’s willing, by then we should be ready to go. But our defensive line and our defensive front seven played lights out last year and we had some really good results. But the team overall, didn’t end obviously the way we wanted to. So, as a team, we’re looking to put a winning season together and, hopefully, take it a little bit further than that. We’ve got great talent on both sides of the ball and retain the whole front seven from last year. So just looking to see what more we can do, how much better we can get and then hopefully, take that and make it more of a winning culture here and just continue that going forward.

Liz: Absolutely. And obviously you’ve got some exciting stuff happening and you know, sign Tom Brady, got a new kit coming out. Like how does that kind of thing, I guess, impacts the locker room? Like it’s that kind of thing that it just happens or is it something that actually like, really amps the team up?

Lori: Yeah, so I think it’d be a little bit different if we were all together now and you could see like the palatable like difference of excitement in the group. But I will tell you that the one thing that impressed me most of all about the team last year is that even when we knew that we had been eliminated from making playoffs, none of the guys ever had an energy dip. Like going into a game, you know, like I have been around in not so much at the professional level, but I have been around players where when you’re eliminated and they just are like, you know, why bother? You know what I mean? Like they just kind of, they weren’t into it. They kind of checked out because they knew that they weren’t going to be in a playoff structure.  That never happened last year.

Like these guys couldn’t wait to get onto the field. They couldn’t wait to be around one another. They couldn’t wait to play with the rest of the team. And that spoke volumes for how much heart these guys had and how much they were just so willing to continue to be proud of taking effort onto the field. So I think that’s going to be amplified. 

Obviously, everybody’s excited about the new uniforms. The guys were really thrilled when they saw them, you know, that you’ve seen all the videos and things like that but I think that that’s truly like them. Like I don’t think anybody had to tell them to be that excited. Like, I really feel like that was a good move. And obviously, a Tom Brady coming, his leadership, his impact on the locker room is definitely going to be welcomed. I think the guys are so looking forward to having him there and seeing what changes, just his presence can bring about. I think we’re all waiting to see it, but we all know what’s going to happen. So it’s an exciting time.

Liz: Yeah, it’s a really exciting time. And yeah, as you say, it’s great when a team has that kind of culture where when things are down they are still up. So, I think as you say, that’s going to speak volumes to the season ahead.

Lori: Yeah, absolutely. And BA has a lot to do with that culture. As I said, I mean he leads so much by example, and the guys just really will attach to the way that he speaks to them, the way he treats them and they all want to play for him so badly. So, I credit him to a lot of that last year and can’t wait to see what the combination of him, plus the addition of veterans like Tom Brady and having our whole defensive front back is going to do for the team. I think it’s going to be positive the whole way around.

Liz: Absolutely. Honestly, I’m so excited for you guys.

Lori: Thank you. Me too.

Liz: Well listen, thank you so much for taking the time out to speak to me today. Best of luck to you and the team for the season ahead.

Lori: Thank you so much and take care. Be safe. I can’t wait to talk to you, hopefully, again, maybe to catch up after the season.

Liz: Absolutely.

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