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Super Bowl 2021: Diversity a cornerstone of Bruce Arians' team-building philosophy

Tom Brady of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers talks

Tom Brady of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers talks to offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich against the Green Bay Packers during the NFC Championship game at Lambeau Field on January 24, 2021. Credit: Getty Images/Dylan Buell

Many organizations pay lip service to promoting diversity in the workplace.

Bruce Arians takes action.

The Tampa Bay coach has long believed that adding different voices to achieve a common goal is not only helpful in building a football team, it’s necessary. The more diversity of people and opinions, the better equipped you are to find success.

"Inclusivity and diversity are great ways to build a team," said Arians, who has reached his first Super Bowl as a head coach, leading the Bucs to an 11-5 regular-season record and three straight playoff wins to face Kansas City in Sunday’s Super Bowl LV. "The more input from different types of voices, the better output you get."

It is therefore no accident that the Bucs have one of the most diverse coaching staffs and front offices in the NFL. While the league has promoted the virtues of diversity and prodded owners to expand their thinking when it comes to coaching and executive hires, the NFL continues to see a lack of progress in a league where 70% of the players are African American.

But Arians believes expanding opportunities to a broader range of people can lead to greater success. And while no one should ignore the fact that Tom Brady’s arrival in 2020 was the single biggest factor in the Bucs’ Super Bowl run, Arians wants you to know that the team’s infrastructure has provided unquestionable benefits.

"A player is going to ask a coach: How are you going to make me better?" Arians said this week. "He doesn’t really care if the answer comes from a male, a female, Black, white, brown, who? Just help me be better."

Arians has purposely created an environment where diversity is a central theme, and not simply to offer opportunities for those who might otherwise be overlooked. If you work under the 68-year-old coach, you need to be good at what you do.

The Bucs were the NFL’s only team in 2020 to have Black coaches at all three coordinator positions: Byron Leftwich on offense, Todd Bowles on defense and Keith Armstrong on special teams.

The lessons he learned at an early age growing up in York, Pennsylvania, after moving from Paterson, New Jersey, impacted him for a lifetime.

"The best school teachers I ever had were all different races, all different ethnic groups and male and female," he said. "So if you can teach, you can coach."

And not just men; Arians has hired women for key roles on his staff, and believes that there will one day be a female head coach in the NFL. Last year, 49ers offensive assistant Kate Sowers became the first female coach in Super Bowl history; this year, Maral Javadifar (assistant strength and conditioning coach) and Lori Locust (assistant defensive line coach) of the Bucs will add to that legacy.

"I do look forward to the day that it’s no longer newsworthy to be a woman working in the pros, or making the Super Bowl, for that matter," Javadifar said. "I hope we get to a point where all people are afforded equal opportunities to work in professional sports, because there are a lot of great, qualified coaches out there."

The Bucs’ front office also includes scouting assistant Carly Helfand and director of football research Jackie Davidson, who previously worked in the Jets’ front office.

"It was time for that door to be knocked down and allow women, because they’ve been putting in the time [and] they’re very qualified," Arians said. "The ones that we have are overly qualified. As far as race, that was not by design; those are the best coaches I know."

Bucs general manager Jason Licht said Davidson has been a major addition to the team’s front office. "She is as advertised — brilliant," Licht said. "Hiring her goes along with the entire philosophy here. Bruce loves diversity and the Glazers [the family that owns the Bucs] have a philosophical view of inclusiveness of all races and all genders in the organization. It just so happens that she is African American, but we hired her because of her resume and what she brings to this organization. Hiring her made us a smarter organization immediately."

It is a model upon which the NFL hopes others will follow. A Super Bowl championship would only reinforce those benefits.

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