By Josh Bean
Alabama Media Group, Birmingham
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Lori Locust is breaking barriers as one of the new full-time football coaches for Birmingham’s professional football team.
Alabama Media Group, Birmingham
Birmingham Iron assistant coach Lori Locust began coaching football more than a decade ago, logging time at the high school, semi-pro and arena-league levels.
Now, she — yes, she — is finally a full-time football coach.
Locust serves on Tim Lewis’ coaching staff, working with defensive linemen, for Birmingham’s professional football team in the Alliance of American Football, which kicks off its inaugural season this spring.
What does Locust think about being a gender-bending trailblazer and one of the few female coaches in the male-dominated world of pro football?
“I don’t look at it that way,” the 54-year-old Locust said in a phone interview from Iron training camp in San Antonio, Texas. “When I went into this, it’s because I loved football, and opportunities kept being put in my path, thank God, and I was able to take advantage. For me, I’m looking at it as I’m a coach who happens to be a woman. I’m not a woman who happens to be a coach.
“And I do understand there’s responsibilities from a role-modelish standpoint,” she continued, “but it’s really odd to say it, but I’ve never thought about in that (trailblazer) perspective. I just want to be a coach. I just want coach and set a good example based on my knowledge and have a good reputation so that when other coaches ask about me, I get the same favorable response a man would in the same position.
“I just want to be a good D-line coach, and everything else falls into place after that.”
Locust and the Iron open the iaugural AFF season on Sunday, at 3 p.m. against the Memphis Express at Legion Field.
Iron head coach Tim Lewis — a longtime NFL assistant and former NFL player — said he’s been impressed with Locust.
“She’s a coach, and she does a fantastic job with the players,” Lewis said. “They don’t look at her as anything other than the way they look at the head defensive line assistant. All I know is this — when you can tap into anyone, regardless of race, gender, origin or any of that nonsense, when you can tap into a vast market of intelligence and hard-working, dedicated and committed people, more power to you, and I think we’re stronger because of it.”
Three females worked in the NFL during last season and one worked on an NCAA Division I coaching staff, and an NFL record 10 women worked coaching jobs or training camp internships in 2018.
Locust was among the 10, working as an intern for the Baltimore Ravens during training camp last year after applying for the Bill Walsh Diversity Fellowship, which the NFL created to promote and improve the league’s racial and gender diversity.
“First off, Lo knew what she was doing and helped reinforce what other coaches told us,” former Daphne star and Ravens defensive lineman Michael Pierce told PennLive. “But her energy was crazy. You know, those training camp days are long, but she was out there with high energy, yelling and smiling and pushing us.”
The Ravens internship eventually led to the Locust getting hired by the Iron this spring.
Unlike most coaches, Locust lacks the luxury of a long playing career. She said she played on a state championship basketball team and participated in track and field in high school at Susquehanna Township (Pa.). That’s also the school where she coached high school football.
A lifelong love of football led Locust to begin playing in a women’s professional league at age 40, logging time at linebacker and defensive end before a knee injury ended her career and sent her into coaching.
“My passion and my drive became coaching,” Locust said. “I kind of came to that crossing the road, and that’s where I decided to try to pursue this full time.”
Without a playing career to fall back on, Locust said she taps into her unique background to find ways to motivate and mentor.
“All of us have different styles,” she said. “I think you do have to find ways to motivate people or players. You have to find what that trigger is. You have to know how to draw that out of them. You have to know how to get the best out of all of the players, and this player’s level of best might not be the same as the next player’s level. But coordinating both of them together will help you win and help them succeed.
“To be brutally honest with you, I think it also comes down to being a parent,” said Locust, who has two sons. “You do have to find ways constantly to support, to motivate, to lead by example, and hopefully I bring that into position. I’ve never had a problem — knock on wood — with a player or a coach. The programs have brought me have never introduced me or treated me in any other manner than being a coach. So, the respect and the bar are set when I walk in the door.”
For the first time, Locust can now fully commit to coaching.
One son lives in California and the other is in college. Coaching for the Iron is full-time, while all of her other coaching stops were done while she worked a separate full-time job.
AL.com correspondent Evan Dudley contributed to this report.