Buccaneers’ Maral Javadifar hopes women coaching in Super Bowl becomes norm

Maral Javadifar doesn’t want to be news. At some point, she hopes women coaching in the Super Bowl aren’t unique.

On Sunday, the former The Mary Louis Academy and Pace University basketball star will become one of three women to be on a coaching staff in the big game when her Buccaneers face the Chiefs at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla. Javadifar, Tampa Bay’s assistant strength and conditioning coach, will join 49ers offensive assistant Katie Sowers from last season and current Buccaneers assistant defensive line coach Lori Locust.

“I feel extremely blessed to have this opportunity and I know that coach ‘Lo’ and [game official] Sarah [Thomas] feel the same way,” Javadifar said over Zoom on Monday. “I do look forward to the day when it’s no longer newsworthy to be a woman working in the pros or making the Super Bowl for that matter. I hope we get to the point where all people are affording equal opportunity to work in professional sports.”

Opportunities being denied to women is something the 30-year-old Flushing native learned from her mother Mojgan Mobasheri, who fled war-torn Iran in 1984 after many women’s rights were taken away. Watching her mother and father grind away as immigrants in the U.S. with “a smile on her face every day” so Javadifar and her brother could pursue their passions always stuck with her.

Buccaneers Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach Cory Bichey (l. to r.), Head Strength and Conditioning Coach Anthony Piroli and Maral Javadifar on the field after the NFC Championship game.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

“She shared stories with me growing up about the lack there of opportunities that she had,” Javadifar said. “It’s quite the journey for her to not be able to attend sporting events and not have as many opportunities as I do.”

The Buccaneers and head coach Bruce Arians made the decision to add women to his staff when he took over two years ago. Arians said “it was time for that door to be knocked” and all players really want to hear from a coach, no matter who they are, if they “are you gonna make me better.”

Hiring Javadifar and Locust made Tampa Bay the first NFL team with two full-time women coaches.

“The ones we have are overly qualified,” Arians said.

Anthony Piroli, the Bucs’ head strength and conditioning coach, said Javadifar easily stood out from all the candidates the team considered at the time. A strength coach with a physical therapy background — a rarity in the NFL — was something he was specifically looking for.

“We spoke to some good people, but it wasn’t even close in my eyes,” Piroli said. “I think after the phone interview I definitely thought that she was the best person we spoke to. But once we interviewed in person it was a done deal in my opinion. She just really covered all the bases I want someone on our strength staff to cover and then some.”

Javadifar, who had not worked specifically in football previously, owns a bachelor’s degree in molecular biology, a doctorate in physical therapy and spent more than four years as a professional in the field. Her pursuing the field was rooting in rehabbing a torn ACL she suffered in high school.

Javadifar said there needs to be more organizations and head coaches willing to make opportunities available to women and advises those seeking them to “continue to separate yourself from the majority.”

Maral Javadifar works with nose tackle Ndamukong Suh before a football game in 2019.

It took her two or three days after celebrating the NFC Championship won at Lambeau Field to reflect on how far she had come. She now gets a chance to be part of a Super Bowl-winning team, an experience she hopes more and more women can soon experience.

“I’m grateful for a head coach and organization that is willing to open up their doors, not because of my race or my gender or any of that,” Javadifar said. “I do hope that my story does help other people similar to myself and continue to push forward and create those opportunities for themselves.”

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