Lori Locust – Interview

Lo Locust is an American Football Coach at her local team the Central Penn Capitals, who are a professional men’s indoor team based in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, USA.

Having enjoyed a very successful semi-professional playing career for Harrisburg Angels and Keystone Assault (women’s team), where she was voted MVP (Most Valuable Player) in 2007, she then made the transition into coaching. Remaining within the woman?s game, Coach Lo was appointed the Head Defensive Line coach at Keystone Assault, a position which she held for 4 seasons.

During this time her dedication, ability and undoubted talent for coaching brought her to the attention of the men’s game and in 2013, she was appointed Assistant Coach for Central Penn Piranha. To date, Lo continues to coach Central Penn Piranha and combines this role with being the Head Defensive Line Coach and Defensive Special Teams Coordinator for the Central Penn Capitals Men’s Arena (indoor) Team. Not content with just coaching, Coach Lo has delivered workshops focusing on the Defensive Line in terms of both positions and line play as well as being a published author, featuring for American Football based magazine Blitz.

The FCN had the honour of chatting with Lo about all things American Football and asked her thoughts on if she thinks the recent strides the sport made with women in leadership positions will transcend in to more opportunities for female coaches…

Harrisburg had a female team come to our area 12 years ago as I was about to turn 40. I saw it in the paper that morning and I can remember driving to the tryouts soon after. They were going to have full contact NFL rules women’s team and as I was driving I can remember thinking to myself on the way What are you doing?! There is going to be women there that are going to be great athletes, half your age, you’re crazy!  So I had to try and give myself a pep talk at the same time go, you will have a great time, what’s the worst that can happen?!

The idea of a women’s team was so brand new, you had women who had never had an opportunity to play but simply just loved the game of football. They just had a very natural and organic passion for football. At first, we didn’t know how to move in the equipment and we didn’t even have the basic skill set. Unfortunately we also had male coaches that looked at us as adult athletes and tried to coach us as adult athletes, but our football IQ was like a 6 year old!? So they didn’t coach us progressively and never explained why we needed to do something, they just told us what to do. They used all the technical terms and we were left kind of shell shocked!

The first 4 seasons that we had we never scored a touch down and we never won a game. But the camaraderie and the sense of team and having the opportunity to play football was just incredible! Some of my best friends are from that team, because we all bonded over the game of football. So that was really the only opportunity other than in the neighbourhood either playing or playing tag with the boys when we were kids. I had never had the opportunity to play properly before.

Yes, at 5 years old, somehow I chose the Pittsburgh Steelers to follow, at that point in the late 60’s they were a terrible team! I think the first year that I started paying attention to them, they won 1 game in 13! But I never switched and I am still a die hard Steelers fan. There was just something about the way they played, my thoughts always go back to watching football at that time. Back then, football was just football and not the business or the polished entertainment piece that it now is. My heroes were Jack Lambert, he took peoples head off when he tackled! I was always him when I was playing in the back yard! I have been to the stadium a couple of times and it is always a great experience to sit there and watch them play.

That is a very good question! I think about all the women I played with back in my playing days the team I played for was in the NWFA-National Women’s Football Association national league and there were 64 teams across the country and I believe at that time there may have also been 2 in Canada. They were full equipment, NFL rule franchises in the league back in 2007 (which was also my last full year of playing without injury that was the best year – that was my MVP year.) The league had at least 30 people x 64 teams all over the Country?.where did all of these grown women come from. And why did they want to sacrifice their bodies to do so. We had lumps and bumps and loved every minute of it! We even compared bruises and who had the best scrapes after the game. Did we all watch our fathers or our brothers play. Did we get to play in the neighbourhood as kids. Somehow that spark for the love of football started somewhere, and this new team allowed us to play but that didn’t come along until we were all adults.

I think now the opportunities are changing for young girls. We do see little girls in the youth leagues even though it’s only one or two, it’s not like 10 within the program. But they are accepted now where as before it was an oddity (which is why we couldn’t play as children).

The problem is when they get older, there are very few all girls teams, especially once you get past the youth leagues. If a girl wanted to play at high school level, they would have to be physically able to keep up with the boys. Now with all this legislation and with Title IX, I don’t think I have heard of any girls not being permitted to at least try out for a team, however they probably won’t be able to make it due to physicality. And a lot of teams would also look at a girl as a kicker rather than the role of a line backer etc. The semi-pro teams for women usually will start to take girls as young as 16 with parental permission but as I said, you do have a few years of gap where they cant play.

To me the game is won or lost on the line. We call it the trenches because whether you are an offensive lineman (which I have also coached) or a defensive lineman, within every play of the game there is contact. Whether its full on engagement with a player right across from you, or engagement when releasing, there is always contact. So being the defensive line coach is probably one of the best jobs because of the responsibility. We are the first level of defence against the team that is trying to advance the ball and make positive yardage. So I need my athletes to be quick, aggressive and able to go at 100 mph every play to be as physical as possible before they make a tackle. My job differs depending on the team that I am coaching; I only have 3. down lineman in arena but in high school or semi-pro I can have 4 or 5.

The coaching role is basically watching the players to make sure their assignments and alignments are correct based on the call by the defensive coordinator and to make sure they are performing their specific role properly.

It all happens so fast! The speed of the game at every level of competition increases. I got used to watching the women and then I went to men’s high school level and the game sped up. Then I went to semi-pro men and then the arena (professional) which is just ridiculously fast! You have to be able to look and check and look and check without watching the actual game, I just have to watch my players. Defensive is more exciting to me, I am in charge with the alignment of the players within the defensive call. I also have to tailor drills during practice that would reflect the plays we make in a game, like if we are blitzing, or doing any the of stunts etc. Even though these guys have done it probably 10,000 times, I still have to make these drill perfect. Not so much the drills but really watch and stress fundamentals.

It’s a lot of involvement, it’s film study, it’s player development, it’s constantly coaching and re-coaching and it’s a lot of observation. I yell when I need to, but I am at a place with my players right now where we can talk. Is that a distinction between male and female coaches, honestly, if I don’t have to yell then i’m not going to. If I have to get their attention or feel they are not listening to me, things might get a little heated!? Although I am 5″6 and they are 6 +, I am in charge! I try to not yell and always be calm but their are times when if needed, I will yell.

I don’t know that I would ever draw the challenges back to the fact that I am a woman, but players may disagree with what I am asking them to do. My team has some ex-professional players who have done this for years, so I may be asking them to do something that is different to what they have done in the past. They may challenge me on some of my decisions because of that but I have never had a player disrespect me or come at me saying hey your just a woman, what do you know?. They might have behind my back, but not to my face haha.

In the beginning at the high school level, it was a little bit tenuous, but now it is OK. I did get some comments like why is she here, what are her motives for being here?. People sometimes questioned how I earned my place there as a coach. They can think what they want though, as long as I don’t contribute to any type of behaviour or action that would make them think bad things of me then I am fine. It really doesn’t bother me, but I am sure there are a few people that haven’t been happy about my presence. I just pull my cap down lower and once they understand that I know what I am doing then we are good! But if I say something that didn’t make sense, or that showed that I have no idea what I am talking about, then I think it would have been challenged.

I don’t know if I would say I am a great coach, I am working towards it! To be respected in the coaching community, male or female is an honour. To have players that are willing to do what I ask them to do, like any other coach would expect, thats a great honour. I am always trying to learn and trying to get better, I am a work in progress!

That is an interesting question, because I have been around male coaches that haven’t played. I do think it depends on the position that you coach, because you can obviously watch video, you can study the plays, you can absolutely teach yourself the game by watching it and attending conferences, but I have to tell you that me coaching the tactics and plays that I do, is so close to my heart because I played them myself.

When I am coaching the defensive end and I am explaining some of the things I want them to see or look for, I can tell them this is what i did when I played and this is how I handled it. I feel that having been a player gives a male or female coach credibility and I think that?s important.

I have heard side comments like he’s never played? so I am very grateful I had the opportunity to play, because not only do I think if I hadn?t I wouldn’t be coaching right now?but also because thats a double whammy I’m a woman and I have never played the game!

I don’t think its too late, but I do feel that if it is to be done, it needs to be done right.

Jen Welter had some great connections with Bruce Arians (Head Coach at Arizona Cardinals who hired Jen) and went on to get the job. She obviously had a good fit within the team and of course great abilities as a coach.

Until 2 months ago, I had never heard about the Women’s NFL Summit and yet I am a female coach working pretty high in the ranks. If they are going to have something like that, they have to do a better job of reaching the women who are actually involved in the sport. To me, that summit looks more like a gesture that the NFL is doing to tick a box. Why only invite the high profile women when there are, 20, 50 or 100 of us across the country that are grinding it out with the local teams  what happens to us? Maybe none of us will ever get to league level (NFL), but that doesn’t mean they should ignore us! Give us something to shoot for, involve us, ask our opinions. They can’t just count on 3 or 4 women at the top to tell them what the fabric of the female coaching world in football is because they don’t speak for me or the other 100! We may face the same issues, but there may also be differences. I don?t feel as thought the summit was a big enough effort to involve more more women in football, I didn’t even know anything about it!

The NFL need to provide education, provide resources, a mentoring programme and then eventually you will end up with the right candidates for the jobs and have more female coaches involved.

When the Rooney Rule was introduced, there were already coaches of colour working in the league and the only reason they were not getting higher opportunities was because of the colour of their skin. They were already in coaching positions that were high profile enough for them to be considered for Head Coaching jobs, but they weren’t, so the intent of the Rooney Rule was to open up and force that interactions and interviews.

I don’t think I agree to use that rule for women, because women haven’t got themselves in those higher profile positions yet. But if we did already have those jobs and rule introduced to invite women to interview by merit, it might fit a little bit better for me.  I just don’t think the rule should be used to force interactions outside of being qualified and experienced.

I feel like it creates such a bad environment anytime you are forced to do anything that may not fit. Some women have already done it and got themselves in high profile positions such as Kathryn Smith (employed by the Buffalo Bills this year), and Amy Trask, former CEO (CEO for the Oakland Raiders NFL team), it?s just been very rare.

So we still need to earn our place and the NFL has to make us earn our places. Everyone else has to, so why shouldn’t we be able to? By earning it, you will get the best candidates. if you allow people to earn it regardless of race, creed, colour or gender, you should have the best people in those positions.

We are way way way way away from that, but I don’t think it’s impossible. This probably won’t be a popular answer. When I played football with women, most of us had children, most of us had full time jobs and most of us were married it was a family environment. And this is what happened if your kids got sick or needed to be somewhere, as Mom’s we weren?t able to show up to practice. I was not able to practice if my kids needed me and I would miss certain events with my team because of that. You can’t do that as a coach. The amount of time and commitment that it takes to be a Head Coach is insane. You literally have to breath, sleep, live, hours upon hours upon hours with your team taking part in meetings, scouting, coaching that is your life. I think it will take a very special woman at a certain point in her life to either be able to balance family life and be a Head Coach, or she will be at a point where she has had the family and her children are grown up. To me, that could be a very valid reason we wouldn’t have a female head coach. Also, you really would need a woman who has been in an organisation for a long time. Someone who has paid her dues she has been an Assistant coach, which in itself is hard because you have to have the flexibility to pick up and move to find the right coaching job for you. There isn’t a lot of money behind it, you really have to be committed to be accessible to football. It is going to take a very special woman coach to make that leap to that position. I don’t see that happening even in the next 10-20 years.

I would love to be an assistant coach in the league (NFL), that would be a dream come true! I am trying to learn more and make myself as knowledgeable as possible because short term I want to continue to do what I do in the local area but also I would like to be included within a big team in Europe