New Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht had his first press conference in Tampa Bay on Thursday, and followed that up with an interview with the Buccaneers beat writers. PewterReport.com’s Scott Reynolds analyzed Licht’s initial meeting with the media and came away with five things that stood out.
1. Licht Is Smith’s Hand-Picked General Manager In Tampa BayMuch like how former Buccaneers general manager Bruce Allen was hand-picked by Jon Gruden to replace Rich McKay in 2004 due to their previous working relationship in Oakland, new Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht has been hand-picked by head coach Lovie Smith. It’s rare that an organization hires a head coach before its general manager, but that was the case this year in Tampa Bay because the Glazers had a laser-like focus on signing Smith, who had a great reputation.
The Glazers wanted to make sure that Smith got a strong personnel man that he could work with, and Smith offered up Licht as one of the candidates because he had sat in on a meeting with Licht when he was interviewing for the Chicago general manager position in 2012 that ultimately went to Phil Emery. Smith sat in on the general manager interviews with the Glazers and had input into which candidate was ultimately hired.
“I had gotten the chance to sit with him in that same role up in Chicago,” Smith said. “I like what he said then. It’s funny how things turn out. When we came down here we got the chance to spend more time. Everything we brought up we discussed and we’re on the same page. Jason got a chance to meet with Bryan and Joel and it kind of took off from there. We like the direction we’re going.”
The difference between the perception that Allen was Gruden’s lapdog in Tampa Bay when it came to personnel from 2004-08 and the relationship Smith and Licht are bound to have is that there will be some healthy debates and that Licht will not be Smith’s “yes man.”
“No, he’s not a ‘yes man,’” Smith said. “We were looking for the best possible general manager we could get. A guy that knows personnel that has been in a lot of situations. As Jason said, his first year with [Arizona general manager] Steve Keim last year he got to sit in. He has a track record on personnel. You mentioned the coaches he’s worked with. Believe me, we took our time, which was the plan all along. We researched, and in the end, it was an easy decision.
“There were a lot of good candidates that I talked to and we talked to. All had a good plan, but I think you kind of know when it’s right for whatever reason. From the initial interview there were a lot of things we have in common with how we saw going forward and putting a successful team on the field. Every time we talked it just confirmed it more.”
2. Smith Likely Has Final Decision-Making Authority Over PersonnelThe big question that was repeatedly asked to both Smith and Licht was who had final word when it comes to personnel decisions, whether it is control over the 53-man roster or draft day decisions. It was previously reported that Smith has final say over personnel, and that was one of the stipulations on becoming the Buccaneers head coach. What was said at Licht’s press conference did nothing to change that notion, but both men said too much is made out of who has the ultimate authority over the roster.
“We make decisions,” Smith said. “We went through the entire process and that’s how it was portrayed to everyone that came through. As Jason said, you don’t wait until draft day to argue about things. You’re going to discuss everything from who’s on the roster to why certain guys are playing to who we are going to pick, to what if we are going to trade? All of those things – they are group discussions. We are going to pull on any and all knowledge we can get. Yes, I do, to answer your question, but I think too much is made out of that. We’re going to be making decisions.”
Licht concurred, and said that there won’t be any draft day arguments in the Bucs’ war room.
“To me, that’s easy – on draft day, we’ll have all the answers figured out,” Licht said. “We’ll know who we’re taking. There will be no arguments on draft day. Going in to the draft – arguments are healthy. I’ve had arguments with every coach that I’ve worked for, and every GM. Some of them would be happy to tell you about them, I’m sure. We’ll have arguments on players. I’m going to plead my case. I told Lovie, during the interview process, that if he doesn’t like a player, I’m going to be in his office 20 times trying to prove why my player, that I like, is the guy that we need, and I’m sure he’ll do the same thing. If we don’t come to an agreement, the answer is easy, it lies in itself – we won’t take that player.”
Bucs co-chairman Joel Glazer said he doesn’t envision any problems over personnel or power struggles because both men know each other, get along and share the same vision.
“You always hear about the power thing, and I always say, listen, they have to work together. If any organization gets to a point where we are pulling contracts out and reading fine lines, we have serious problems and that is not an environment that you can win in. You see any success in an organization and they’re working together. Each person has his say, and I’ve never seen it get to that point.”
3. Licht’s Role As G.M. Will Be Vastly Different From That Of Dominik’sOne of the more surprising revelations from Licht’s meeting with the Bucs beat writers after his initial press conference was the admission that he is strictly a personnel guy and a talent evaluator. He suggested that he would not be too involved in the salary cap and negotiating contracts with agents.
“During the interview I made sure when it came up for me to ask questions I made sure that I can focus on football,” Licht said. “Yeah, I’ll be advised on [the salary cap and contracts] but I’m a meathead that likes to watch football. I’m not going to try to be something I’m not. If you call me a scout I won’t be upset.”
Dominik’s role as Tampa Bay’s general manager from 2009-13 was multi-faceted. He did a lot of community relations work, a lot of media appearances and interviews, salary cap management and contract negotiations with agents, in addition to evaluating personnel and running the scouting department.
Currently, Mike Greenberg is in place as the team’s director of football administration and the team’s resident capologist. Licht will be evaluating all of Tampa Bay’s front office employees during the offseason to see which ones are worth keeping and for which roles he would like to bring in someone else he knows from around the league to work with.
“We’ll figure that out in the short term here,” Licht said when asked who would handle the salary cap and contract negotiations moving forward. “I have a plan in place already, but I just want to think about it a little bit. I just walked in the door.
“It’s a really small fraternity, as you know. I know everybody here. I’ve had some kind of dealing with them at some point, whether I’ve worked with them or been on the road with them and have some idea. But you never know until you work with somebody, and I think I’m going to give them the opportunity to show me that they will fit in what we’re doing, and if I fit for them. So I was part a holdover at one point in New England. When Pete Carroll got let go and Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli came in, they kept me and we meshed, and I ended up getting promoted a couple of times. If it weren’t for that opportunity I might not be here today. So I want to give everyone an opportunity.”
4. The Glazers Wanted A Stronger Personnel Man To Get Better PlayersThe hiring of Licht as the team’s general manager solely due to his strength as a talent evaluator and draft scout is a statement by the Glazers that they fired Dominik because the team did not acquire enough talent through the draft.
“The number one thing we were looking for in our new general manager was somebody that was all about football – scouting and a strong football background,” Glazer said.
“It was our view, and Lovie’s view, collectively, that we wanted someone whose background was really strong in football. [He’s] just a good evaluator, a good scout, and has a strong background. At the end of the day, it’s all about getting the right players, who fit on this team to get on the field.”
For all of the good players Dominik hit on in his drafts with the Buccaneers from Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, Pro Bowl running back Doug Martin, All-Pro linebacker Lavonte David and quarterback Mike Glennon among others, there were several blown premium picks, including former second-round picks, such as defensive tackle Brian Price and wide receiver Arrelious Benn in 2010, and defensive end Da’Quan Bowers in 2011, and third-rounders, such as cornerback Myron Lewis in 2010 and ultimately quarterback Josh Freeman, a first-round pick in 2009.
Licht described his philosophy as a build-through-the-draft kind of personnel guy and that he favored signing value free agents rather than go out and spend top dollar to import Pro Bowlers from other teams, as Dominik did with the signings of wide receiver Vincent Jackson, left guard Carl Nicks, free safety Dashon Goldson, and essentially trading for cornerback Darrelle Revis.
“Our philosophy is going to build through the draft – that is where we find our stars, that is where we find the next generation,” Licht said. “But also in the short term and long term, we are going to supplement our roster through free agency. But we are going to look for value. We are going to spend wisely. The better teams in the NFL that compete in the playoffs year after year are teams that draft the best and that is what Lovie, myself and our staff is going to do.”
This is a radical shift in philosophy at One Buccaneer Place was likely done for two reasons. First of all, Licht is right, and the Glazers know it. The Buccaneers had success in the past during the Tony Dungy era of drafting well and building a consistent playoff team through the NFL Draft. And secondly, for all of the money the Glazers spent on the premium players Dominik acquired, the Bucs had just four wins to show for it in 2013.
5. Smith Doesn’t Mind That Licht Has Never Been A G.M. BeforeThe fact that Licht doesn’t have any prior general manager experience didn’t bother the Glazers or Smith. The 42-year old Licht did get some valuable experience in doing more than evaluating talent while working with Cardinals general manager Steve Keim in Arizona.
“Last year was a tremendous experience for me,” Licht said. “I had a little bit of background in the past. Of course, you have to know the parameters of your salary cap and how you can fit things under it, but last year being Steve’s first year as a general manager – and promoting me two days later to his vice president – I got a front-row seat to all the ups and downs of a first year GM’s experience … It really makes you realize that it’s not always about signing the best players – it’s about signing the right players for your team. That experience, I think, was probably one of the best experiences I could have had to put me in this role today.” Licht has worked with the likes of Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli in New England; Nick Casario, Andy Reid and Tom Heckert in Philadelphia; as well as Keim, who helped guide the Cardinals to a 10-win season last year in Arizona. Licht’s track record of being a part of four teams that went to the Super Bowl was enticing to Smith.
“I think everybody has a first,” Smith said. “All you can do is prepare, and what better way to prepare than by being on successful programs like that. I think this is a natural, next step for Jason, and we plan on winning a lot of games together.”
Scott Reynolds is in his 23rd year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds enjoys giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]
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