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FAB 1. Licht Has Unprecedented Level Of Trust From Glazers
Congratulations are in order for general manager Jason Licht for getting his second contract extension from the Glazers. After his four-year deal expired in 2018, the Bucs owners picked up his fifth-year option last season.
I’ve already analyzed Licht’s personnel record in a previous SR’s Fab 5 column, and you can decide for yourself if you like the free agents and draft picks he added this offseason or not, and whether his contract extension was warranted or not.
Instead, let’s examine some facts.
Licht became just the second Bucs general manager to sign an extension under the Glazers’ watch – the other being Bruce Allen signing a three-year extension with one year remaining on his contract in 2008. Allen’s contract extension coincided with Jon Gruden’s three-year extension – and we all remember how that ended.
Despite the contract extensions, Allen and Gruden were fired after missing the playoffs in 2008 after going 9-7 for a second straight season – and paid handsomely by the Glazers for three more years not to run the Bucs organization anymore.
When Licht was able to lure head coach Bruce Arians out of retirement in January to replace Dirk Koetter, the Glazers signed him to another five-year contract, which is a four-year deal with a one-year club option in 2023. Arians signed a similar contract with Tampa Bay – four years with a one-year club option – so the futures of the two men are synced up.
Right or wrong – this makes Licht the longest contracted general manager since Rich McKay, who occupied that role from 1994-2003.
For some fans who look at the current roster and see a talented team that has underachieved in recent years and believe in Licht’s vision for the Bucs, they are either relieved he’s still at the helm or rejoicing.
For those fans that look at Tampa Bay’s dismal 27-53 record since 2014 and blame Licht, his extension was disheartening.
There might be a perception that Licht is on his third head coach right now with Arians, but it’s actually his second. Former Tampa Bay head coach Lovie Smith actually hired Licht to be his general manager in 2014. After seeing Smith produce just eight wins in two years without much hope for the future, Licht did the right thing and fired Smith.
There was some logic in promoting Koetter to the head coaching role in 2016 after he served as the offensive coordinator in 2015 and helped rookie quarterback Jameis Winston and running back Doug Martin make the Pro Bowl. Licht and the Glazers wanted continuity for Winston and the offense, which flourished statistically under Koetter’s three-year reign as head coach, especially the passing game.
But Koetter’s undoing was his questionable hires on his coaching staff, including offensive line coach George Warhop, defensive line coach Jay Hayes, who was fired after two years, and defensive coordinator Mike Smith, who was fired in his third season after the modern game of football had clearly passed him by. I called for both the firing of Hayes and Smith, and in both cases, the team did the right thing.
Koetter got off to a good start and came close to making the playoffs in his first season as head coach, going 9-7, which was the only the second time in Bucs history that a head coach had a winning record in his first year. The other was Gruden, who went 12-4 in 2002 and took the Bucs to its first and only Super Bowl victory.
But the team’s shortcomings on defense, and injuries and inconsistency from Winston, as well as a struggling ground game, doomed Koetter’s tenure in Tampa Bay.
Licht’s decision to fire Koetter and move on after back-to-back 5-11 seasons was certainly the right call.
What this extension does suggest is that the Glazers trust Licht more than they’ve ever trusted any Bucs general manager they have employed. Even more than McKay, who helped construct a Super Bowl champion team but could not appease Gruden or get a long with him well enough to stay in Tampa Bay.
Even more than Allen, who was the general manager for Bucs teams that posted three winning seasons and two division titles in his five years in Tampa Bay despite managing the salary cap mess that McKay left for him in 2004. Certainly more than Mark Dominik, who was the first general manager they actually hired on their own after inheriting McKay, as Gruden essentially hired Allen, who he knew from his days in Oakland.
Licht is not nearly as accomplished as McKay or Allen, as he has not presided over a playoff team in his first five years in Tampa Bay nor has he won enough games, yet he’s poised to be on the Glazers’ payroll for a decade.
The Glazers trusted Licht when he said it wasn’t the talent that he signed and drafted – and that it was Koetter and his assistant coaches instead.
The Glazers trusted Licht when he said he could get Arians out of retirement and that Arians’ staff would be full of quality assistant coaches, including some in defensive coordinator Todd Bowles and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich that could be Arians’ eventual successor.
So far, many of Licht’s underwhelming draft picks that have been labeled “busts” by some in the media and some in the fan base – including cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, outside linebackers Noah Spence and Devante Bond, running back Ronald Jones II and right guard Alex Cappa among a few others – have looked like completely different players in training camp and the preseason under Arians’ watch – or at least are beginning to look like competent players.
Maybe Licht’s right about the talent and the coaching.
Maybe Licht wasn’t crazy to draft another kicker in Matt Gay, the team’s fifth-round pick, who has looked good in camp and the preseason thus far, and is the current favorite to win the job.
That’s what the Glazers are counting on – that Licht will finally have the right coaching staff to develop some of these underperforming players, and that his draft record will suddenly look a heck of a lot better as a result.
They’re also counting on Licht’s franchise quarterback, Winston, who was the No. 1 overall pick in 2015, to be developed by Arians and Leftwich and deliver the Bucs to the playoffs this year, too.
It doesn’t help Licht that the Bucs play in the rough and tumble NFC South division, and that the NFL schedule makers royally screwed Tampa Bay and have even admitted it.
The Glazers are impatient. They want to win now. That’s why of the last four head coaches, no one has lasted more than three years at the helm.
Everyone wants to see the Bucs return to the playoffs – it’s been since 12 years since they last made the postseason in 2007 – and Licht is at the top of that list.
Licht has gained an unprecedented level of trust from the Glazers, but history shows that their faith and trust in general managers and coaches can turn on a dime depending on wins and losses – regardless of the money owed or the length of the contract.
At age 66, Arians was brought in to win now. He said at his initial press conference he’s not here to rebuild. Arians also said that there was no reason to rebuild – that there was enough talent on the Bucs roster to win this year.
No one in Tampa Bay needs to win now more than Licht does to keep the faith.