New Bucs GM Jason Licht sees team becoming contender soon
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Jason Licht welcomes the challenge of turning the Tampa Bay Buccaneers into a championship contender, and the team’s new general manager doesn’t believe it’ll take long to do it.
Without making any bold predictions or offering a specific timetable for success, Licht said Thursday that the Bucs already have a solid foundation in place and that he’s confident he and incoming coach Lovie Smith will form a "partnership" that will help the struggling franchise end its cycle of losing.
The Bucs have missed the playoff the past six seasons. They haven’t won a postseason game since the 2002 Super Bowl run that produced the club’s only NFL title.
"The GM and coach have to work together. It’s a partnership," Licht said, shrugging off a question about who’ll have final say of draft selections and other personnel moves — him as a first-time GM or Smith, who won three division title and one NFC Championship during a successful nine-year stint as a first-time head coach with the Chicago Bears.
"At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if you’re Ron Wolf, Bill Polian or Jason Licht. Our job is to serve the coach," the former Arizona Cardinals front-office executive said. "He’s got to tell us what kind of players he wants, and we’ve got to (provide) players who are the right fit. … It’s got to be a partnership. Otherwise, it doesn’t work."
Licht has worked with five different teams over 18 seasons, including the Cardinals, New England Patriots, Philadelphia Eagles, Carolina Panthers and Miami Dolphins. He spent the past two seasons serving a second stint with Arizona, where title in 2013 was vice president of player personnel.
Working alongside GM Steve Keim in Arizona, Licht helped overhaul of the Cardinals’ roster last offseason, resulting in a 10-6 record in 2013 — an improvement of five wins over the previous year.
He believes Tampa Bay, which lost the first eight games of 2013 and finished 4-12, can pull off a similar turnaround.
"There are building blocks in place here. We have a lot of core players on this team that I’m excited about," Licht said, mentioning defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, cornerback Darrelle Revis, linebacker Lavonte David, safety Dashon Goldson and running back Doug Martin by name.
"Our philosophy is going to be to build through the draft. That’s where we find our stars. That’s where we find the next generation. But also in the short term and long term we’re going to supplement our roster through free agency," the GM added. "But we’re going to look for value. We’re going to spend wisely."
Licht, who also interviewed for Miami’s GM opening this winter, met Smith a few years ago, when Licht was a candidate to become the Bears’ GM.
He said the presence of Smith, as well as the nucleus of talent assembled in recent years and ownership’s commitment to winning were all factors in his decision to leave Arizona.
"I’ve been a part of some very good teams, been to the Super Bowl four times. And besides winning the Super Bowl, this is the most memorable day I’ll have in my career," Licht said.
"I had a great job in Arizona, probably my favorite job I had in my career," he added. "It didn’t take long, maybe 20 minutes to figure out this was the perfect opportunity."
Bucs co-chairman Joel Glazer said Licht is an ideal fit for Smith and was the only candidate interviewed three times.
"He’s been around teams with a history of winning, so he has seen firsthand what it takes to build a winning organization, a winning team and work in an environment that produces winners," Glazer said.
Licht replaces Mark Dominik, who was 28-52 in five years as GM.