Ranking the key men in the front offices

by Gary Shelton on December 2, 2020

in general

BriseBois helped the Bolts win it all./(Tampa Bay Lightning/Scott Audette)

Wednesday, 4 a.m.

Yeah, but away from the ball, who's the best?

The current skid of the Tampa Bay Bucs notwithstanding, it has been a good year for sports in Tampa Bay. And we should know. At one point or the other, the Bucs, the Lightning and the Rays have been considered the worst team in their sport.

Remembering those days -- the days of Hugh Culverhouse and Vince Naimoli and Kokusai Green -- the present tense isn't so bad. Ownership is more solid. Highlights are more frequent. Fans in uniforms are more visible.

But away from Tom Brady and Victor Hedman and Randy Arozarena, who deserves your cheers?

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Of the men in the shadows, who does the best job?

A look at the key figures in the front offices of the Tampa Bay teams:

  1. Jeff Vinik, owner, Lightning: From the time he walked in the door, Vinik has been the perfect team owner, one who cares without interfering, one who hasn't backed down from his financial commitment, one who has cared about the guys in the seats. The Lightning won this year's Stanley Cup for a reason: Vinik set the tone.

2. Eric Neander, Vice President, Rays: You don't hear his voice a lot, but he has consistently won on a shoestring budget, figuring out a way for his Tampa Bay Rays to win without a lot of hitting. His team reached the World Series this year. Now we get to see if he can do it again.

3. Jon Cooper, coach, Lightning: When the Bolts won the Stanley Cup, Cooper became the mot accomplished coach in Tampa sports history. He did it while his team played in a bubble, without Steven Stamkos, against a difficult list of opponents.

4. Kevin Cash, manager, Rays: It's easy to criticize a baseball manager, because not all of his moves are going to work out. Cash is still getting grief over pulling Blake Snell in the team's final loss of the season, which is a clearer memory than him winning the AL Manager of the Year award. But on most nights, Cash has been pretty good, and he's won a lot of games against higher-priced teams.

5. Julien BriseBois, general manager, Lightning: Few had heard of BriseBois when he took over for Stevie Yzerman, but his moves at the trading deadline this year juiced the championship run. So far, the signs are that he can hold things together well.

6. The Glazer Family, owners, Bucs: There have been years when the Glazers have been criticized for not spending enough, or for not caring enough. But this season, they have approved every high-priced addition. It isn't their fault that the team hasn't executed as well as you would like.

7. Bruce Arians, coach, Bucs: A lot of "experts" are bashing his play-calling lately, but the play-calling never looks good on a team that has lost three of four games and fallen far short of expectations. Arians won't get grief from me for being honest about Tom Brady's short-comings, but the head coach is responsible for a team not playing up to its potential.

8. Stu Sternberg, owner, Rays: There was a time I would have put Sternberg at the top of this list. I like him, and he's won more games than you'd expect on that budget. But it's still a little puzzling how Stu was pushing Tampa to build him the Taj Mahal, and shortly afterward, he was saying his team couldn't survive here. There isn't a middle ground?

9. Jason Licht, general manager, Tampa Bay Bucs: Licht had a good off-season, but the Glazers have fired a lot of employees who spent money wildly beforehand. Licht has a litany of second-round misses in the draft, which could cost him eventually.

10. Jeff Scott, coach, USF: You can argue that Scott didn't get a fair shot in 2020 between a shortened recruiting season, the Covid virus and the talent on the roster. Still, he's going to have to show more in a hurry.

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