Bucs’ Licht has had a super season himself

by Gary Shelton on January 28, 2021

in general

Licht seems to have it figured out./CARMEN MANDATO

Thursday, 4 a.m.

A year ago, he was the Jameis Winston of general managers. Skilled, but wildly inaccurate. He could deliver for a while, and then he would botch a decision so badly you would wince. He had the look of a general manager who couldn't get a team to the end zone.

These days, however, he has graduated into being Tom Brady, smart and efficient. Frankly, he should be among those considered for general manager of the year.

Yeah, that's the kind of season that Jason Licht has had.

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Licht, who had 38 wins in his first six seasons, has had an impressive last 12 months. He traded in Winston for Brady. He brought in Rob Gronkowski, Leonard Fournette and Antonio Brown. He drafted Tristan Wirfs and Antoine Winfield.

And his team has reached the Super Bowl.

For Licht, it has been an impressive run. He is among the reasons the Bucs have finally found a quarterback, and a kicker. He is among the reasons that the team has had the depth to withstand the football season.

“It’s been a lot of fun in a very challenging year with everything that’s going on in the world [and] the pandemic," Licht said. "It’s kind of a strange feeling that, hopefully, we never have again. I look back at this time last year compared to where we’re at right now – and we still have unfinished business. Everybody is very focused on this game – I can assure you of that. But, just how far we came in a short amount of time in terms of our record and where we’re at.

" It’s just a feeling of being grateful for our ownership for giving us the resources that they have to keep this team together, to go out and get Tom [Brady], to trade for ‘Gronk’ (Rob Gronkowski) and make some other moves during the season when it would have been very easy for owners to pull the reins back a little bit for reasons that go along with being in a pandemic. But, [they] still wanted us to push forward because they desperately want this. They wanted to be in the Super Bowl and they want to win it like we all [do], but they want to do it for the fans. They love the excitement that the Tampa Bay fans have because of this – I think that’s what drives them. I’m just very grateful.”

Granted, the moves wouldn't have been possible if the Glazer family had gone to the hip. Another ownership group, or a different time for this one, and some of the additions would not have been made.

"I knew that I had a special staff [and] I knew that with B.A. (Bruce Arians) we had a rare coach," Licht said. "I said it at the beginning of the year – we have a rare coaching staff. Just for it to finally come together the way it did this year so far – it’s just a humbling experience. I’ve matured in my position over the last three [or] four years. I was able to learn from a lot of mistakes – and I had a lot – and I would always admit to those. Listening to my staff more, more inclusiveness and more teamwork, I think, has been the reason that it has come together and we’ve made better decisions in the last few years. Then, having a head coach like Bruce and the relationship that I have with him – I don’t know if it will ever be repeated. He is just such a unique guy and we have such a unique, strong bond. We get along well and we even argue well to get the result that we want and make the decisions that we’ve made. It’s been awesome.”

When Licht talks about his keys to the season, he goes to a place most wouldn't go -- the team's miserable loss to Chicago early in the yar.

“That game was a game that, probably in my career here – and we’ve had a lot of bad losses – that one was one that really stung the most, I think," Licht said. "Not only did we lose the way we lost with the penalties and things like that, we also lost Vita [Vea]. I was talking about this the other day with Bruce [Arians], actually. I said, ‘Gosh, that game still stings.’ He said, ‘That’s the best thing that happened to us. That game is the best thing that happened to us, looking back in retrospect.’ I think he’s right. We cleaned up our penalties, we were more disciplined and it just brought everybody together. It showed that we’re all human – everybody – and everybody needs to be held accountable. Everybody on the roster, everybody in the front office and everybody in the organization. It brought us closer together.”

Licht's decisions, of course, started with the decision to let go of Winston and sign Brady, who had a record of success with New England. The other moves followed.

“Naturally, I think you envision (such moves) every year in the offseason," Licht said. "You want to make some moves that hopefully get your team into the Super Bowl. I think when you sign a guy like Tom, it makes it a little more realistic. Just talking to him the days after we signed him, you could just hear and feel the confidence that he had. It made it a little bit more real. Now, you never take anything for granted. We had some highs and lows in the season where things at times looked a little grim. We needed to pull together, but we never lost our confidence. Looking back on some of the things we talked about, you do kind of want to pinch yourselves a little bit saying, ‘Wow, this really did happen.’ I can’t think of one particular time or one particular conversation that we had, but there were a lot among all of us.”

The trade for Gronkowski followed quickly.

“If you’re having a bad day, I suggest any of you just go spend a little time with Gronk," Licht said. "He just lifts you up just by being with him. He’s funny – we have conversations every day and I look forward to it. I tell my wife, ‘I can’t wait to go talk to Gronk at practice today.’ He’s just being himself, he’s very authentic, he loves the game and when it’s time to be serious, he’s very serious. There’s a lot of talk about what Tom [Brady] has done for this locker room – and it’s all warranted – but what Gronk has done for this locker room is equally as amazing. Just a great teammate and loves life.”

Licht then had a good draft with Wirfs, Winfield and Tyler Johnson.

“What I liked the most was that in the months leading up to the draft, we were working from home and I got a lot more work done," Licht said. "I think everybody else did too, without distractions that you have and things that come up during the day in the office. I was able to share the experience with my family, which was the most special part of the whole thing – [the part] that I’ll never forget, and they won’t either. We still talk about it to this day. I still have little sticky notes I’ve kept in the draft room that we setup in our house of my 7-year-old that would write down names of players that I should draft. Just little moments like that and sharing it.

"At the time we did draft Tristan [Wirfs], having everybody come in and get a big family hug. It was really cool. Now, the part that you don’t like is not being able to share that with your co-workers and your scouts, who work so incredibly hard – and they are right now as we speak, boots on the ground, getting ready for next year’s draft. I can’t say enough good things about them. I have a great staff. I talk a lot about the guys in house and they deserve tons of credit – more credit than I receive. But the scouts on the road are the lifeblood of the organization. I get a little emotional about it because that’s how I came up in the business and I know what they’re going through. To not have them there with you – it was a little bit of a gut punch, but being with the family was awesome.”

When the Bucs play the Chiefs in the Super Bowl, it will reunite Licht and Chiefs' coach Andy Reid. The two worked together in Philadelphia.

“I have the utmost respect for Andy," Licht said. "I didn’t work with him in the role that I’m in right now as the GM, but I imagine it would be very similar to the way that my relationship is with Bruce [Arians]. We had a great bond as I was the VP of Player Personnel and then Director of Player Personnel under him in Philadelphia. I think what I’ve learned the most from observing him is leadership. He’s a phenomenal leader and he was always quick to give credit to people and always quick to take the bullet. I really appreciated that about him. He’s just a great man and obviously an excellent coach – a Hall of Fame-worthy coach. I’m just very appreciative. I reflect on my time with him often.”

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