Editor’s note: The interview below took place in 2014.
Times are a changing at One Buc Place. The Buccaneers have been rebranded from top to bottom to the tune of a new head coach, new logo, new uniforms, new star players and a new face in the front office: Jason Licht. In one of his first moves as new head coach this January, Lovie Smith called Licht at the Senior Bowl in Birmingham, Alabama, and asked him to take over as general manager.
Just the fifth general manager in team history, Licht (pronounced LIGHT) gets a chance to prove his worth in his first GM position. His resume certainly speaks for itself. He played college football at the University of Nebraska and Nebraska-Wesleyan University, and over the last 18 years he’s spent time as a coach and scout for the Miami Dolphins, Carolina Panthers, Philadelphia Eagles, New England Patriots and Arizona Cardinals.
Licht helped build the rosters of four Super Bowl contending teams, including the Patriots 2001 championship team. He most recently was the vice president of player personnel in Arizona, where he helped guide the Cardinals to a 2008 Super Bowl appearance.
We sat down with the new South Tampa resident one week after the Bucs mandatory June mini-camp to discuss his expectations for the upcoming season.
STM: Why was Tampa the right fit for you?
JL: To be honest with you, at first I wasn’t sure if it would be until I met with the ownership. But let me back up — Lovie. He initially made it very enticing, because who wouldn’t want to work with Lovie — the ownership I had never really met or talked to before. We went through three rounds of interviews, and they were everything that I was hoping that an ownership group would be for a first-time GM — committed to winning, resources and just very excited about their football team.
STM: You’ve worked with some of the greatest coaches of the last two decades (including Don Shula, Bill Belichick, Andy Reid, Pete Carroll and Ken Whisenhunt). What was your relationship with Lovie before this job became available?
JL: The only experience I had with him was when I was a finalist for the Chicago Bears GM job a couple years ago. Lovie wasn’t making the decision on who the GM would be, but they asked us to meet with Lovie in the process. I talked to him for about an hour, an hour and a half during that process and we kind of clicked. That was the first experience, and I hadn’t talked to in between. When I met him here during the interview process, it was the first time I’d talked to him since.
STM: You’re just the fifth general manager in team history. Have you given much thought to that?
JL: It’s pretty cool. It shows you that it’s a very prominent position. And I’m fortunate to have it. But I don’t plan on there being a sixth GM for a while.
STM: In your acceptance speech, you said the team would build through the draft. You’ve had tremendous success in the past with teams like the Patriots drafting players like Tom Brady and Deion Branch. Is there a player in this draft who could rise to that level?
JL: That’s a tough question because that’s a benchmark that any player would want to reach with Tom Brady. That’s a special player. I don’t want to put pressure on anybody to be the next Hall of Fame player, but we do have high expectations for all of our picks. We’re equally excited about all of them. I do think Mike Evans, no question, was the right for this city and this franchise as the No. 1 pick. He’s going to make an immediate contribution, and he’s going to be a great player for years to come.
STM: Are there any players on the current roster that you scouted and missed out on in years past?
JL: Gerald McCoy, Lavonte David — in Gerald’s case we never had a chance to get him because he was drafted too high. Lavonte David, we knew he’d be a good player, but we didn’t know he’d be an impact rare player that he is. I couldn’t be more excited to be on the same team with Lavonte with our Nebraska ties. Gerald has Oklahoma ties, and usually you don’t like those guys, but I’ll make an exception for him.
STM: Where do you see bright spots on the team, and where do we need help?
JL: We’re going to have a very good defense. We’re going to have some depth. We’re going to have some high energy, big motor guys on the front seven and in our secondary. Offensively, we have a lot of depth at receiver. We have a lot of guys competing for playing time. With the addition of Mike Evans, that’s surprisingly a position that provides us with a lot of depth. We still have some time, but we need a couple players to step up on the offensive line. The cream needs to rise to the top and see who can become the starting guards.
STM: What’s the most important thing you need to turn the team around?
JL: The team is feeding off the fans right now. And the fans in this city are so excited, and the team feels it. We need the fans to continue to show their optimism and excitement, and the team needs to continue to have the mentality that they have right now that we can win this thing.
STM: Do you feel like that Bucs can be that contending team?
JL: Absolutely. There’s an energy here that I’ve only felt with teams that have gone very far or won the Super Bowl.
STM: Who’s your favorite Buccaneer of all time?
JL: There are several. When I think of the Bucs, I think of defense. I think of those years with John Lynch, Ronde Barber, Warren Sapp and Simeon Rice — I know I’m going to leave someone out. I’ve always been a big fan of Ronde Barber. I like the underdog, and he was the underdog. And now he’s the greatest of all time.
STM: How’s your family adjusting to life in South Tampa?
JL: Great. I came down here January 21. My family didn’t move here until last week. We fly back and forth, so it’s not like I didn’t see them for five months. But they came down here full time last week.
STM: And you’re living in South Tampa?
JL: Yeah, we bought a place in Beach Park and we love it.
STM: Have you had a chance to check out the city?
JL: Yeah, we have. We love 717 South, that’s our restaurant right now. We love the owner there, Michael Stewart. He’s helped us out a lot. The kids loved the Glazer Children’s Museum. We’ve been to St. Pete Beach. We’ve gotten around a bit. We still need to hit Busch Gardens and all that, but it seems like there are a lot of things to do. South Tampa seems like a very family town.
STM: I know you don’t get a lot of free time, but when you do get it what do you like to do with your wife and kids?
JL: Beach, swim, hike; anything that has to do with the outdoors with the kids.
You know what’s interesting about this city, just from an outside perspective, you always saw empty seats in the stands for the last couple years. I didn’t know the town was as passionate as they are about the Bucs. We came here and played last year, and there were a lot of empty seats. But you can’t walk one block without someone talking about the Bucs. With Lovie as the coach here, I have no doubt that we’re going to win and turn this around. And once we do, this is a sleeping giant. I can see this being like it was in the early 2000s again. It’s pretty cool.