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Martin Fennelly Columns

Fennelly: No matter who's in charge, Bucs must get it right

Published:   |   Updated: January 24, 2014 at 06:56 AM

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TAMPA — So, who's in charge?

The Bucs' GM, Jason Licht, began laughing.

He thought he'd just answered that at his first news conference.

Really, he hadn't.

So, who's in charge?

“I'm married,” Lovie Smith said with a smile. “If you ask my wife MaryAnne who has the final say … we make decisions.”

Yeah, but who's in charge?

Lovie. That's who.

It is described, by the coach and the GM, as a “partnership.”

Frankly, at this sorry point in Bucs history, these two men could take turns, or spin a bottle, or go to the Ouija board so long as they arrive at one decision — and get it right.

But who's in charge?

This isn't Lovie Belichick, right?

Certainly, that's not how Smith or the new GM described it after Licht was introduced as the fifth GM in Bucs history. There have been more U.S. presidents in that time.

In the name of Dubya, who's the decider here?

Does Lovie want to buy all the groceries before he cooks the meal, straight from the Parcells Culinary Arts School? Or does the new GM pick the draft and free agent grocery list?

“Every place that I've worked, especially successful teams in those eras, the GM and the head coach have to work together,” Licht said. “It's a partnership. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter if it's Ron Wolf, Bill Polian or Jason Licht. Our job is to serve the coach. He's got to tell us the players he wants, and we've got to bring the players … the right fits.”

“We're going to be making decisions,” Smith said.

Got it.

Now: Who's in charge?

This is Licht's first turn as a GM. He has a well of experience, with successful franchises, including two stints in New England. I'm not saying he stood in the draft room and whispered to Belichick, “We should look at this Brady guy,” but he has patrolled the NFL for nearly two decades, loads of good work and seasoning. By all accounts, he's a grinder, a scouting junkie. Most recently, he was vice president of player personnel for Arizona, which has made recent draft steals.

Good stuff.

Now: Who's in charge?

Lovie Smith. That's who.

Look, somewhere in one of their contracts, it says something about having final say over the 53-man roster, the holy grail of the NFL in-house power grid.

My money is that it's in Lovie's deal.

Licht will have the draft and free agency, loads of input, and some power.

But I don't see how you can split the power, one guy for the 53, one guy on draft and free agency, and make it work for all that long.

Lovie had the leverage: There were other coaching jobs open, and the Glazers didn't want to get caught. Remember, the coach came first, to the rescue, with credentials and credibility — and media and fans like him. The GM came second, by three weeks, and this is his first GM job. Licht might be a major find. But Lovie came first.

I'm not crazy about the coach having complete control. We saw how that worked when Jon Gruden power-tripped out after the Super Bowl.

Lovie Smith needs to make Licht a strong voice at GM. He needs to empower Licht and the personnel department, give them independence, create real checks and balances. There has to be a medium, between Win Today and Build For Tomorrow. Maybe that's what the Glazers want.

Back to the coach and his GM.

Trust is critical.

“And there is no doubt I'm going to trust Lovie,” Licht said. “You've met the guy. I mean, he could get along with the devil.”

It's in the details, this partnership.

“I told Lovie during the interview process that if he doesn't like a player and I do, I'm going to be in his office 20 times to prove my player I like is who we need,” Licht said. “And I'm sure he'll do the same thing. And if we don't come to an agreement, the answer is easy — we won't take the player.”

Um, who decides that?

Oh, never mind.

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