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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs GM Licht, coach Smith will form ‘partnership’

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Published:   |   Updated: January 23, 2014 at 06:28 PM

TAMPA — Yielding control over the final makeup of a team’s 53-man roster is hardly the norm for NFL general managers, but Buccaneers rookie general manager Jason Licht says situations like that are hardly uncommon.

“I can probably count off the top of my head eight teams that are in the same situation we are in,’’ said Licht, the former Arizona Cardinals personnel director who has entered into just such an agreement with the Bucs.

Head coach Lovie Smith will have final say over the Tampa Bay roster, but Licht said during his introductory news conference Thursday that he doesn’t see that as a personal slight or an impediment to success.

“Every place that I’ve worked, especially the successful teams, the GM and the coach have to work together,’’ said Licht, 42. “It’s a partnership and 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 has to tell us what kind of players he wants and my staff and I have to bring those players to him. We have to find the right fits. Just like I think I’m a great fit for this family and for this coach, we have to get the right fits on the field. Otherwise it just doesn’t work.’’

The Bucs spent three weeks looking for the right fit for a replacement for Mark Dominik, who was fired as general manager on Dec. 30 after orchestrating a five-year run in which the Bucs went 28-52 and never reached the playoffs.

The team settled on Licht as the franchise’s fifth general manager because of what Bucs co-chairman Joel Glazer described as a strong eye for talent and the hand he had in building four Super Bowl teams with three franchises — New England, Philadelphia and Arizona — in the past 12 years.

“He has seen over a 19-year period how it has to work,’’ Glazer said. “There are going to be disagreements, but everybody has to be on the same page and everyone has to be swimming in the same direction.’’

Glazer, Licht and Smith are already swimming in the same direction on one very important front. Independent of each other, each said he believes far too much is being made of the distribution of power between Licht and Smith.

“If any organization gets to a point where we are pulling out contracts and reading the fine lines, we have a serious problem,’’ Glazer said. “That is not an environment that you can win in. But I’ve never seen it get to that point.’’

Licht can’t imagine it getting to that point here, either. He and Smith have already developed a high level of trust for one another, he said.

“It really isn’t about who’s in charge,” Licht said. “We’re both in charge of our own deals. Like I said, it’s going to be a partnership.’’

The first true test of that partnership will come in early March, when the 2014 free-agent signing period begins. By then, Licht said, he will have to know precisely what type of players fit the Bucs’ offensive and defensive schemes.

Whoever those players prove to be, the Bucs are not likely to spend exorbitantly for them. Licht shares a philosophy with Smith that calls for spending wisely in the free agent marketplace.

“We’re going to supplement our roster through free agency, but we’re going to look for value,’’ he said. “Our philosophy is to build through the draft. That’s where we find our stars.”

The Bucs have the seventh overall pick and two of the top 40 selections in this year’s draft, which will be the first Licht has run on his own. He’s not nervous, though, because he’ll know what to do long before he makes his first pick.

“Come draft day, we’ll have all the answers figured out,’’ Licht said. “We’ll know who we’re taking. There will be no arguments on draft day. Now, going in to the draft, hey, arguments are healthy.

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

A self-described “meathead’’ who just loves to watch football, Licht said he will play to his strengths in his new post, which means he might not have a large hand in contract negotiations.

“During the interview, I made sure when it came up that I can focus on football,’’ he said. “I’ll be advised on (the contract negotiations), but I’m not going to try to be something I’m not.”

One thing Licht will not be in his new job is a yes-man to Smith.

“I don’t even see why that would come up,’’ Smith said. “He’s not a yes-man. We were looking for the best possible general manager we could get, a guy that knows personnel and has been in a lot of different situations.

“...This is an environment where everyone can speak their mind. And, in the end, you have a chance to state your case and we’ll come to the best conclusion. It’s really just as simple as that.”

rcummings@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7979

Twitter: @RCummingsTBO

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