The most important lesson Mark Dominik ever learned about running a successful draft was taught to him on his first day inside the Bucs' draft-day war room.
The year was 1996, and while Dominik looked on from the sideline as a first-year pro personnel assistant, the men running the Bucs draft slowly became fixated on a running back. His name: Leeland McElroy.
As long as the New York Jets passed on McElroy, the Bucs could get him in the second round, most thought. But the Bucs were surprised when the Arizona Cardinals scooped up McElroy with the final pick of the first round.
"Everybody in the room was like, 'Oh, no,' because we had become so focused on him,'' Dominik said of McElroy.
Everybody but then-director of pro personnel Jerry Angelo.
"I'll never forget Jerry Angelo and how he reacted to that. He was just very calm and he said, 'Hey, it's OK; let's take this guy - Mike Alstott; I really like him.' Jerry was really prepared for anything that might happen that day, and that has really stuck with me.''
Thirteen years later, as Dominik prepares to direct his first draft as the Bucs' general manager, it seems a lot has stuck with him. And well it should have. Since he entered the league as a scout with the Chiefs in 1993, he has worked alongside a host of standing and future general managers.
In Kansas City, he worked with then-GM Carl Peterson and future Jets GM Terry Bradway. During his first 14 years in Tampa Bay, he worked with GMs Rich McKay and Bruce Allen, plus current Seahawks president Tim Ruskell and Bears GM Angelo, the guy who liked Alstott.
From each mentor, Dominik learned something different. When blended together, those lessons form the philosophy and approach Dominik will use in running his first draft next weekend.
"A good example,'' Dominik said, "is that Rich was very compartmentalized in his approach, whereas Bruce would have 20 or 30 guys involved. So, what I'll do is have a mid-range of guys working with me.''
From that list of confidants, two will be leaned on more than the others. One is head coach Raheem Morris. The other is scouting director Dennis Hickey. In the end, though, Dominik will make the tough calls.
"I'll turn in the card, right on through to the seventh round,'' Dominik said. "But you can't be bullheaded about it. Once you get bullheaded, you can be led down a really difficult path.''
Dominik has been down that path before. He won't say when it was, but he remembers distinctly a draft in which the final decision-maker had made up his mind on his first three selections seemingly before the draft even began.
"All I'll say is that it didn't work out,'' he said. "It didn't work out for the team and it didn't work out for the player. You just can't set the board to be so firm.
"When you do, you run the risk of becoming so fixed on a guy you might want to take in the third round that you miss on a guy who you had rated in the second round who has slipped down the board.
"I mean, you do have to be strong in your convictions. But you can't be too strong because it puts the player in a difficult spot, especially if the coach isn't motivated to work with him. Then there's a separation.
"So what you want is a guy everyone in the building feels comfortable about. You want a guy that the scouts like, a guy that the coaches like. Then you've got a much better chance of being successful.''
A successful draft is not determined solely by the success of the first-round pick. All the picks are weighed in the final determination and, in each case, Dominik has an idea of what he wants.
With every pick, but mostly with the first, he doesn't necessarily want the best player available. Rather he wants the best player for the Buccaneers. In the middle and later rounds he looks more toward the future.
"You have to take into account who can come in and help your football team, but not just on first, second and third down,'' he said. "You also have to concern yourself with who can help you on fourth down.
"I've always been a big believer in what you do on fourth down, on special teams. That's how the guys you take on the second day of the draft impact your football team right away. They help you on special teams.
"You don't want to take a guy there that you see as a perennial backup. You want him to compete at some point. But until they get to that point, you want them to be able to help you on special teams. That's very important.''