Monday, November 20, 2017
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Fennelly: 'I am not afraid' is mantra of Bucs GM Licht

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TAMPA — Bucs general manager Jason Licht sat in the empty dining room at One Buc Place. The hay is mostly in the barn. Licht and Dirk Koetter, the new coach, are making final tweaks to the roster. All that's left after that are real games, beginning Sunday at Atlanta.

"I feel very confident about this team," Licht said. "It's a different feeling than I've had in the past."

The season looms for Licht, 45, who is 8-24 in his first two seasons as GM and on his second coach. Licht will have to own a lot of what happens from here out.

Goes with the job. And a hefty salary. Licht lives in a nice house with his wife and their three young children. There's a pool — yes, the very pool Licht walks into after wins while still wearing his suit. Licht promised the kids he would do it, and it took off. He left six suits dripping wet last season, one for each Bucs win. He would love to do it more this season.

"I'd ruin every suit in my closet for a win," Licht said, laughing. "I'd burn my car every week for a win."

He understands why people keep score on his draft picks and free agent signings.

"But you can't go into a draft or free agency picking or choosing scared," he said.

Then he said something else:

"I've always just been, my whole career — and life, for that matter — digging out of adversity, coming out of adverse situations."

I thought back to something Licht said in January when Koetter was made coach.

"I love pressure," Licht said. "My entire life, since I grew up as a kid, been through a lot of pressure situations. I have great parents, a great foundation. Been through tough times growing up. Don't want to get into it. The more pressure, the better, so bring it on."

On Thursday morning, Licht stood in a hall and talked about his mother and father, Ron and Karen, about his family's struggles when he was growing up. Ron held an engineering degree from Nebraska. A very smart man, a caring man. It was just tough times. Jason Licht wasn't on a woe-was-me kick, but he wanted to explain.

"My dad is the greatest man I know, my best friend," Licht said. "He taught me a lot, especially how to deal with adversity and overcome things. Growing up, we moved around a lot, from town to town, him trying to find work in a fledgling industry, irrigation sales. When we settled in Colorado, we moved from house to house, always something cheaper. Never had much. But my parents did their best. They were awesome. Just tough financial times."

The Lichts, Ron and Karen and their two children, moved from Nebraska to Iowa. Then to Colorado, to Yuma, population 3,524, a few hours east of Denver. On a map, Yuma is roughly halfway between the towns of Champion and Last Chance.

Karen taught elementary school for 42 years. "She was our rock," Jason said. His sister, Patti, now teaches at the same school. But growing up was different, financially strained at times. The Lichts would rent, but they'd have to move, two weeks' notice. "It just became part of life," Jason said.

"I didn't have money for college. I had some small-school scholarship offers. But I chose to walk-on (at Nebraska). I didn't want to burden my parents. But they couldn't have been more supportive."

Licht played guard and linebacker at Nebraska before transferring to Nebraska Wesleyan. His parents found a way to send their son $50 here, $100 there. Licht received financial aid and took out student loans. He worked summers as a bartender.

"My dad said, 'Don't ever let anything stop you from what your dream is,' " Licht said. "He told me, 'You'll always find a way.' We always found a way. I just paid my student loans off last year. My family is on its feet now. They're fine. … Oh, I loved paying off those student loans. We celebrated."

He smiled.

"I'll give you a quick story. I'm at Nebraska on the freshman team. My dad didn't miss a single game. He would drive 71/2 hours. Get up super early, drive, see the game, then we'd get something to eat, then he'd drive on back.

"Well, my dad had this prized silver dollar collection that his dad had passed on to him. As kids, we'd look at them. They were in like a bait and tackle box, and inside were all these silver dollars. I found out my dad sold the collection, the whole thing, for gas money just to see me play my whole freshman year. I don't think they were worth much more than regular dollars, but he had them all and used them for gas so he could watch me play. I'm more appreciative of that than if he had been able to pay for my college."

Licht smiled again:

"I guess my whole point is, I'm not afraid. I'm not afraid of unorthodox or unconventional ways of doing things, because life is not always from point A to point B. I'm not trying to be a martyr. People go through hard times. My dad is still alive. His biggest lesson was hard work and don't let anybody tell you that you can't do something. You can come from a town of 2,000 people, not much money, but you can still go to college where you want. You can even become a GM. Why not? You're grateful for what you have. And you're not afraid to take risks. It's not 'Oh, I'm afraid to sign or pick this player.' You can't be afraid."

Jason Licht knows where he came from. And what he learned.

Silver Dollars Playbook.

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Published: 11/20/17