Sunday, April 22, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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

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.

Comments
Shaquem Griffin: ‘I’m not just a feel-good story’

Shaquem Griffin: ‘I’m not just a feel-good story’

TAMPA — Shaquem Griffin wakes up knowing each day will be better than the last and barely able to wait until tomorrow."It's just a whirlwind,'' Griffin said.On Thursday, he will walk the red carpet with his family, including his twin brother, S...
Published: 04/21/18
Bucs not listening to outsiders, but expectations remain high for 2018

Bucs not listening to outsiders, but expectations remain high for 2018

TAMPA —Wait 'til this year seems to be the refrain at One Buc Place, even though the team was strangled by expectations in 2017. But a solid offseason that has already brought a rebuilt defensive line, new center and place-kicker has renewed th...
Published: 04/21/18
NFL draft confessions: The Bucs set the trap, and I took the cheese on Johnny Manziel

NFL draft confessions: The Bucs set the trap, and I took the cheese on Johnny Manziel

TAMPA — The NFL draft is one big game of Liar's Poker. Deal me out.Even the guys with a seat at the table don't know when someone is bluffing.Bucs general manager Jason Licht knows that the team's No. 7 overall pick this year will be affected b...
Published: 04/20/18
Bucs’ Jameis Winston, Mike Evans catch Miami Heat game from courtside

Bucs’ Jameis Winston, Mike Evans catch Miami Heat game from courtside

We've seen Jameis Winston and Mike Evans bonding this offseason, going to Texas A&M pro day together, among other events. The two Bucs stars and their significant others double-dated Thursday night, getting courtside seats to watch the Miami Heat in ...
Published: 04/20/18
Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Bucs have a tough start to their schedule

Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Bucs have a tough start to their schedule

The NFL did the Bucs no favors with their 2018 schedule, Rick Stroud says, making them open at New Orleans, followed by home games against Philadelphia and Pittsburgh Plus, linebacker Kendall Beckwith had surgery to repair a broken ankle, p...
Published: 04/20/18
Here’s the Bucs’ full 2018 schedule

Here’s the Bucs’ full 2018 schedule

TAMPA — How good can the Bucs be in 2018? Fans will get a good sense in the first three weeks, as Tampa Bay opens the year with three of its toughest games, all against reigning division champions. The Bucs open 2018 in New Orleans on Sept. 9 ...
Published: 04/19/18
Updated: 04/20/18
Bucs linebacker Kendell Beckwith fractured ankle in car accident

Bucs linebacker Kendell Beckwith fractured ankle in car accident

TAMPA – Bucs linebacker Kendell Beckwith had surgery to repair a broken ankle he suffered in a car accident in Louisiana last week, putting his status for the start of the season in question.Beckwith was passenger in car driven by former L...
Published: 04/19/18
Bucs’ home schedule leaked: Hosting Eagles in Week 2

Bucs’ home schedule leaked: Hosting Eagles in Week 2

The 2018 NFL schedule won't be released until 8 p.m. tonight, but the Bucs' eight home games were posted early — and presumably accidentally — on the team's site, showing what would be a daunting start to the upcoming season.Multiple outl...
Published: 04/19/18
Is Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick a first-round fit for the Bucs?

Is Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick a first-round fit for the Bucs?

Minkah FitzpatrickPosition: SafetyCollege: AlabamaHeight/Weight: 6-1, 201Draft projection: First roundWhy Fitzpatrick makes sense for the BucsOne of the Bucs' biggest needs is to improve their secondary. Fitzpatrick is a playmaker, arguably the best ...
Published: 04/17/18
Jameis Winston set to make $21 million in 2019 as Bucs pick up his option

Jameis Winston set to make $21 million in 2019 as Bucs pick up his option

TAMPA — Jameis Winston is headed for a big pay day after this season, whether he gets a contract extension or not.The Bucs on Tuesday picked up the fifth-year option on Winston's rookie contract worth $20.9 million for 2019. The deal is not gua...
Published: 04/17/18