Wednesday, August 15, 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
Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Tony Dungy’s message to the Bucs

Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Tony Dungy’s message to the Bucs

During a news conference Tuesday in Tampa, Tony Dungy spoke about what it means to him to be added to the Bucs Ring of Honor and what he told the current players when he spoke with them.Plus, Rick Stroud is in Tennessee, where the Bucs are getting re...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Bucs GM Jason Licht pays tribute to a mentor and friend

Bucs GM Jason Licht pays tribute to a mentor and friend

Perhaps nobody in pro football has had a bigger impact on Bucs general manager Jason Licht than Tom Heckert, Jr., who died Aug. 3 at age 51 after a long battle with amyloidosis. Heckert spent four years as the Broncos pro personnel director, helping ...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Bucs could use another Tony Dungy to spark culture change

Bucs could use another Tony Dungy to spark culture change

TAMPA —  It seems a little odd, but Tony Dungy is just now being installed in the Bucs' Ring of Honor, two years after his bust was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Leave it to his former team.As if it matters to this man. Dungy...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Tony Dungy addresses Bucs and tells them the devil is in the details

Tony Dungy addresses Bucs and tells them the devil is in the details

Tony Dungy's team's were known for being disciplined and not beating themselves with penalties and blown assignments. But the ones that reached the postseason or went deep into the playoffs always played the game the right way.When Dungy addressed Bu...
Published: 08/14/18
Dungy says 2018 Bucs have talent, but need togetherness

Dungy says 2018 Bucs have talent, but need togetherness

Former Bucs coach Tony Dungy, set to be inducted into the team's Ring of Honor next month, talked with the current team for about 20 minutes on Tuesday morning, stressing the importance of them coming together this season."They have to have that toge...
Published: 08/14/18
Tony Dungy on NFL and protests during anthem: Listen to why it matters to players

Tony Dungy on NFL and protests during anthem: Listen to why it matters to players

Tony Dungy says the issue of NFL players protesting during the national anthem has been a divisive topic, but he hopes both sides can come together by listening to why players care enough to choose to protest."We really have to understand what these ...
Published: 08/14/18
Dungy: Jameis Winston must be a leader for Bucs, all the time

Dungy: Jameis Winston must be a leader for Bucs, all the time

Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston will miss the first three games of this season while he's suspended, and former Tampa Bay coach Tony Dungy said his focus is what Winston can do to turn his current situation into a positive moving forward."I look at i...
Published: 08/14/18
Bucs’ corner injuries press Justin Evans into cameo at nickel

Bucs’ corner injuries press Justin Evans into cameo at nickel

The Bucs continue to be hit hard with injuries at cornerback, and for the third straight practice, starting safety Justin Evans was pressed into a cameo as the team's nickel cornerback on Tuesday."Because we're getting stressed in our depth at corner...
Published: 08/14/18
Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Tony Dungy to enter Bucs’ Ring of Honor

Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Tony Dungy to enter Bucs’ Ring of Honor

With Tony Dungy at One Buc Place today for a news conference in advance of his induction into the Bucs' Ring of Honor, Rick Stroud recalls Dungy's tenure as the team's head coach.Dungy established a winning culture in Tampa Bay and led the ...
Published: 08/14/18
Even bigger: Bucs TE Antony Auclair up to 270 for 2nd NFL season

Even bigger: Bucs TE Antony Auclair up to 270 for 2nd NFL season

A year ago, when Antony Auclair made the Bucs' roster as an undrafted rookie, the Canadian import was already the largest tight end at 6-foot-6 and 256 pounds.That's even more the case now as he heads into his second season with the confidence that c...
Published: 08/13/18
Updated: 08/14/18