Saturday, June 23, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Jones: GM Jason Licht says Bucs' Dirk Koetter is 'right guy' (w/video)

TAMPA — What a week it has been for Bucs general manager Jason Licht.

The last time we saw him, he was standing at a lectern looking embarrassed, sheepish, shaken, even heartsick as if he had just done something that had cost him his best friend.

Actually, that's kind of what had happened. Leaning on Licht's advice, the Glazers somewhat surprisingly fired coach Lovie Smith after two seasons.

Friday, Licht looked like a new man, like he had just met a new best friend. In a way, that's what had happened. Again, based on his suggestion, the Bucs hired offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter to be the new Bucs coach.

That is the gamut of emotions when you're the man in charge of making the tough calls, the decisions that can break one person's heart while making another's lifelong dream come true.

"We talk about a roller coaster of emotions. It has been just that," Licht said. "It has been extremely difficult this past week."

First was firing Smith on Jan. 6. Tough duty. It was Lovie who helped bring Licht in and made it possible for Licht to become a general manager for the first time. And Licht became the bad guy who had to break the bad news to the man who had played a big part in him landing his ideal job.

"I'm still, to be honest with you, (hurt)," Licht said. "Lovie was a good friend. He was like a big brother. Like Dirk said, it's hard. It's okay to hurt. And I still hurt."

Then came Friday — the end of one long, hard week.

"It has ended with one of my favorite days as the general manager," Licht said. "We got the right guy."

How does Licht know he has the right guy in Koetter? He just does.

It's not like Licht and Koetter go way back. The two haven't known each other that long. Other than a couple of casual conversations when Koetter was coaching Arizona State and Licht was working in the personnel department of the Patriots in the early 2000s, Licht never really knew Koetter until Koetter came in as the Bucs' offensive coordinator a year ago.

Since then, the two have become close, in part because of Koetter's use of the bathroom.

Wait, what?

True. Koetter's office at One Buc Place took him past Licht's office every time he needed to use the bathroom or go to lunch or go pretty much anywhere. It was in the mundane, everyday conversations in the halls that a simpatico relationship began to develop.

"We hit it off," Koetter said. "One thing that really impressed me right off the bat was how easily accessible Jason is. … We'd run into each other a lot. We hit it off."

Koetter also hit it off with rookie quarterback Jameis Winston.

"It's a strong bullet point on his resume, that's for sure," Licht said.

If you believe Licht, the Bucs didn't just hand the job to Koetter. They didn't get rid of Smith in order to keep Koetter, who was in the running for a couple of other head coaching jobs. The Bucs checked around and, Licht said, discussed "everybody you could think of."

Everybody?

"Good football coaches," Licht said. "A lot of great ones."

Licht wouldn't say who or how many, but he did admit that he knew Koetter was the one pretty much since Koetter interviewed last week.

"At one point he became the leader and somebody was going to have to knock him off," Licht said. "Then it just became more and more clear. … It just clicked. He was the right guy."

He better be or Licht will be the next one tossed out the door. And he knows it.

"That's the business," Licht said.

Licht and Koetter have been working together as GM and head coach for only a day, so the biggest decision they've faced together is where to go to lunch. But I already get the sense that they have a better working relationship than Licht had with Smith.

"We both came to an agreement that this is the way we both want it," Licht said, "(Koetter) and I working together as a team."

Maybe I'm wrong, but I always had the sense that Smith's control of the 53-man roster and his overall command of the organization made for an uncomfortable relationship with Licht, who didn't have as much to say as most general managers. The two weren't combative, necessarily. The relationship wasn't adversarial. It was more like awkward.

But already the parameters of Licht's job and Koetter's seem to be more clearly defined. Licht is in charge of the roster, and Koetter is in charge of coaching. And both seem completely comfortable with coloring inside their lines.

"Jason got his part in it, and I got my part in it," Koetter said. "So do the other coaches. It's a shared process throughout. Jason is good at what he does. I need to be good at what I do, and hopefully that works out."

If it doesn't, Koetter will last as long as the past two coaches — two years. And he and Licht can help each other clean out their offices.

But that's the way Licht should want it. He's in charge now, and Koetter is his hand-picked coach.

For Licht, it was the end of a hard week, and if he chose wisely, the beginning of a long, successful relationship.

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