Mark Dominik was a freshman, or maybe a sophomore, at the University of Kansas, waiting tables part time at an Applebee's in Lawrence, when he came home one day and told his mother about a revelation.
"He said, 'You know what, Mom? I'm not going to burn any bridges, I'm not going to be too busy to visit with people, I'm not going be afraid of talking to them' " Sharon Dominik recalled Saturday. "He just felt it was important to get to know people, and that's kind of where he started doing that."
From that day on, Dominik would work the room, checking in on not just his tables but others, letting them know he cared, and he would do whatever was necessary. It was a trait that served him well then and that he carried forth as he worked his way through college, an impressive internship with the Kansas City Chiefs and, after 14 years in the Bucs organization, to the general manager's office.
As much as he is a football person and a businessperson, Dominik, 37, is more than anything a people person.
"Mark has a unique ability to interact with people," said Dennis Hickey, a classmate at Lawrence High School and an employee as the Bucs' director of college scouting.
"Mark is a personable guy. He works with everybody. Everyone is Mark's friend. I talk to everyone and they all say, 'Mark Dominik, oh yeah, he's a friend of mine.' He has that type of personality, and it works well for him. He works well with agents. He works well with players. He works well with other teams."
Dominik, who had been director of pro personnel the past eight seasons handling scouting, recruiting and some contract negotiations, said after Saturday's announcement that he will run the team the same way.
"My leadership style," he said, "is really going to be about open communications."
There won't be any doubt about the quantity, said Amy, his wife of nearly 12 years. Typically, before this latest promotion, he would usually be up at 5, out the door at 5:30 and at the office until 9 or 10 at night. And when he gets back to their Hyde Park home, he's usually still talking or tapping on his Blackberry. "Even when I see him, he's always focused," Amy said. "He never sits still, even at our house."
He's "extremely competitive" at everything, especially family card games that include his two older brothers that have been known to last all night. "So," Amy said, "we don't like to play against each other."
But he's also the considerate husband and father to their nearly 2-year-old adopted son, Davis. He remembers their wedding anniversary ("He gets it right; I forget," she said), keeps a journal of the adoption process and starts the coffee before he leaves in the mornings. And he's a good son, too, taking his mom to the Super Bowl when the Bucs went in 2003.
Dominik grew up playing all sports as the family moved from St. Paul, Minn., to Memphis, to Albemarle, N.C., to Sioux Falls, S.D., before settling in Lawrence for his sophomore year of high school. He gave up playing football after that season — "He was very small … and I think he was afraid of getting hurt, so he gave up and joined the diving team," Sharon said — but kept his interest and passion.
He wanted to work in sports, and his determination was obvious as he worked toward a sports management degree at KU and a prime reason he was chosen for the school's first internship with the Chiefs.
"He was one of those guys that was willing to get out and volunteer and do things to help build his resume," KU professor Jim LaPoint said. "He was just incredible."
Dominik kept moving — and moving up. "He was a guy who worked his way up by working really hard," former Bucs general manager Rich McKay said. "He was very organized. If you gave Mark an assignment, you could count on him getting it done."
"He's a man," new coach Raheem Morris said, "that's been preparing for this for a long time."
In more ways than one.
Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.