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The big question: Is new Tampa Bay Buccaneers GM Mark Dominik ready?

Good guy, Mark Dominik. Everyone says so. Smart guy. Hard-working guy.

But is he ready?

He has an eye for talent, Dominik. People in the NFL say that, too. He can spot a player. He can find a bargain.

And the question remains: Is he ready?

When it comes to Dominik, when it comes to any aspiring general manager in the NFL, that is the only question that matters. It doesn't matter how many people think he is a terrific guy or how many believe he has a wonderful future. All that matters is whether he is ready to run a franchise now.

Answer No. 1: We will see.

Answer No. 2: He had better be.

Eventually, this was bound to happen. Dominik was going to be a general manager in the NFL. Already, he had been designated as one of the budding Masters of the Universe, and his time on the interviewing circuit had already begun. He has the right look, he has the proper training, and he is on his way to building a fine resume.

When you think about it, there should be nothing shocking about Dominik's promotion … except that it is not the year 2012.

With Dominik, this is the risk. No one knows if the guy is ripe yet. Not the Glazers. Not even Dominik himself. There is a significant difference in being on the right path and arriving at the destination. It is the difference between tomorrow and today, and from the looks of it, this franchise doesn't have time to wait.

For all the talk about the fall of Jon Gruden and the rise of Raheem Morris, and the speed of both, the hiring of Dominik might be the big-gulp decision. You can toss every coach hired this offseason — Josh McDaniels, Jim Schwartz, Jim Mora — into a bag and toss it into the lake.

But if you are talking about Scott Pioli leaving the Patriots to join Kansas City? That might be the one that got away.

Don't get me wrong. Those who know Dominik want him to succeed. He's insightful, has a wit about him, and loves the game.

Still, Dominik has never run a franchise. He has never headed up a draft. He has never tried to persuade an owner to sign a free agent. He has never had to ease an aging veteran into retirement. Most important, he has never been in charge of the direction of a franchise.

Now, he is. And, man, is there work to do.

It shouldn't surprise you to hear this, but around the league, the Bucs are not thought of as a particularly talented football team. The defense seems in transition from one era to another, and the offense still runs like one of those electric football games where all the players run in circles. There are gaping holes in the depth chart.

Dominik's job, bluntly, is to fix it. All of it.

Along the way, perhaps Dominik can change the feel of the franchise, too. During the past several years, the Bucs have lost a piece of themselves. Blame anyone you want for it, but every year, the franchise seemed to lose a bit of its luster. It seemed less open, less receptive, less trustworthy. And that's a shame. This is Tampa Bay. People want to like their team. They want to think their team likes them back.

Can Dominik restore that? Perhaps. He has always come across as a good communicator. His fingerprints were all over players like Antonio Bryant and Jovan Haye.

Is he ready? At this point, how on earth can you tell?

"I don't think you ever know," said Falcons president Rich McKay, a former Bucs general manager. "I remember when I got the job, there was an article about me that wasn't flattering, but it was deserved. You're never going to know how you're going to do until you have the chance to do it."

McKay, who hired Dominik in 1995 to work in the pro personnel department, saw a bright, committed worker. He still sees that.

Others see positives, too.

"He's a good person, No. 1," Seattle general manager and former Bucs player personnel director Tim Ruskell said. "I always thought he did a good job finding nuggets, and that's what you want. No one works harder than him."

Said former Bucs scout Rustin Webster, also with the Seahawks, "Don't underestimate him."

Dominik says he has been preparing for the job for 14 years. He talks about learning organization from Ruskell and media skills from McKay and reasoning from Jerry Angelo and contracts from Bruce Allen, the man he's replacing.

Somewhere in there, Dominik must have learned that the best general managers come in with a plan for every position, for the present and future. Lately, the plan seemed to change with the year. No one knew who was going to play quarterback, who was going to be the favorite toy and who was going to be in the doghouse. It is up to a general manager to provide stability.

"Everyone talks about talent evaluation," McKay said, "but that's only part of it. It's an important part, but George Young (the old Giants general manager) used to tell me all the time it was overrated. The big thing is to be the captain of the ship."

As of now, Dominik has the wheel.

Is he ready? The Bucs can't afford anything else.

The big question: Is new Tampa Bay Buccaneers GM Mark Dominik ready? 01/17/09 [Last modified: Saturday, January 17, 2009 11:17pm]
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