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Winning makes Bucs general manager Mark Dominik look smart

Once again, he is the sharpest guy in the room. Maybe in the area code.

Before breakfast, Mark Dominik can turn a golf cart into a time-travel machine. By lunchtime, he can develop a vaccine that will cure hair loss. By dinner, he can figure out how to transform empty Gatorade bottles into a cheap fuel alternative.

Lo and behold, Dominik is a genius reborn.

When you consider that it was only a few months ago that critics wondered if Dominik could figure out a light switch, that's a fairly impressive amount of learning.

Dominik, the general manager of the Bucs, is suddenly the wise man on the mountain again. He is smart enough not only to know a good player when he sees one, he can also give you the square root of his bench press. He is so bright that Raymond James is no longer in need of stadium lights.

In other words, nothing restores wisdom quite like winning, and bolsters a man's IQ points like those on a scoreboard. This is the NFL, after all, and the way it plays Jeopardy is that every question can be answered correctly by saying, "We just scored another touchdown.''

In a season that has restored the franchise's hope, and Josh Freeman's future, and Gerald McCoy's reputation, and Mike Williams' athleticism, and Mason Foster's potential, add this to the list of items reclaimed: Once again, Dominik looks like a good idea, and once again, he's waiting to have another one.

Amazing how it works, isn't it? In 2010, when the Bucs were winning, Dominik looked cerebral after he took a chance on Williams in the fourth round and picked up LeGarrette Blount on waivers.

In the NFL, however, nothing looks smarter than success, and nothing looks dumber than defeat. Last year, when the Bucs were stumbling around in the dark, a great deal of the blame was pointed toward Dominik.

At the time, Freeman didn't look like a correct answer. Neither did McCoy or Foster. When Brian Price lacked desire, when Kellen Winslow turned peculiar, when Albert Haynesworth seemed disinterested, when Tanard Jackson chased another receiver across another goal line, those all reflected on the guy in charge.

Say this for Dominik. He seems to have learned on the job. This year, he is the answer man again.

Think of it like this: How do you judge any general manager? By the coach he hires. By the players he drafts. By the free agents he signs. By the trades he makes.

Take the coaching search, for instance. The more Dominik heard about Greg Schiano's program, the more he liked. Granted, there were detractors out there, some who thought college was the last place an NFL team should look for answers. But Dominik was soon convinced this was the guy for the Bucs. In turn, Schiano has restored some careers that appeared to be on the verge of getting lost, which makes everyone look smart.

Take free agency, where Dominik targeted players such as Vincent Jackson and Carl Nicks because of how they could help Freeman in a make-or-break season. For the Bucs, it was a rare investment. So far, it looks like a bargain.

In the draft, Dominik moved backward to get safety Mark Barron, then used the surplus to move back up and draft running back Doug Martin and linebacker Lavonte David in what now looks like the team's best draft since Rich McKay used a similar trade-back-then-up plan to acquire Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks.

In the NFL, that's how a guy gets smart again. He picks the right coach. He picks the right players. Freeman returns to form, and McCoy regains his health, and Foster matures, and Williams blossoms again, and just like that, the brain cells grow.

Schiano changes the culture, and the future looks right again, and suddenly, the guys from Mensa are sending you invitations. You get rid of Aqib Talib, which everyone wanted, and you get a fourth-round draft pick, which no one expected, and suddenly, you are Mark the Mastermind.

This is the NFL, of course, and for a general manager, there are new report cards every week. Ask Kansas City's Scott Pioli, who used to be sharp. Ask San Diego's A.J. Smith, or Buffalo's Buddy Nix, or Jacksonville's Gene Smith. Smart lasts only as long as the winning does.

Still, you'd have to say that Dominik has had a pretty good run of it lately. The Bucs, too. They suddenly look young and talented again. The future, too, is bright.

The point is this: In the NFL, never underestimate smart. The league shares revenues, and it has a common draft, and every rule change seems directed toward making sure every team is the same. Usually, the smart guys win, especially if they have the right coach and the right quarterback.

For the time being, Dominik looks as if he has it figured out. His team is young, and improving. He seems to have found his coach, who in turn seems to have salvaged his quarterback.

For now, Dominik is a genius.

Of course, if the guy could invent a way to avoid injuries, he would be Einstein.

Listen to Gary Shelton weekdays from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. on 98.7-FM the Fan.

Year on the rise

This season has seen the Bucs improve markedly from last year. Here are stats for a few key young players at the halfway point of this season and last season:

QB Josh Freeman


No. 1 running back

Year, playerAttYds.Avg.TD
2011, LeGarrette Blount*1185414.64
2012, Doug Martin1547945.27

*— Blount missed two of the Bucs' first games; these stats are for team games 1-10 so it's still Blount's first eight games of 2011.

Winning makes Bucs general manager Mark Dominik look smart 11/06/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 6, 2012 9:00pm]
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