Jeff Gooch was named the Storm's vice president of football operations April 12, joining team president and fellow ex-Buc linebacker Derrick Brooks in the front office. Gooch, who also played for the Lions during a nine-year career, discussed his time with the Bucs, passion for football and new job.
Did you follow the Arena League during your playing days?
Oh yeah, we followed (the Storm). My college roommate had a long career in the AFL, so I was always involved with it. (The Storm) was having so much success, and at the end of the day, they were football players just like us. We always kept up with them.
How did you get involved with the administrative side of professional football?
I got involved with scouting and that side of the game with the Jacksonville Jaguars. I love it. I get to come to work every day, and it's all about football. How great is that?
Are you and Derrick Brooks the two snappiest dressers among Arena League execs?
I don't know about that (laughing). I've seen some nicely dressed executives.
The economics of the AFL have changed so much since the league returned from its one-year hiatus. What kind of challenge does that present for the front office to keep quality players on the roster?
It's definitely a big thing to think about. But the first thing we want to do is look at intangibles. Regardless of pay, when you hit the field, your check isn't on the grass. You're out there for the love of football. Those are the guys we want here.
What was it like coming to Tampa as an undrafted free agent (in 1996)?
When you don't get drafted, the disappointment sets in. Once I got here with Tampa, I got the No. 49 and all the linebackers have 50s. That was reality, but Derrick Brooks was my lockermate, and he helped me out so much. Plus I knew that I didn't want to go home. My mind-set was I did not want to go home.
How was your confidence affected by having such great linebackers on the roster such as Hardy Nickerson and Brooks when you weren't even drafted by the team?
None of those guys ever made you feel like they were better than you, even though they were. They just wanted you to match their work ethic, and Hardy was the ringleader.
What's one thing that sticks in your mind about your time with the Bucs?
The old One Buc Place. There was nothing fancy at all about it. It was grimy and gritty. But we used that place, with the old rusty weights outside, to help motivate us.
Shelton Quarles (a former teammate and current Bucs coordinator of pro scouting) is from a rival high school in your hometown of Nashville. Did you two ever meet on the prep field?
He was a couple of years older. He might have been a senior when I was freshman. When we think back about it now, I know we must have been on the same field at the same time. And if anybody was doing some crushing, it was me crushing him. You make sure you tell him that.
When did you feel like you had made it in the NFL?
Probably my third year. By then, you knew your way as a professional and were able to help the younger guys like the guys helped me when I came into the league.
Was the reason the Bucs won the Super Bowl because you left? (Gooch played for Tampa Bay from 1996-2001 and 2004-05, and the Lions from 2002-03.)
Probably (laughing). They finally got some better players. Oh man, it was the best and worst of times. I was so happy for those guys but sad because I wasn't a part of it.