Jason Licht was the only man in the Bucs organization who spoke about the firing of Lovie Smith last week. That was no accident. He also is the only one conducting interviews, and eventually deciding who the team will hire — with ownership approval — as the next head coach.
"They've empowered me, right now, to be the face of the football operations, to run the football operations, to lead the charge for the next head coach," Licht said. "They have confidence in me and my group, my personnel people. So I should be the one talking about this right now."
Licht, 44, has worked at every level in football operations under such uber-successful head coaches as Bill Belichick (Patriots), Andy Reid (Eagles), Jimmy Johnson (Dolphins) and Bruce Arians (Cardinals). He knows how to get along with varied personalities, and each of those coaches quickly instilled winning cultures.
Licht knows what it looks like and what it feels like.
No Bucs general manager has had this much varied experience and power within the organization. Rich McKay, who began as the team's general counsel, was responsible for hiring Tony Dungy. But the Glazer family that owns the Bucs took away that authority when it traded for Jon Gruden. Mark Dominik assisted in setting up interviews for the Glazers when they hired Greg Schiano. He was fired two years later.
This feels different because it is different.
Licht began the process this weekend by interviewing Cardinals offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin and Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott, two men he has worked with. Bucs offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter is considered "a strong candidate" and will interview as well. Koetter interviewed Saturday for the 49ers' coaching vacancy.
Don't believe Koetter, who did a terrific job with the league's fifth-ranked offense and rookie quarterback Jameis Winston, is a prohibitive favorite. The Bucs didn't fire Smith because they feared Koetter going to another team. The Dolphins, who asked to interview Koetter, hired Bears offensive coordinator Adam Gase as their coach Saturday.
The Glazers simply lost faith in Smith, particularly in his ability to hire assistants or fix the defense, which regressed once he took over play-calling from defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier. He also did a poor job with control of the 53-man roster, particularly acquiring free agents.
This will be the fifth Bucs' head coach since 2009. It might also be Licht's only bite of the apple. Few GMs get a chance to hire more than one head coach. He's going to explore every avenue to get it right. Frankly, since 2009, the Glazers have been lousy at it.
"They are committed to winning," Licht said. "They are committed to finding the right guy. And right now, they're confident that we can find the right guy, and they've placed that confidence in me. I've been around some great organizations. I've been part of a coaching search in Arizona that resulted in a pretty good head coach. I've had a lot of experiences with that, with good coaches, and I don't think it's going to deter a great coach from coming here. It's an excellent situation. I've already been shown from the interest we've received that people want to come to Tampa and coach."
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What kind of coach is Licht looking for?
"You look for a guy that's very authentic and honest and can tell you the truth — sometimes that doesn't necessarily mean that's what you want to hear but what you need to hear," Licht said.
There are some telling things in that statement. There clearly was a feeling at One Buc Place that Smith didn't always hold players accountable, particularly on defense, for poor play and penalties.
It's always preferred when a general manager can take the owner's vision and hire a head coach. And if the GM controls the personnel decisions but can communicate well with the coach and acquire talent, dysfunction rarely occurs.
It's when those lines blur that you have issues.
Licht has the keys to the kingdom. It's a bold statement by the Glazers, who hope their faith will be rewarded.