Buccaneers’ GM Jason Licht ‘couldn’t be happier’ with Antonio Brown

Buccaneers GM Jason Licht, the architect of the Tampa Bay Super Bowl squad, fields a call from Post columnist Steve Serby for some Q&A ahead of Sunday’s title bout vs. the Chiefs.

Q: Have you had a Super Bowl dream yet?

A: I have. I told Bruce [Arians, coach] when we hired him [in 2019], after we went through the day with his press conference, then we got together at his hotel, myself and his wife … and I told him after a few drinks that my goal was to have a statue of Bruce in front of Raymond James Stadium, and unveil a statue of him. Which meant that we have had a lot of success when his time is up, whenever he decides to retire, and it also means that we all did our job very well. And I had that dream [early in the week].

Q: What did Arians say when you told him?

A: He just laughed. He said, “Yeah, brother.” (Laugh)

Q: How do you explain the bond between Tom Brady and Antonio Brown?

A: Tom cares about all of his teammates, and he’s got a genuine approach to every single one in an individual relationship, with each one. He really cares about people, and he cares about Antonio, and he really wants Antonio to revive his career and to be successful — not only as a player, but as a man.

Q: Are you encouraged by what you’ve seen from Antonio Brown?

A: Extremely. We couldn’t be happier with what kind of a teammate he’s been this year.

Q: Describe the bond between Brady and Rob Gronkowski.

A: It’s a combination of best friends slash big brother, little brother. You can’t help but have fun when you’re around Gronk. They have a lot of fun together, but they both take this game and winning championships very, very seriously.

Jason Licht and Antonio Brown
AP (2)

Q: How did Brady sell himself to you and Arians?

A: He didn’t have to sell himself (chuckle). We were prepared to sell ourselves. But he’s such a humble person, and people think we’re just saying this just as hyperbole. He did not want to come in here with the approach that, “I’m a superstar, and you better treat me like one.” And I believe he did that, sold himself, to show us that that’s not what we’re getting, we’re not getting a selfish person that wants the red carpet rolled out for.

Q: What is your favorite Brady Super Bowl memory?

A: Well, it’s gotta be when I was with the Patriots in the 2001 season and winning against the Rams in New Orleans as a second-year player … and get out there with ice in his veins, and beating the Rams, who were supposed to clobber us.

Q: What scares you about Patrick Mahomes?

A: He’s got a great arm, obviously. … His improv skills and ability to create plays from anywhere on the field.

Q: The Mike Evans draft in 2014 — Sammy Watkins went before him — why did you pick him over Odell Beckham Jr.?

A: I really liked OBJ, and thought that OBJ was very explosive, fast, all the things that we’ve seen of OBJ in his career. Not to take anything away from him, because he’s had a fantastic career, but we liked Mike because — not in any particular order — but his size, his catch radius, he’s faster than what people think. He’s a very, very humble person, and great teammate that we felt we wanted to draft to start building that type of culture.

Q: Describe Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaq Barrett.

A: I don’t mean to sound like a broken record, but it goes along the same theme. They’re different personalities, but JPP — talk about defying odds. Gets his hand blown off, breaks his neck in a car wreck, comes back from both of ’em and is still an elite player. He just wants to compete — sometimes he’s out there on a half of a leg. He wasn’t supposed to come back from a broken neck. I don’t know the exact odds, but they were (chuckle) … he had better odds of winning the lotto than what he did coming back from a broken neck. Shaq Barrett, once again, humble beginnings, goes to a small school, Nebraska-Omaha, football program is shut down, transfers to Colorado State … was a chubby defensive end that nobody drafts, but he just made plays … sits and learns from a great one in Von Miller … gets a shot and explodes with 19.5 sacks in the first year [with the Bucs]. It’s all because of his will and drive to be very good.

Q: What is your definition of leadership?

A: People lead in different ways, men and women, in every business and way of life. There is no one way to lead. Like Tom Brady — leading by caring about people. I think you have to delegate and empower people. It’s an old cliché, but be the dumbest person in the room, try to hire the best people that you can, regardless of their race … male, female, whatever it is, get the best, and I think I have succeeded by being the dumbest person in the football side of the organization.

Q: What do you expect your emotions to be on Super Sunday?

A: It’s gonna be a wide spectrum of normal nerves, excitement. I’m gonna be thinking, I’ll be honest with you, of my father a lot, who passed away during the 2019 season, who couldn’t be a prouder father, and someone I really looked up to. So there’s gonna be a lot of emotion there. And then, I’m gonna do my best not to lose it during the national anthem, and once the kickoff, it’s just gonna be a regular game in terms of the way I watch every game.

Q: Describe your father Ron.

A: Very humble … a people person … never met a man or a woman that he didn’t like … hard-working … and comes from humble beginnings, and would always remind me to stay humble.

Q: Describe the traits of an ideal Jason Licht football player.

A: Very tough … a great team player … football smart … a team able to deal with adversity and deal with adversity issues and got through it. … All of those things more so than pure talent. There’s gotta be a selflessness to the player that puts the team before itself.

Q: Who are general managers in other sports you admire?

A: Theo Epstein is the first one that comes to mind. He’s very smart, I don’t want to put myself on the same spectrum with him in terms of intelligence. He believed in team, and he believed in the character traits of the players and he also believed in hiring great people around him, and he relied on those people, and I have a super group of people, otherwise we wouldn’t be in this situation. He had good teams that have gone on to break two curses, the Red Sox and the Cubs — how can you not admire them?

Q: If you could pick the brain of any football GM in history, who would it be?

A: I really admire [former Packers GM] Ron Wolf — and I can pick his brain (chuckle) because he lives in Florida, and do talk to him occasionally and check in with texts, and he checks in with me. I love the way he was humble even though he had a lot of success, and he could make fun of himself, and I really admire that … I think that keeps you grounded.

Q: What is your favorite memory of the young Andy Reid, as Eagles assistant director of player personnel and VP of player personnel from 2003-07?

A: I have a lot. When I had first gotten the job there — and I’d gotten the job through Tom Heckert, who was the head of personnel there and was one of my closest friends. I’d been on the job for a few months, and didn’t have really the close relationship with Andy yet. And over time, over a few months, he’d walk into my office, just talk to me. We’d talk football, but we would talk life. And one day he invited me to go eat with him, it was during the offseason, at his favorite Italian restaurant in Philly. And I told my boss Tom Heckert, I said, “Andy invited me to the restaurant.” He’s like: “You’re in.” (chuckle).

Q: What makes Bruce Arians, Bruce Arians?

A: He’s the ultimate example of being genuine and authentic. There is never a time when he is not telling you what’s on his mind if you ask him a question. You’re gonna get the pure truth, and the pure opinion. He gives it to his players … he’s being harsh but he’s just being honest.

Buccaneers owner Joel Glazer (r.) and general manager Jason Licht chat on the field in 2019.

Q: Whatever comes to mind: Tristan Wirfs?

A: Powerful, athletic … ultimate team guy.

Q: How surprised were you that he lasted until your 14th pick?

A: Nothing surprises me any more in the draft (laugh). How happy were we? Extremely. Elated.

Q: Leonard Fournette?

A: Proud of the way he has grown as a man this year, and as a teammate. When you go from being a superstar and the horse at a team and the offense, to a team when you are sharing time and backing up another player and at one time being a healthy scratch, to leading the team in a halftime speech in the NFC Championship, it makes us all very proud of him.

Q: Thoughts on Ryan Fitzpatrick?

A: One of my favorite people. A great family man … incredibly smart … also selfless … and a great teacher slash leader.

Q: Thoughts on Jimmy Johnson when you were with the Dolphins as offensive quality control coordinator in 1996?

A: Unbelievable motivator. Learned a lot in my one year under him, although I didn’t realize at the time how much I was learning — the importance of the draft and the value of a draft pick.

Q: Jameis Winston?

A: Still one of the favorites of my children … a very, very good person … my kids still have jerseys of Jameis hanging in their rooms, if that tells you anything.

Q: Ryan Succop?

A: (Chuckle) With the amount of kickers that we’ve gone through over the years, and lack of success, a godsend.

Q: What would you say was the very low point for you as a GM?

A: Back-to-back 5-11 seasons [2017-18].

Q: Who were your favorite players growing up?

A: I was, because of my parents and my family, the biggest Nebraska fan you could imagine. We moved to Colorado when, I think, I was 5 because of my father’s job — he lost his job where we were and he found work in Colorado. The 1983 national championship team of Turner Gill, Mike Rozier, those guys, and then I was also a Broncos fan, and grew up loving Randy Gradishar, Karl Mecklenburg, John Elway.

Q: What was the drink you made best as a bartender at the Brass Rail?

A: (Laugh). You know what, someone pointed that out that was on my Wikipedia page. It’s gotta be one of my buddies messing around with me that did that. That was a college bar [Nebraska-Wesleyan], and I did that in the summers. … In college bars there aren’t many martinis being made (laugh), mostly Jack and Coke, and just pouring beer out of the tap. … I do make a mean Manhattan though. My wife has taught me to make a mean Manhattan.

Q: Favorite movie?

A: I never seem to be able to turn off “Shawshank Redemption.”

Q: Favorite meal?

A: It’s gonna be a steak — Pittsburgh style — with a great bottle of wine, and creamed spinach.

Q: What is Pittsburgh style?

A: Medium rare but charred [or] rare-plus, but charred.

Q: How does it feel to be mentioned as an NFL Executive of the Year candidate?

A: It makes me incredibly proud of my staff. It starts with [director of football administration) Mike Greenberg, [director of player personnel] John Spytek, [director of college scouting] Mike Biehl, [director of pro scouting] Rob McCartney … and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention every scout.

Q: How proud of you how Arians has implemented such a diverse staff?

A: Awesome. It has changed my view of hiring practices as well.

Q: Do you have to pinch yourself that you’re hosting a Super Bowl in Tampa?

A: At some point I will.

Q: What do you like best about your team?

A: I like the personality of this team. What a great locker room we have, and I’m not just saying that, it’s evident how selfless they all are, and it starts with two people — it starts with Bruce and our quarterback.

Q: What drives you?

A: My family. My immediate family, my extended family. … Very humble beginnings I have, from a small town [Fremont, Neb.], and my father and mother have always told me: “You can do whatever you want. You gotta put your mind to it and work hard.” And I’ll never forget the unwavering support that they gave me. I wasn’t supposed to play Division I football, that the odds were against me on that. The odds were against me getting a job in the NFL. My father said you gotta do it on your own. And I always do it for them, I always think of them in everything that I’ve been fortunate enough with the teams that I’ve been with that have been successful.

Q: Did you think we’d see this day that the Super Bowl would be played on time?

A: There were times when I wondered how this was gonna happen. And, I can’t tell you how much hard work was done on our end — Greg Skaggs is our director of athlete performance — being the most hated person in the organization at times by the players, for being the quote unquote hall monitor (chuckle), of entertaining players and getting us to this point, but also the NFL, for their protocols, which at times we wondered why we were doing these things. And then to get to this point, now you understand why they did the things they did.

New York Post

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