That was, in fact, the second question Jason Licht fielded on Thursday, the day he was introduced as the new general manager of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That appointment came exactly three short weeks after Lovie Smith had been named the team's new head coach.
There may be an actual binary answer to that question, but what matters is the practical answer. When it comes to building the Buccaneers' roster and returning the team to playoff contention – the single mission shared by Licht and Smith – the important decisions will be the work of a partnership.
"Every place that I’ve worked, especially successful teams in those eras, the GM and the head coach have to work together," said Licht. "It’s a partnership, and at the end of the day it doesn’t matter if you’re Ron Wolf, Bill Polian or Jason Licht – our job is to serve the coach. He’s got to tell us what kind of players he wants, and we’ve got to bring the players. My staff and I [have to bring] the right fits. Just like I think I’m a great fit for this family, for this coach, we’ve got to get the right fits on the field, otherwise it just doesn’t work. It’s going to be a partnership.”
Both men expect to disagree from time to time, but they also believe the discussions arising from those disagreements to be helpful and useful. In the end, if a difference of opinion proves fundamentally impossible to resolve, then that in itself will be a red flag when it comes to the decision at hand. Using the draft room as an example, Licht said that if he and Smith can't agree on a player, then they will ultimately eliminate that player from contention and move on to the next one.
“To me, that’s easy – on draft day, we’ll have all the answers figured out," said Licht. "We’ll know who we’re taking. There will be no arguments on draft day. Going in to the draft – arguments are healthy. I’ve had arguments with every coach that I’ve worked for, and every GM. Some of them would be happy to tell you about them, I’m sure. We’ll have arguments on players. I’m going to plead my case. I told Lovie, during the interview process, that if he doesn’t like a player, I’m going to be in his office 20 times trying to prove why my player, that I like, is the guy that we need, and I’m sure he’ll do the same thing. If we don’t come to an agreement, the answer is easy, it lies in itself - we won’t take that player.”
Indeed, collaborative efforts require decisions reached by consensus, which is exactly the work environment Smith and Licht intend to create at One Buccaneer Place. And that's why neither man considers the "who's in charge" question to be particularly relevant.
"We're going to discuss everything, from who's on the roster to why certain guys are playing to who we're going to pick or if we trade," said Smith. "All of those things are going to be group discussions. We're going to pull on any type of knowledge we can get and all knowledge that we can get from everyone. Yes, I do think that too much is made out of [who gets the final say]. We're going to be making decisions."
"I really do…too much [is made of it]," he said. "I can probably count in my head eight teams that are in the same kind of situation we are. I don't want to get into the nuts and bolts of it, but we really are a partnership. We are working together, and if we can't come to a decision, we move on to the next decision. He's going to put a lot of trust in me and my staff to come to a consensus. It's not like Lovie can sit there and watch 600 players. The coaches can't watch 600 players. That will be our job. We'll [identify] the top players. I'll tell him who I think we should draft, he'll watch them, and if we agree then we'll do it."
Though Licht is assuming his first general manager position, he has held significant posts in the personnel departments for a string of winning teams. He has found a way to cooperate and collaborate with some of the NFL's best head coaches, in the process creating a culture of success. From Bill Belichick to Andy Reid to Ken Whisenhunt, the coaches Licht has worked alongside have wanted as much critical input as possible when it came to the team's most important decisions.
"He’s been around so many different winning organizations," said Buccaneers Co-Chairman Joel Glazer. "If you look at where he’s been, whether it’s New England, Philadelphia, Arizona, when they were in the Super Bowl and went 10-6 last year, he’s been around teams with a history of winning. He has seen first-hand what it takes to build a winning organization, a winning team and work in an environment that produces winners."
And he has left a good impression on those coaches he's worked with. Whisenhunt, who was recently hired as the Tennessee Titans' head coach after six seasons at the helm in Arizona (2007-12), believes Smith has found a very able partner.
“I think Jason is an outstanding talent evaluator both on the college and pro level, from working with him in both of those situations. He does a terrific job of communicating and has always found players that have been productive for teams. I think it is a great fit with Tampa and I know he will do a great job.”
And he'll do it by creating a working bond with Smith based on trust, communication and a mutual dedication to doing whatever is necessary to produce a winner.
"It really isn't about who's in charge," said Licht. "We both are in charge of our own deals, but we are working together. Like I said, it's going to be a partnership."