About a week after the 2010 regular season came to an end, Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan Bill Kallus received an unexpected call in his office. On the other end was a Buccaneers representative with some exciting news to share: Kallus had just won a trip for two to Super Bowl XLV, thanks to a contest he wasn't even aware he had entered.
The mystery was quickly solved – Kallus had joined the One Buc Club on Buccaneers.com in October, and that automatically made him eligible for a series of contests. That was an unexpected perk; excited by the performance and potential of the NFL's youngest team, Kallus had primarily signed up to receive exclusive updates and news regarding the Buccaneers.
And, for the remainder of the season – before that cherry-on-the-top phone call – that's exactly what he got. Among the materials made available only to One Buc Club members during the season was a weekly game preview that included such features as opponents to watch, interesting statistical trends, injury updates and more.
Each game preview also included an exclusive question-and-answer session with a prominent Buccaneer figure. Each week up until the season finale, that figure was a player, ranging from rookie defensive tackle Gerald McCoy to Pro Bowl-bound offensive tackle Donald Penn. Before the Buccaneers' final game, however, as the team continued its exciting chase of a playoff spot, General Manager Mark Dominik sat down for his own Q&A with the One Buc Club.
The Buccaneers were still alive in the NFC postseason hunt; in fact, they would upset the defending-champion Saints in New Orleans and only miss the playoffs on a tiebreaker against the eventual Super Bowl XLV winners, Green Bay. Dominik addressed that pending game in the Superdome but mostly looked back at what the team had accomplished over the previous 23 months and what would come next in the franchise's development.
That Q&A has been reprinted below as an example of the in-season content delivered to members of the One Buc Club. The Club is free and simple to join; to find out more, please click here.
Q&A: General Manager Mark Dominik
It started with a plan.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers General Manager Mark Dominik assumed his current position in January of 2009 alongside new Head Coach Raheem Morris, and together the two set about reassembling the roster and infusing it with a great deal of youth.
Some long-time veterans moved on in the process, and the initial results were a little painful if, in retrospect, necessary. The Buccaneers went 3-13 in 2009, but the plan began to bear fruit late in the season, particularly as then-rookie QB Josh Freeman continued to grow into the role of starter. In 2010, it came together, and much faster than most analysts expected.
With a focus on building through the draft, a fearless attitude toward inserting young players in key roles and a renewed emphasis on adding talent through waiver claims and pickups, Dominik has helped build a team that not only contended for the playoffs in 2010 but looks ready to do so for years to come. And that was the plan: Build the team to last, to be playoff contenders year after year.
With Freeman as the centerpiece and a slew of talented budding stars around him, the Bucs are seeking a return to the days of the late '90s and early '00s, where playoff berths were the expected norm. Dominik, Morris and the Bucs' staff have remained steadfast in that plan, and it is quickly paying dividends.
We asked Dominik to look back over the last 23 months and ahead into the near future to give One Buc Club readers a feel for the state of the franchise.
Can you talk about the vision you and Coach Morris laid out for the team in January of 2009 and how close you've been able to stay to that plan?
"When we first got the opportunity, the mindset was we wanted to get younger, so we knew we had a lot of tough decisions to make with the current roster. We wanted to identify a quarterback, because if you want to have long-term success like a lot of teams that you consistently see in the playoffs do, you've got to have a quarterback to get you there. And then we wanted to build through the draft, and not just to say it as cliché but to really be aggressive in doing so. Knowing that 2009 had an opportunity as a quarterback class – obviously the three guys that went – and then taking advantage of the depth of the 2010 draft class, we've stayed to the plan since Day One and we'll continue to stick to it."
A local writer recently described the drafting of Josh Freeman as maybe the best decision in franchise history. You and Coach Morris were sold on Freeman, but let's be clear: Did you really think he would be this good this fast?
"I would say that I think Raheem did, because of his ability to be around him when he was a freshman in college. What impressed me the most about Josh was how committed he was to the offseason program and how much time he spent in this building, even on days when there was no one else around. In February he's out there throwing – March, April, May. There wasn't a month when he wasn't out there working, calling somebody to come out here and get to work. So I think what's been the most rewarding part has been the fact that his hard work has paid off. I think that has a lot to do with Josh Freeman, it has to do with the weapons around him, but it also has to do with the coaching staff getting him prepared. To go from 10 touchdowns and 18 interceptions to  touchdowns and six interceptions – that's phenomenal. That's something to be really proud of."
Look back at the 2010 draft and what it has meant and could mean to this franchise, not only in regard to the men you selected but the other players you have picked up from that class along the way.
"We went into 2010 – really after the draft was over in 2009 – and we wanted to do everything we could to acquire picks for the 2010 draft class. So we traded away Alex Smith, we traded away [Byron] Leftwich, we traded Luke McCown, we traded Gaines Adams, and we picked up four more selections to get us as many as we could have. The reason why was because we thought with the uncertainty of the rookie pool and what was going to go on that there was going to be a lot of really talented juniors or redshirt sophomores that would declare, and they did. It was a great draft class that declared, and I think you're seeing that now, not only in Tampa, but across the board. You see it in New England, you see it in Cleveland…there are a lot of clubs that have really grasped this draft class and taken advantage of it. We wanted to really do that, but we didn't want the draft to end in April. For us, this draft class we thought had a chance to pay off dividends all throughout the entire NFL season. With the way we wanted to build through the draft, we were committed and we took our coaches off of free agency in January and February of last year. We said, 'We'll get back to free agency, but let's start working on the draft right away.' Obviously we've put a lot of extra emphasis on our scouts and really kind of grinded them out on a new way of how we do things to make sure that we were prepared to claim players when they got cut, or if an injury happened to us like it has this year, go get a guy off a practice squad that we had a lot of confidence in. So that's where I think all the preparation has really paid off throughout the building."
Perhaps not specifically players like LeGarrette Blount and Ted Larsen, but was it your plan and belief all along that you would be able to keep adding players from this draft well after it was over?
"We started it last year a little bit when Michael Bennett was let go and we claimed him. As a former pro director, that's kind of how you always look at it – how can you go steal a Donald Penn and make him come in here and be a part of your football team? So that's been my mindset, and obviously Shelton Quarles and Dennis Hickey and everybody has bought in from our front office standpoint, and then we have a head coach that's willing to do that and say, 'Let's bring in guys here and see what they can do – not what they can't do.' I think regardless of the claim priority on the day when the cut-downs were made, we were going to go into it and make sure we took advantage of this class. If that's Al Woods coming off the practice squad, then that's what it is, or if it's Dominique Harris, who we took off of Buffalo's practice squad, then that's how we're going to do it."
How pleased were you with the play of Gerald McCoy before he suffered his season-ending injury? Did he look like he was becoming the player you expected him to be when you drafted him third overall?
"It's unfortunate, his injury and what happened, because he was playing his best football, and he had been for almost four straight weeks where he was consistently playing at a high level. I think it was just understanding and just getting his mind and feet wet in the National Football League and what actually happens inside and how tough it is to play in there. A lot of times you're not sure what a defensive tackle can do in his first year, but he was playing at a really high level, having multiple-sack games, and making a lot of tackles. It was disappointing, but I've been proud of how Gerald has handled the injury. I think that's the one thing that should be most encouraging. He's tuned in and he loves the Bucs. We're looking forward to him coming back next year."
You've obviously got the quarterback situation settled for years to come, and you have young players in place at running back and receiver that look like long-term solutions as well. Last year you went heavy on defensive tackle in the draft. What specific areas will you be targeting next?
"I like what we've done with trying to provide a lot of depth. We have a lot of young guys, like [Week 16] when we had 15 rookies playing in the game. We're getting a lot of great young experience, so that helps take some pressure off the draft, where you can go in and pick up a Larry Asante and a Dominique Harris at safety, so maybe you don't have to draft a safety, or you don't have to put a guy as a 'need.' So we look at it that way going into the 2011 draft. I think we're in a much better position to continue to try to take the best player on the board, regardless of the position. I know that's very cliché sounding, and we certainly have a few areas on this football team that we know we'd like to continue to address. But we're not going to force a player onto this roster because of a need. That's been my philosophy since I got this opportunity."
Heading into the season finale, the Buccaneers were going to finish the season either 10-6 or 9-7, one year after going through a 3-13 season heavy on roster turnover. It was likely that analysts were going to consider the season a success whether or not the Bucs were in the playoffs in the end. Either way, was it a satisfying season for you?
"I think it [was] disappointing not to make the playoffs [after being] that we're close. But any time you have a chance or you get to 10 wins in the National Football League, that's a good season. Now, the playoffs and championships, that's what the entire season's about. But from where this team has come and where we are now, I consider it a very successful season. It's not the season that we want to have long-term here, but it is a great step in the right direction."
I know you and the coaching staff are confident in all the players you put out there on the field, but looking back at the season, are there are any players who truly surprised you with how well they performed?
"I think the one guy that continues to come to my mind, and it's not really a surprise, but Ronde Barber, at his age, is a phenomenal football player, and he defies the position because of how well he takes care of his body and his mind week-in and week-out during the offseason and regular season. He just defies logic, and he does that because of his commitment to his training, and then his instincts and his ball skills take over. It's always fun and it's exciting to continue to see him play at such a high level, and he's really a guy that I felt could have had a Pro Bowl opportunity, or certainly should have been an alternate, in my opinion. So I'd say Ronde, I'm really proud of him, because corners don't play in the National Football League at his age, but he does. You can't tell if he's 30 or if he's 35. You wouldn't know the difference."
Outside expectations are going to be much higher going into the 2011 season than they were going into this year. Does that put more pressure on you and Coach Morris, or do you treat this coming offseason the same way? After two years of concentrating on amassing young talent, does the strategy shift at all?
"The strategy won't shift that much at all. We're going to continue to take advantage of the draft as much as possible. I think what Raheem has done with this football team this year, in terms of trying to put pressure on the team this year with things like, 'We're the best team in the NFC,' 'It's mentality before reality,' 'The race to 10,' he's already put the stress on this football team. I think the best part about it is he talked to the team before we played Seattle and said, 'Our playoffs start now.' Our team came out and responded. They got a good taste of what it's like to play high-level football at the end of a season. Again, all these rookies are going through the proverbial 'rookie wall,' they're going through the long season of 20-plus games when you include the preseason, and we believe they're all going to grow from it. Really, Raheem's got this team's mentality of saying, 'This is where we want to be.' So I don't see that being a distraction, and the same thing goes – we want to continue down the path that's gotten us to where we are today, and that's the draft. We're going to continue to do that."