The buccaneers saw the Light Yuma Pioneer
Jason Licht stays at home for the entire Super Bowl week despite his team being in the big game.
That’s because Yuma High School’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers are the first team to play the Super Bowl in their home stadium – thanks to victory over the Washington Football Team, New Orleans Saints, and Green Bay Packers in the playoffs.
Licht has been General Manager of Bucs since January 2014. It has been a long road for the 1989 YHS graduate.
In the past seven years, transforming the long-running Buccaneers into a Super Bowl team has been a long journey.
But here it is, a victory away from the ultimate football championship.
Licht moved to Yuma in the 1970s when he was in kindergarten with parents Ron and Karen Licht and older sister Patti. He spent all of his school years in Yuma and was excellent academically and athletically.
In an interview with the pioneer in July 2015, growing up in Yuma helped him get where he is today.
“It actually helps to come from Yuma,” he said at the time. “You actually have an advantage if you come from a small town, from Yuma, you just don’t notice it.
“It forces you to dream some, to take some risks,” he said. “If I had two candidates for a job who are basically the same and one from a small town, I would use that person because it helps set them apart.”
Licht was a companion to his beloved Nebraska Cornhuskers, who in their sophomore year played enough as Redshirt to earn a college letter. However, he wanted to play regularly instead of standing behind future NFL players on the depth map, so he moved to Nebraska-Wesleyan. It was a defensive device for all conferences in Division II for two years.
After college, Licht began scouting in the National Football League and got skilled jobs at franchises with top level coaches. He worked for a literal who’s who of NFL leaders – Bill Belichek, Andy Reid, Jimmy Johnson, Don Shula, Bruce Arians, and Pete Carroll.
Licht said he learned a lot from everyone, such as leadership and delegation authority from Reid – whose Kansas City chiefs will face Tampa Bay in the Super Bowl – and rating players from Belichek. He worked under Reid in Philadelphia and served twice with Belicheks New England Patriots. Light was on with the Patriots, Eagles and Cardinals as they advanced to the Super Bowl.
His second stint at the Cardinals was in 2013. He worked directly with head coach Bruce Arians and the general manager for player acquisition and contract negotiations, and led the club’s scouting as he oversaw both the college and pro-scouting departments.
What Licht told the pioneer in 2015 was a reference to the coaching change he finally made after the 2018 season.
“The guy I got the most out of was Bruce Arians,” he said. “I learned from him that there are different ways to skin a cat. Belichek and Reid started the long hours; Arians too, but he’s having fun along the way. I took away from him that you have to be yourself. “Bruce Arians and Jason Licht are pictured above after Licht hired his former boss in early 2019. (Courtesy photo)
Judging by his many television interviews over the years – as well as his appearances on HBO’s “Hard Knocks” when the Bucs’ training camp was unveiled a few years ago – Light has definitely stayed true to himself, including his great sense of humor.
Meanwhile, Licht also became a family man. Licht and his wife Blair have three children, sons Charlie and Theodore and daughter Zoe. There was also sadness when his father Ron – Jason’s greatest supporter – passed away in the fall of 2019. The Buccaneers scored a surprising game victory after his death. (Ron and Karen moved to Lincoln, Nebraska, decades ago.)
It was an interesting drive in Licht’s time as the privateer’s GM.
Tampa Bay went 2-14 in its freshman year. This made the Bucs the first choice in the 2015 design used for Florida State star Jameis Winston.
Licht showed a willingness to make the tough decisions as GM. Lovie Smith – who was hired before Licht – was sacked as coach after several seasons, and offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter was appointed head coach. However, this did not fully succeed as Winston continued to tend to generate sales.
Koetter was fired after the 2018 season. Licht hired the man he had so lovingly praised several years earlier – Bruce Arians.
Winston threw for more than 5,000 yards and 30 touchdowns, but also threw 30 interceptions. Arians had seen enough and wanted to move on – Licht made his trainer do what he thought was best.
In the meantime, Licht and his staff meticulously built a strong roster through design and trading. Sure, he infamously drafted kicker Roberto Aguayo in 2016. Aguayo struggled and after just a year, Light owned the flaw and cut it off to move on to more important developments.
His designs over the years have included recipients Mike Evans, Chris Godwon and Scotty Miller (Packers fans remember him), offensive linemen Tristen Wirfs, Donovan Smith and Ali Marpet, Vita Vea, linebackers Devin White and Antoine Winfield. Jr., Sean Murphy-Bunting, Carlton Davis, and Jordan Whitehead.
He signed former CSU Ram and Denver Bronco Shaquil Barrett as a free agent, along with the defensive tackle against Ndamukong Suh, and traded him for pass rusher Jason Pierre-Paul.
All the key players in the Super Bowl-bound Bucs.
Building such a strong roster resulted in the most famous route of all past off-season.
Living legend Tom Brady signed – he’s made nine Super Bowl appearances and six championships with New England in 20 years.
Getting Brady resulted in Ron Gronkowski coming out of retirement and trading to Tampa Bay. Licht signed when Leonard Fournette was running back at the beginning of the season.
The Buccaneers had some major blemishes in the middle of the season, but they fixed these. Now you’re here at the Super Bowl, playing against one of the other legendary coaches he once worked for – Andy Reid.
And light can stay at home with the family all week.
No doubt most of his old hometown of Yuma will be all the way behind him – with the exception of all those pesky Chiefs fans.