Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Brooks proving to be the man for the job
TAMPA - If you have any remaining doubts that Lightning owner Jeff Vinik always gets his man, check out the busy administrator sitting in the Tampa Bay Storm's executive suite. As a perennial Pro Bowl linebacker for the Buccaneers, Derrick Brooks earned the nickname "The Don'' for his leadership skills during a 14-year career that is likely to land him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Since being named president of the Storm 11 months ago, Brooks is applying that same steely attention to detail as one of the Arena League's storied franchises opens an 18-game schedule tonight at Chicago. "It's been good because I've been able to get involved in everything,'' said Brooks, who officially announced his NFL retirement in August. "All the business decisions, all the football decisions, they all come across my desk.''Vinik's ownership group, Tampa Bay Sports & Entertainment, added the Storm to its portfolio last spring. Three months later, Vinik assigned point man Tod Leiweke to seal the deal with Brooks, who was staying busy with several projects in Tampa and a steady job as an ESPN football analyst. "It was Jeff's idea to find the best guy -- and Derrick was the most obvious choice,'' said Leiweke. "When Derrick Brooks takes something on, there's only one way the job gets done. He's not looking for side roads, excuses or the easy way out. This is a man who commits himself 100 percent.'' Leiweke and Vinik aren't the only executives thrilled to have Brooks associated with the Storm, who have won five ArenaBowl championships. When Arena League commissioner Jerry Kurz heard the news from his office in Tulsa, Okla., he realized the Storm had hit with maximum credibility. "Todd put Derrick on with me and I was as gracious as I could be without jumping through the phone,'' said Kurz. "I knew the value someone like him could bring to the franchise.'' As usual, Brooks did his due diligence before taking on a major new responsibility. He took 30 days to survey the Arena League landscape, attending a couple of Storm games and "sneaking'' into some practices. Then Brooks talked to former Bucs teammate Jeff Gooch to gauge his interest in becoming the Storm's VP of Football Operations. "That was important to me because Gooch can relate to these players,'' Brooks said. "He understands what it's like to come from a small school.'' The Storm's 2012 roster is a blend of veterans and youngsters trying to mark their mark in professional football. Two former University of South Florida standouts, quarterback Matt Grothe and wide receiver Amarri Jackson, could form a productive passing combination this spring. "The way we're structured, our league is supposed to be a stepping stone,'' Kurz said. "Let's not kid ourselves.'' Former Bucs receiver and kick returner Mark Jones is here, hoping to resurrect his career at the age of 31. "Guys here are trying to get to the next level,'' Jones said, "and it's great to have someone of the stature of a Derrick Brooks as part of this organization. He took tremendous pride in his play with the Bucs and when he spoke, believe me, everyone listened. Players on this roster want to take this team back to the prominent position it had years ago.'' The 2011 Storm suffered through a 7-11 season under Dave Ewart and Brooks believes the franchise's brand was damaged by the controversy swirling around Tim Marcum, Tampa Bay's long-time head coach. Marcum resigned just before last year's season opener after it was made public that pornographic and racist emails were found on his work computer. Marcum has denied he forwarded the emails to any other party. "Local support is getting better,'' Brooks said, "but it's a tough market and there's also the Tim Marcum effect. There's some people we have to win back … and we will.'' When Brooks chose to retain Ewart, it took all the restraint Leiweke could muster to refrain from applauding. "With all of his ambition, he gave the coach a chance. … I thought not only is Derrick determined to succeed, but he's a good man,'' Leiweke said. "It would have been so easy to say I'm bringing in all my own people. I know Derrick Brooks works for the Storm, but he's been great for the hockey team, too. He and (Lightning GM) Steve Yzerman have built a friendship and anytime I see him in the hall, it brings a smile to my face.'' You won't see Brooks drawing up any plays before or after the Storm's home opener against Georgia Friday night. He's been too busy picking out team colors and uniforms, even the carpeting in the team offices. "I'm going to be the best I can be today and we'll see what the future holds,'' Brooks said when asked whether his tenure with the Storm should be considered an apprenticeship for an NFL executive position. "We have to make this league and this team relevant.'' Brooks said he's often asked whether he plans on returning to the Bucs at some point in a management role. "I have a two-part answer to that question,'' Brooks said with a sly grin. "My response is one, not at this time and two, they have my number.''