Locals recall new GM of Bucs
Dominik ‘pretty special’ as youth in Lawrence
Mark Dominik’s foray into the realm of high-profile sports executive came, oddly enough, in the form of mud volleyball.
As a Lawrence High student in the late-1980s, Dominik learned one day that Students Against Drunk Driving, a club in which he was involved, was in need of a venue for its annual mud volleyball tournament. He responded by offering to hold the event at his parents’ home near Clinton Lake, then helped organize everything from parking to the water trucks that turned a portion of the family’s five-acre yard into a sizable pit of mud.
The result? Approximately 240 mud-caked teenagers, representing the largest turnout in the event’s tenure.
“This was over 20 years ago,” says Jo Huntsinger, a former Lawrence High volleyball coach and SADD sponsor. “For me to remember a kid from more than 20 years ago, he must have been pretty special.”
While the nature of Dominik’s endeavors have changed a bit since high school — his current job description does not appear to involve the facilitation of mud volleyball tournaments directly– his organizational wherewithal hasn’t much wavered.
After 14 seasons as a pro-personnel assistant, pro scout and coordinator of pro personnel for the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Dominik, a Lawrence High and Kansas University graduate, was named general manager of the organization Jan. 17.
Speaking with the Journal-World recently, Dominik expressed excitement about his new position and the fortunate course of his career — the foundation for which, he said, was built during his time in Lawrence.
Despite not participating in football past his sophomore year of high school, a teenage Dominik went to great lengths to immerse himself in the local sports scene.
In college, he developed into the quintessential volunteer, assisting the KU athletic department with any kind of errands or odd jobs that needed to be done: hanging up posters, attending swim meets — diving into any opportunity that presented itself.
He befriended coaches, including former Kansas football recruiting coordinator Mitch Browning, and became a member of the university’s newly formed sports-management major.
“Shoot, when I first got to Lawrence, I worked at the bowling alley,” says Dominik. “I was 15 years old, cleaning out ashtrays. But it was a work ethic that had been instilled from my parents since I was 5, chopping wood with my dad on Saturdays. That’s been ingrained by both my mom and dad my whole life.”
While drive largely can be credited with his rise up the professional football foodchain — he now runs a team that has been one of the NFL’s most successful over the past decade — Dominik also admits he was aided by some good, old-fashioned luck.
His first position with an NFL franchise, for instance, came following a serendipitous turn of events that resulted in his first big break. One day, during his senior year at KU, Dominik arrived in the office of instructor James LaPoint distraught. An internship with the Kansas football team had just fallen through, and Dominik, who needed to complete an internship in order to graduate from the sports-management program, needed some advice.
As it happened, earlier that same day, LaPoint had met with a member of the Chiefs organization who had heard about KU’s sports-management program and was wondering if there were any students who might be a good fit for a new internship. He gave LaPoint his home phone number and encouraged him to call if anyone came to mind.
Upon Dominik’s arrival at his office, LaPoint knew he’d found his man.
“Mark was really down in the dumps,” says LaPoint. “So he sat down and I said, ‘How would you like to work for the Kansas City Chiefs?’ And he said, ‘Are you kidding me?'”
Dominik called the Chiefs official on Saturday and began an internship two days later. During his work with the team, he began to learn the intricacies of how a professional sports team was run, simultaneously impressing the organization enough to earn a job offer out of college. He spent a year and a half as a part of the Chiefs organization before moving on to the Bucs.
In the process, he also became something of an icon to KU sports-management majors.
“Obviously, after he got into that program, everybody wanted to be the new Mark Dominik,” LaPoint said. “‘How did Mark Dominik do that? What do I have to do to get a chance to work in the NFL?'”
Dominik admits a certain level of “awe” in how his career has unfolded. At just 37 years old, he has ascended from behind-the-scenes worker bee to one of the top officials of an NFL franchise.
“I would be a liar if I didn’t say, ‘Wow,'” says Dominik of his current situation. “But at the same time, I’ve worked hard, I can guarantee you that.”
Despite living 1,300 miles from Lawrence, Dominik also insists that his allegiance to KU remains largely intact. He still makes it back for the occasional Kansas football game and says that he gets chills whenever he sees a replay of “Mario’s Miracle” in last year’s NCAA men’s basketball national-championship game.
“I’ll put my KU hat on here every once in a while just to let people know,” he says.
As he was preparing last week to lead an organization that also will feature a new head coach — former Tampa Bay defensive backs coach Raheem Morris — the news of his promotion had begun to work its way through Lawrence. Normally a two-text-messages-per-hour kind of guy, his cell phone exploded with over 300 messages after his hire was announced. Many came courtesy of old friends from the Lawrence area, where Dominik’s new title was looked upon as a favorable development for obvious reasons.
“As soon as they play here, I’m gonna call him up and get some good tickets,” joked longtime friend Scott Stidham, a former Lawrence High assistant football coach now living in Tennessee. “I figure he’ll be getting quite a bit of calls when they play Kansas City, so maybe down here I’ll have a chance.”