LONDON, UK — It didn’t take Jaguars’ owner Shad Khan long to get caught up in Gardner Minshew mania. He was sold on his rookie quarterback from their first meeting at the NFL Combine in February.
Khan laughs at the memory because, initially, Minshew thought he was one of the Jaguars’ coaches. “So all of a sudden, I said, ‘OK, wow, this guy thinks I know a lot more than I do.’ ”
Fast forward to the midway point of the 2019 season – the Jaguars are 4-4 entering Sunday’s matchup with the Houston Texans at Wembley Stadium -- where everybody has been impressed with how Minshew has performed in the absence of injured starter Nick Foles. Khan expresses little surprise at Minshew’s success because of what he saw in his 23-year-old quarterback from the start: a touch of swagger and high football intelligence.
“I don’t know how many teams [Minshew] interviewed with,” Khan said Saturday in a wide-ranging interview with the Times-Union and jaguars.com at his London hotel.
He touched on subjects like the team’s ability to recover from the Foles injury, the Jalen Ramsey trade, and the Jaguars’ desire to keep pass-rusher Yannick Ngakoue. But Khan was clearly more engaged in discussing the process of acquiring Minshew and how his mindset is a big part of his success.
“The consensus was he wasn’t going to get drafted,” said Khan. “He came in and said, 'Ok, I know you guys have seen me. I know the book on me. I’m too short, don’t have the arm strength, too slow, but I won 11 f------ games last year [at Washington State].
“So, wow, this is pretty cool. For [Executive Vice-President of Football Operations] Tom Coughlin to immediately get up and say, ‘Ooh, this is interesting.’ Then we had Scott [Milanovich, QB coach], DeFilippo [John, offensive coordinator], Tom, Doug [Marrone, head coach] and Dave [Caldwell, GM], they started going through some plays and tape with him.
″[Minshew] knew probably more than they did on some of those plays they would pick up on. [He would say], ‘Oh, OK, I screwed that thing up. But you know why? Because I saw that guy coming over and I thought he was going to go here.’ His football IQ was just off the charts.”
Khan acknowledged he strongly encouraged his front office before the draft to take a quarterback, even though the Jaguars had signed the free-agent Foles to a four-year $88 million contract.
“I didn’t even care if we took a quarterback in the first round,” said Khan. “But we needed somebody, that something. At least in six prior years of my tenure, we just hadn’t been able to get it done, which is to have a confident backup.
“The phrase I used with Tom [Coughlin] and Doug [Marrone] was, ‘Where’s our Nick Foles?’ God forbid, something happens, who’s going to come in here and help us?”
It left Khan crestfallen when the Jaguars were forced to throw Minshew into action much earlier than anyone expected. Foles, just one quarter into the season opener against the Kansas City Chiefs, was lost for at least two months with a fractured collarbone.
“It’s like quite a bummer. Obviously the best-laid plans of mice and men,” said Khan, referring to a famous book title by author John Steinbeck. “That’s the first thought that went through my mind. You feel bad for Nick. He’s a great guy. I could sense his leadership and the difference he makes since we had him on the team.”
But there was some consolation for the Jaguars in knowing what they had in Minshew. According to Khan, the Jaguars had their eye on at least three quarterback options going into the draft. While the prospects were projected to be taken at various stages -- with Minshew easily being the lowest -- Khan came away from the interview process far more impressed with the player they ultimately took in the sixth round.
″[The other quarterbacks] won’t say anything, they’ve been programmed,” said Khan. “They’ll answer yes sir, no sir. When Gardner came in, he was the opposite. [Minshew] came in and was just as loose and relaxed, but a million times more prepared.”
Khan acknowledged being shocked at the attitude of one QB prospect, saying he was “so ill-prepared, arrogant.” It makes him feel all the more proud of trusting Caldwell’s assessment that Minshew would be available in the sixth round, though it made for a lot of anxiety until his No. 178 overall selection.
Obviously, Khan is overjoyed by what he’s seen from his NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate. But it didn’t cause the owner to dial down his expectations that much with Foles gone.
“You temper from the viewpoint that, to me, it was like Gardner in the preseason was not very good if you remember,” said Khan. “I remember the things he had said at the combine. He had the fire in the belly. So I had a very different feeling that I would have in the prior six years that all was not lost.
“Obviously, how he’s played, but also the confidence with other teammates, how the defense plays, how the receivers. . . . their game gets elevated when they think they’re not out of it.”
Minshew, the only quarterback in NFL history to have at least 13 TD passes and two or fewer interceptions through his first eight games, has arguably gained more national attention than any Jaguars’ player in history. Khan thinks what he’s put on tape explains why.
“The explosive, deep plays, and really never being down was. . . . we haven’t seen that with Blaine Gabbert or Blake [Bortles],” said Khan. “We have never said like, ‘Wow, he has the energy.’
“I tell you the biggest drama or intensity for me in the draft was that we went down to the sixth round on him. I thought we should take him [earlier].”
Khan briefly addressed other Jaguars-related topics without getting into too much detail:
On star cornerback Ramsey being traded to the Los Angeles, in exchange for two future first-round draft picks and a fourth-rounder: “I think it played out great for us. We want to have players who are committed to the Jacksonville Jaguars and are going to help us win. If not, then we want to get fair value out of them.”
On whether Ramsey’s departure boosts the chances of pass-rusher Yannick Ngakoue, a free agent after this season, getting the long-term contract he wants: “I don’t think it impacts that. We had what we thought was a very good offer [during the summer]. Yannick is a great player. Our goal is, we want him to be part of the team.”
On how he feels about the 2019 season to this point: “In a good place. We’ve had adversity and being able to overcome that. Good teams do that. I think it’s quite a testament to the team that we are able to encounter it and overcome that.”