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Shad Khan reflects on 10 years of Jaguars ownership, with an eye on the future

December 14 marks a decade since Khan was formally approved as team owner. He reflects on what he has learned and where he has to improve in long-ranging interview.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — On the eve of the 10th anniversary of his purchase of the franchise, Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan was asked to do some reflecting. What has he learned through ten [mostly losing] seasons? Where does he need to do better? What might he have done differently?

Why Jacksonville in the first place?

“What I like about Jacksonville is that there's a vacuum here; there's a football team here; and, as an owner, I can move the needle,” the 71-year old Khan explained aboard his superyacht Kismet while docked along the St. John’s River. “How many times do you get a chance to move the needle in a good way in a great American city? Very rarely. So that really is the power here.”

When Wayne and Delores Weaver sold the team to Khan in the fall-winter of 2011, they did so with the intention of selling to an owner who was committed to keeping the Jaguars in Jacksonville. While rumors continued to be floated here-and-there about a potential move during the early years of Khan’s ownership, they’re nearly non-existent a decade later (a point illustrated by a plot-graph poster, created by the Jaguars PR team, that was subtly presented during this conversation with Khan). Khan’s continued push for development along the Jacksonville riverfront, including bringing a Four Seasons Hotel to Jacksonville, has demonstrated his commitment to the city. When asked his greatest accomplishment during his decade of ownership, Khan immediately replied (just as he did in an earlier interview this month with the Times Union) that it was helping ensure the passage of the Human Rights Ordinance in 2018, which banned discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in Jacksonville. 

His commitment to the city of Jacksonville itself is evident. He has taken the time to build a solid foundation of commitment – a foundation that has withstood all the losses on the field. 

“Owners get judged in a lot of different ways,” team president Mark Lamping, who was also present for this conversation, said. “[One,] do you believe that person really wants to win? Do you believe that that person is giving the people that are making those decisions that affect wins and losses all the support and resources they need? Do they meddle? Do they invest back into the community? [And then] you have the obvious one: what’s the freakin’ record? Because you are what your record says you are.”

Khan’s record as owner currently stands at 41-116. 

“I would tell Jaguars fans: you couldn’t have a better owner for four of those five things,” Lamping continued. “Now, unfortunately, the fifth one is probably the most important… that’s why a lot of people want to see Shad succeed because they know how good he is on those four, basic things. Just haven’t gotten the outcomes.” 

How could that change in the next decade? What’s the level of urgency to flip that switch? And will it entail a second coaching change in as many years? 

This conversation with Khan and Lamping began with addressing the elephant in the room, the backdrop marring an otherwise picturesque, Jacksonville winter night: Urban Meyer.

On Urban Meyer

Let’s begin with this: from this writer’s perspective, sitting directly opposite Khan and Lamping at Kismet’s outdoor dining table, it is clear the duo recognize there’s some sort of problem at TIAA Bank Field. To what extent that problem exists and whether that problem is being caused by someone directly in the building or caused by outside influence is where Khan insists he is still evaluating. 

“What's different about this is you have losses and you have drama. In the past, it was like, you were, quote, ‘the lowly Jaguars’ and everyone left you alone. The scrutiny we have is really something different,” Khan said with regards to Meyer and the reports that continue to leak out regarding a dysfunctional work environment within the organization. That included one report from Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network, the league’s media organization itself, which Pelissero doubled-down on on local 1010XL & 92.5 FM on Monday. Meyer has denied many of the specifics in Pelissero’s report, including a reported confrontation with wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr. and a staff meeting in which he called assistant coaches “losers” and forced them to defend their resumes. 

“How much of that [scrutiny] are we bringing upon ourselves? How much of that is deserved? Urban has won wherever he was… and when you win in football, you create enemies. The only way you can really deal with that is you gotta win a game,” Khan said. 

“I have an open line of communication with the players. I’m in the team meetings the night before games. I'm not living in a vacuum. I talked to the other coaches,” Khan continued when asked about the recent reports. Those recent reports have many fans campaigning for Meyer to be fired. “I'm not impulsive. I learned that a long time ago with anything that's this important: you don't want to be impulsive. You want to look at exactly what [you] know firsthand, or what people are telling me, and then collect that information and do the right thing.”

Khan did praise Meyer’s push for a Sports Performance Center, which is set to break ground in early 2022, noting the Jaguars were in the bottom-third in the league in square-footage dedicated to sports performance; Khan also noted the relatively low number of injuries the team has incurred compared to previous years. He also noted that, during the Jaguars road-trip to Los Angeles earlier this month, Rams ownership told Khan that they are modeling their future Sports Performance Center after the Jaguars’. But on the subject of giving Meyer a longer leash for a long-term “rebuild,” Khan minced no words. 

“When somebody comes in and says, ‘I have this plan, a four-year plan’ or something like that? No. The plan is you need to start winning now. And tell me what you need. And that’s what we’re going to do. Because that (long-term plan) is absolutely a trap I don’t believe in falling into.”

On Trevor Lawrence

If there was one moment during this nearly hour-long conversation in which Khan was glowing, it was when he was asked about Lawrence, the Jaguars’ rookie quarterback and long-proclaimed generational talent.

“I think he's vital [to the team’s long-term success]. I met him on Zoom before we drafted him, and all I can tell you is: he is even better than advertised,” Khan beamed. “Look at how he's handled the last week. I think it is exemplary. 

“And I gotta tell you one thing he told me the very first time I met him. He said ‘look: if you pick me, I'm gonna retire as a Jaguar.’ I hate to say it: nobody's ever said that.”

Khan was then asked if he was concerned about Lawrence’s development, given the turbulence of the past week and 11 losses with four games still to play. Lawrence lost four total games between his time at Cartersville High School and Clemson University over the past seven years. Khan deferred to looking at the rest of this year’s crop of rookie quarterbacks – excluding the Patriots’ Mac Jones, who, as Khan noted with admiration, is playing for a coach who “the Super Bowl trophy will probably be named after” one day, Bill Belichick.

“But that's no excuse. The key lesson is: we need a quarterback. And we've needed it. We got one, and I think it's something where we want to make sure the development is good.”

It’s all well and good that a bright-eyed, 21-year old Lawrence pledged to Khan he would remain committed to this franchise long-term. But relationships with star players need to constantly be maintained, something Khan noted as a big lesson he has learned in his decade as owner of the Jaguars. 

“If we had been able to sustain which players to pay, which players not to pay, how to supplement, picking a quarterback. I mean, we moved on from Blake, and then what happened? Those are some of the lessons I certainly took away that when you sign who you want, what’s their mental make-up? And things like that.”

And for what it’s worth, Khan said he spoke with one of those players who “got away,” former No. 5 overall pick Jalen Ramsey, during the team’s recent trip to Los Angeles.

“I have no beef at all [with Jalen]. I mean, I have nothing but the utmost respect for him. I like him. I know why he wanted to leave. What we got for him and draft capital – what we do with it is our issue – but he was a key part of making sure that we got what we valued him on.”

We will see in the coming years with Lawrence and the Jaguars' bevy of other, young players who will soon be up for contract extensions if that lesson was indeed learned.

On the Four Seasons Hotel

We’ll dive into Khan’s thoughts on the future of downtown Jacksonville in the next section. But Khan’s back-and-forth with another reporter regarding bringing a Four Seasons Hotel to Jacksonville was the most passionate and fired-up he became during the conversation. Khan dispelled any rumors of it being a farce – fast.

“It's such an idiotic question that there's no other way of putting it. You think we'd be out there talking about it as a scam? I mean, it's ridiculous,” Khan said. Khan was then asked about Microsoft CEO Bill Gates’ involvement, as Gates’ investment firm recently took control of the Four Seasons Hotels. 

“What difference does it make? Nothing happens through Four Seasons that doesn’t go through Four Seasons Toronto (which Khan owns). Whether it's talent development, whether it's the business people, whether it's the power brokers in Canada, whether it's the Prime Minister, Lady Gaga – they all go through Four Seasons Toronto. All of them.”

(For what it is worth: Gates has been a frequent renter of Kismet for family vacations).

“As a matter of fact, [Four Seasons corporate] told me, ‘hey, look: we don't think [a Four Seasons in Jacksonville] will work. But since you want it, we're gonna do it.’ Okay? And to me, it was like, it's gonna work. And I can give you all the reasons it's gonna work. It's going to; but if it doesn't work, I'm the one picking up the tab. So, don't worry about that.”

Lamping helped to analyze Khan’s clear frustration with accusations of attempting to create a farce and settle for a different hotel than the upscale Four Seasons.

“Shad is reminding a lot of people in Jacksonville: you know what? You are good enough to have a Four Seasons. Many people in Jacksonville said, ‘why would they come here? We don't deserve a Four Seasons.’”

“That’s what I’ve talked about: Jacksonville needs some self-confidence,” Khan interjected. “[Why] would we be putting this out there if there was any doubt for something like that?”

On Downtown Development as a whole

While the Four Seasons Hotel will be the crown jewel of Khan’s Shipyards project (clearly, as the section above indicates: it’s happening, come hell or come high water), Khan provided some noteworthy anecdotes for the need to embrace and develop downtown. He referred to his projects as “the seed” to make a difference in gentrifying and urbanizing downtown. 

“Downtown – in the ten years I’ve been here – it absolutely hasn’t progressed. It’s gone downhill.”

Khan’s 10-acre Shipyards project was approved by the Jacksonville City Council in October, a project that will be paid for jointly by both Khan and the city. But Khan also hasn’t shied away from using his own money for stadium renovations and city investment projects over the past ten years. He’s soon to cross the $500 million mark in total dollars spent in the community since purchasing the team. Why?

“The image of the city. I think a lot of the people who come here – not just for the Florida-Georgia game but for home games here – are coming from out-of-town. Their only experience is you get off the ramp [onto Bay Street]. You go through, you see what you see, and then you end up in the stadium. By that point, they’ve already formed an opinion.”

One such opinion was national sportswriter Peter King, who, as Khan shared, was appalled during a visit in 2012 to find not a Starbucks anywhere near the stadium. 

“So that’s the image of what he has [of Jacksonville]. He’s talking about freakin’ Starbucks! But it’s like: ok, we do need to change that.”

Perhaps to the surprise of some of the assembled: Khan noted that growing downtown and renovating the stadium are also essential in continuing to bring additional events to Jacksonville – including the soon-to-be expanded College Football Playoff.

“We’ve got to have a stadium that qualifies for it. There’s no reason we can’t have Jacksonville in the mix for it.”

Lamping added that part of Khan’s commitment to the franchise and the city has come in the form of keeping up with the timeline to ensure the Jaguars have a stadium to play in in Jacksonville. The Jaguars’ current stadium lease expires in 2030. The team announced this summer that, after an assessment by the Haskell Company and the city, the current stadium can be renovated, saving millions of dollars in costs that would be needed to build an entirely new stadium. Legislation for those renovations were filed this summer by Mayor Lenny Curry. Lamping said he has “never felt more confident” that there is a path for renovation of the current stadium with government support. 

“Winning is the most important thing. But without paying attention to the other things like the stadium, we could have woken up one day like the fans in St. Louis. San Diego, and Oakland,” Lamping explained, referring to the three NFL franchises that have relocated during the past decade due to expiring stadium leases. “And those teams were winning. Two of the three had been to the Super Bowl. Now, [the city] loses the team over a stadium issue. So, Shad was really pushing very hard to make sure we stayed ahead of time.”

It’s with that mindset – the “most important thing,” the “bottom line” – that Khan and Lamping focus on as Year Eleven of Khan’s ownership begins. 

Looking Forward

“There's some people involved with sports where people want them to fail,” Lamping said at one point, immediately sensing the temperature of the assembled guests on the patio. “Okay, so we may have an example of some of that right here.” 

Like this writer noted at the top (and Khan noted himself): Khan and Lamping know who their head coach is. 

“[But] there's other people in sports that people really want them to succeed. And Shad is one of those people… Nobody knows how much he pours into this, and how much he really wants to win, and how much he wants to benefit this community for the benefit of everybody – not just Jaguars fans. You never want to be involved with a situation where you fail. But, in this particular case, I think we're driven by some other motivations. And that's really to do something special in Jacksonville.”

But as Lamping also noted: you are what your record says you are. 41-116 is Khan’s record. The Jaguars have lost 10 or more games in 10 of the past 11 seasons. They’ve had more seasons with double-digit losses (14) than winning seasons (eight) in their 27-year history. He’s on pace for record-setting marks by an owner for all the wrong reasons in the win-loss column.

“I feel [the fans’] pain. I mean, I know it because I'm living it,” Khan said, as the conversation drew to a conclusion. His mustache turned and offered a wry smile. “I mean, power of optimism: we already have twice the number of wins as last year, right?”

All the chuckles that followed that sarcasm aside: it is clear Khan knows two wins isn’t good enough. 41-116 isn’t good enough. His dedication to making Jacksonville a world-class city is clear by his taking offense to anyone who even slightly questions that commitment. As Khan noted, he himself doesn’t live in a vacuum. He sees the teams in the league rising from relative obscurity to sustained success. He also sees the teams that are quick to make coaching changes at the drop-of-a-hat and find themselves in an endless cycle of turnover. He strives to see the bigger picture. 

But as Khan also noted, there is a vacuum in Jacksonville. A city desperate for a winning product with many fans who see no end in sight. While Khan and Kismet can sail away for days and weeks at a time, while he can venture off into one of his many other properties, most of those fans cannot. 

It’s up to Khan to hold steadfast to that needle if the franchise is to truly make a move in this next decade. 

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