JACKSONVILE, Fla. – In his five years as an owner in the NFL, Shad Khan has been surprised more than once.
On and off the field he’s seen things he didn't expect. But the business as a whole is different than the one he saw from the outside.
”It’s much bigger than I expected,” Khan said on Thursday afternoon at EverBank Field. “I looked at it as a fun sport as a fan. It’s a business. It reflects the psyche of the community much more so than I thought it would. And it’s hard.”
Despite early efforts to change the Jaguars' fortunes on the field, the franchise floundered, finishing near the bottom of the division each year.
“Winning on the field is hard, especially if you don’t have a good, fundamental core to build on,” he explained.
Building a core, a culture that would change the results on the field started with hiring Tom Coughlin to run the football operations.
“You’ve got to remember, the structure we have -- it's been tried before -- unsuccessfully, I might add. I didn't know Tom Coughlin well, but I just felt very strongly about it from Day 1 that we have a guy who basically bleeds Jaguars," Khan said. "Having this structure, for us, it’s unique, and it’s going to work for us, because what I felt we were missing was football IQ. Having people with more experience and then for them to work together. And very simply only one goal: winning.”
After five years of losing, the Jaguars made a giant leap forward this season, winning 10 games and taking the AFC South title for the first time in their history. No surprise, it’s energized the fans, a whole new generation experiencing what it’s like to have a winning football team in their hometown.
“I think we have a fan base I have a lot in common with,” Khan said with a laugh. “As an owner, we haven’t seen the winning I think we deserve. The key thing was to have a great game day experience until we started winning. ... The ultimate thing in football is winning.”
As a passionate fan, Khan admits the business was different for him from the inside. His passion as a fan hasn't abated, but he makes sure to separate the owner from the fan when he can.
“You have to know where the lines are," Khan said, admitting that it wouldn't be wise to fire everybody after a loss. "You can’t be impetuous, obviously."
Khan said he's had business failures, but nothing felt like the team's 36-22 Thursday night loss in Tennessee last season.
"For me, it was arguably the most humiliating moment of my life," Khan said. "You just can’t do what emotionally you think you ought to do because you know it’s not the right thing."
Using the Jaguars and the NFL as an entertainment venue for his businesses in North America has been very successful, even more than Khan expected. He creates a weekend for his guests that culminates with the Jaguars game on Sunday.
“There are not that many NFL club owners who have a day job, so to speak," Khan said. "For me, we have 30,000 employees making auto parts around the world. I think you get exposed to a different element. Most people are sports fans, and to be able to for anyone who wants to to experience this in a different way that money can’t buy is a great thing.”
His first experiences in Jacksonville convinced Khan that North Florida wasn't reaching its potential. With the natural resources, the river, the people and the weather (most of the time!), Khan saw real potential that wasn't being realized.
That’s changed in the last six years, somewhat thanks to him.
“I’ve seen a difference because people now realize, 'Look at everything we’ve got going here.' I think people’s expectations are higher. We’ve been engaged in a lot of different efforts, not only development here, but globally with London. We had the trip with the Chamber of Commerce to Toronto. Really just talking to people on the streets ... I think the expectation is higher, and we’re going to have more success.”
“I’m very, very bullish on Jacksonville,” he added.
And as far as the long-term impact he might have on Jacksonville and the people who will live here, 20, 50, 100 years from now?
“You want to leave things a little bit better than you found them. That’s human nature," Khan said. "If you’re a parent, that’s what you want to do with a child. If you have a product, that's what you have. I mean, I’d like for it to be just a shade better than it was here. I think if we can do that, everybody’s going to be better off.”