The cold truth of Shad Khan

The venerable owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars spills the tea on the First Coast’s image and potential.   

By Charles Griggs

“My job is to teach people how not to confuse assimilation with collaboration” – Charles Griggs

After 25 years and two owners, the Jacksonville Jaguars are the jewel of Northeast Florida. Since day one, the franchise has cast an overwhelming shadow on the citizens of Jacksonville, engulfing almost everything the First Coast fan base has to offer.

In the beginning it was good to be the new kids on the block. Aided by an almost miracle Super Bowl run in the team’s second year of existence, Jacksonville enjoyed as much respect as a flash in the pan performance could bring. Given the Jaguars lifetime losing record, a football crazy fans haven’t had much to cheer about since the teal and black hit the turf. Yet, they show up year after year with hopes of exciting, winning football punctuated by an eventual Super Bowl appearance.

Fans will be forever grateful to inaugural owners Wayne and Delores Weaver. They came in and did what some might say was the impossible, landed an NFL franchise in Jacksonville. Rumors in the beginning were that the NFL was more impressed with Weaver than Jacksonville, and if it wasn’t for the man himself the team would have ended up in Memphis, Birmingham or San Antonio.

To their credit, the Weavers were looked upon as more than team owners. They inserted themselves in all corners of the Jacksonville community. They were known as real community folks. The kind of people you might run into while having dinner at local restaurant, taking an afternoon walk or attending a community event.

After 16 years of ownership, the Weavers decided to sell to current owner Shad Khan. Everyone was caught off guard not only by the Weaver’s decision to sell, but no one knew who this guy Khan was or where he emerged from.

Well, it wasn’t long before everyone realized a new sheriff was in town. Khan made it clear that generating revenue is priority one. Nothing wrong with that. After all, the Jaguars are in business to make money. But with revenue generating goals come community expectations of sold out games and corporate sponsorships.

Proposed Lot J development is the vision of Jaguars owner Shad Khan. The new development is intended to generate additional revenue to help keep pace with franchise goals.

Since day one, Khan has been direct about his quest for transforming little old Jacksonville into the next big thing, using the Jaguars as an anchor. In spite of all the hype, Jacksonville has failed to live up to the next level hyperbole on the field, off the field and in image around the country.  Now Khan is raising the stakes by dropping knowledge natives are finding hard to swallow.

In an interview on jaguars.com, Khan broke the news to locals that Jacksonville isn’t everything it thinks it is and things aren’t moving fast enough to get there.

“This has been like a 50-year objective in Jacksonville to do something downtown,” Khan said.

In other words, the “good old boys” of Jacksonville don’t seem to be up to the transformation task, and revenue generating projects aren’t meeting his expectations.

Noticeable in Jacksonville’s identity complex is that folks in on the First Coast are convinced that the city’s image outside of the area is the same as it is inside. The reality is no one outside of Jacksonville knows or cares about what happens here. Even worse, the team’s reputation as perennial losers give it the persona as a place where football careers go to die, and fans are just hollering drunks. “Duuuuuuvaaalll!”

Khan’s challenge to Jacksonville is a loaded one, build up the area near the stadium and the adjacent downtown, or else.

“We are as anxious as anyone to break this curse and get something going,” said Khan.

At the same time, local officials are dancing as fast as they can. It’ll be interesting to see how all of this plays out. With all due respect to Khan, he doesn’t live in Jacksonville and isn’t as directly engaged in the community as the Weavers were.

Still, no one wants to be told they are not good enough. And that’s exactly how many locals took Khan’s comments on the future of the franchise. With more proposed games in London, economic development projects such as Lot J and aggressive stadium sales they just might get there. Then again, because they are better at engaging in short sidedness, for decades local stakeholders and elected official have proven to be two-dimensional thinkers in practicing reactionary problem solving.

Also, Jacksonville lacks a soul. The city needs something besides the Jaguars to be known for. Jacksonville has also been hesitant, in fact pretty much negligent, when it comes to embracing diversity. Whether natives want to acknowledge it or not, this hurts the city’s reputation and stymies progress.

So as we prepare for the Jaguars next 25 seasons, the challenge will be how to keep Khan happy without giving away the city in the process. There is no doubt that Khan’s words are causing panic among some. And they should.

Jacksonville is what it is, and there is plenty of work to be done to change the city’s image. Unfortunately, there are many out there who enjoy Jacksonville’s southern comfort reputation and don’t want to change a thing.

And the fans…well, they just want a winning team. But that’s another story.

Visit blackoffee.com, email speaktous@8wgroup.com, and follow me on twitter @CharlesLGriggs

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