Earlier this month, Forbes published a profile of Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan, who bought the team last January, and details his approach for making the team both profitable and good at football.
The three-page interview is quite enlightening and, in my opinion, suggests good things for the future of the franchise. Just as an example of business practice, Khan has allowed fans to bring their children to EverBank Field to for free and also bring their own food and water, in a reversal of the penny-wise, pound-foolish ways of thinking of most teams, and he says the team actually saw an increase in vendor revenue this way.
But it’s his approach to football that I find most illuminating. He stresses open communication:
The first thing was the structure. We want to have two people reporting to me: [team president] Mark Lamping from the business side and the GM from the football side. The coach is reporting to the GM, but — practically — working with him. They have to be on the same page and have the right personality, and frankly, they even have to be physically located next to each other.
[The previous GM and coach] were on almost opposite ends of the stadium. That’s how the culture was. They also had a lot of closed doors. To me, you have to have glass doors to see who’s there, people walking in and out – have visual command. We went through this in industry. More transparency where you could stand up, see where people were, have a cup of coffee, exchange ideas.
He also puts a premium on people who are willing to learn, a big reason why he hired Gus Bradley as head coach:
I felt strongly that we wanted somebody with a great football mind, who’d make it their mission to succeed. And a coach, likewise. Somebody young, energetic, open. One of the things that impressed me about [new head coach] Gus Bradley was his desire for knowledge. He sits down with me at least once a week, twice a week just to talk about business, how you pick people, what works, how you inspire. … He has a really keen mind learning about people. Frankly, that’s in stark comparison to the guys who say, “We’ve been in football for X number of years and we know how to do it.” One of the things that’s exciting is the dynamic change that goes on in this sport. It’s a key attribute that you have to learn and change, no matter how successful you are. I see that with some of the other people who have a lot of success in football.
[Philadelphia Eagles owner] Jeff Lurie said that in 18 years of talking to people in football coaching, [Gus] was the brightest, the most enthusiastic, and had the most potential he ever saw in a man. That’s a direct quote from Jeff. And that’s after we hired him. We were focused on all assistants, because to me we have Dave Caldwell as a young general manager who’s never been there before. I want to pair him up with a very high potential assistant so that they can grow together, mature together, and almost the DNA becomes one, they’re entwined. It wasn’t going to work if we had an older, established, more experienced coach.
Khan speaks openly on the 2-14 disaster that was Jacksonville’s 2012 season. He freely admits that he didn’t know anything about football, so he trusted his football people, and when they failed, he decided to replace them:
When I got there, there were two sides, business and football. Business I understand. It was pretty obvious to me what we had to do. But the football side was like the Holy Grail. They had the ‘secret recipe’ here and the self-analysis of the team was that we were pretty good, that we were just a little bit away from the playoffs and if we just get some free agents signed up, we’ll be in great shape. That’s why we ended up with the fourth-highest cash payroll last year. The result was self-evident. If you are honest with yourself and the team and the fans, there’s only one thing to do when it’s 2-14. When it’s 8-8 you can be conflicted as to how much baby and how much bathwater there is, but here there was no baby – it was just water.
A guy who’s humble enough to admit he doesn’t know everything, who thinks outside the box, and who prizes communication, constant learning, and adaptability. That’s the kind of owner every team should want, and it’s a reason I think the Jaguars have a real shot at a bright future– maybe not in 2013, but not far down the line.