Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

NFL Commisioner Roger Goodell: Jacksonville’s on a Global Stage

At the fan forum today, NFL Commissioner answered a wide range of questions from selected fans at the Landmark Hotel’s Grand Ballroom. Goodell did a double take when he entered the room as 90% of the 150 or so invited fans in attendance were in some NFL team jersey.

“People would be surprised by the passion and the knowledge these fans have,” Goodell told me in a short interview when the forum was over. “Their questions are so good they could be members of the media,” he added with a smile.

When asked if there would be a franchise in London or LA first, Goodell laughed and said, “I’ve heard that before. I’d like to see one in both. We won’t go back to LA until it’s right. We’re still exploring what’s right for London with our International Series. You’re showing that you’re interested by selling out these games. That’s why we’ll have a third game here next year.”

He dismissed playing a Super Bowl in London, explaining that the NFL’s championship game will always be played in one of the league’s franchise cities.

I asked Goodell about Khan’s commitment to 4 games in London, and if that has made a difference in the attitude in the UK toward the International Series. “I like it because Shad is doing it for all the right reasons,” the commissioner said. “He’s doing it for the Jaguars, he’s doing it for his community, he’s doing it for the NFL. He’s trying to promote the game over here and that’s a great thing for us.

This game puts Jacksonville and the Jaguars on the global stage. They’ll be on TV a lot more here in the UK because they’ve committed to 4 games.

Talking to several UK Jaguars fans after the appearance by Goodell that included for Jaguars Lineman Tony Boselli and NFL Hall of Famer Joe Montana, they used the word “we” in describing the Jaguars fortunes as in “I hope we get better and we will.”

When one fans asked what “marquee” team the league might pair with the Jaguars in 2015 after the 49ers and the Cowboys will provide the opposition this year and next, Goodell said that’s the goal, to always send “marquee” franchises to participate in the London game. Boselli added, “If things go the way we hope, by 2015 the Jaguars will be the marquee team playing here as the home team.”

Clearly Goodell is a big Khan fan and would like to see Jacksonville flourish as a franchise: He was the league’s biggest proponent of putting a team in Jacksonville during the expansion process 20 years ago. With the Jaguars committing to 4 years as the home team in London, Goodell says he’s seen an increase in the fan interest and awareness in this game. It means more for the Jaguars and Jacksonville than just this week on the schedule.

“Shad’s a great owner. He’s enthusiastic about everything. We’re lucky to have him. It’s not just the game that’s going to make the difference here. We have an overall mission to present them as the home team and in that way the game will grow.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Shad Khan “Living The Dream”

With a smile and a handshake, Jaguars Owner Shad Khan greeted me at Craven Cottage saying, “You know, you’re on Anne Boleyn’s hunting ground here.” Craven Cottage is the home stadium or “grounds” of Khan’s English Premier League soccer team, Fulham. He was, in good spirits and outlined most of the history of the club and the surrounding neighborhood with the ease of somebody who clearly had studied the subject.

“Fulham is a unique club,” he continued. “We have a neutral stand (generally in England the two opponents fans are not allowed to sit together) and we’re a popular club all over London.”

The Cottagers (aka the “Whites”) were founded as a club in 1879 and have been in the same stadium since 1886. They have the most affluent fan base of any team in the EPL and, unlike most teams, nobody hates them.

“I found that everybody likes Fulham,” Khan added, echoing others who call them everybody’s “second favorite club.”

It’s an easy walk from the Putney Bridge stop on the London Underground, locally known as the Tube, down to Craven Cottage. The nearly one mile trek goes past antique book stores and flower shops, through neighborhoods and Bishop’s Park, hard along the Thames. In fact, both of Shad’s teams play in stadiums by a river. In Jacksonville, over 75,000 can see a game. In London, 25,000.

Much like he’s doing in Jacksonville, Khan has plans to renovate and expand Craven Cottage.

“The City of London is giving us 30 more feet along the Thames to expand the riverside stand,” he explained. They’ll demolish the current stands and rebuild them. He plans to have high-end hospitality there, as he does at home. “It’s an important part of what we’re doing,’ he explained waving his hand across the pitch.

While his purchase of the Jaguars and Fulham seemed rather fast paced, Khan says it wasn’t part of any grand scheme. He felt like there was some synergy between the two leagues. Owning both clubs is part of a business plan to attract sponsors to both Fulham and the Jaguars.

“We’re looking for more fans for the Jaguars,” he continued. “It’s all about expanding the fans, and Jacksonville’s economic development. The Jaguars don’t have enough sponsors and some have left. In some cases I don’t blame them, but we need to find some more. There’s a synergy between the two, a cross-pollination if you will, that I think will work.” Khan plans to operate the two sports clubs as separate entities but thinks there’s plenty of opportunity to engage business and fans that have an overall interest in both.

Shad’s not worried, at least short term, about the Jaguars start under Dave Caldwell and Gus Bradley. “That’s not sustainable but it is what it is right now. We’re trying to rebuild the whole thing.” Khan often notes that he couldn’t do that with Fulham because of the EPL’s “relegation” policy. (The bottom three teams get dropped to a lower division and the top three from there get promoted.) “Fulham’s been 12 straight years without relegation and it’s important we stay in the Premiership.”

I noted that it was a big week for him and it got started off right with Fulham’s 4-1 win at Crystal Palace Monday night. “A breakout win for them. They have the talent. Now let’s see where they go from here,” he agreed.

“Pretty exciting,” I said.

“Very exciting,” he added. “It’s an exciting week, a big week, an important week. It’s good to be me!” he said with a laugh and without a bit of smugness.

He’s having so much fun it makes you wonder, “What’s he going to do next?”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Building for the “Distant” Future

If it was supposed to be some kind of secret, it’s out there now: the Jaguars don’t have to win this year. It’s a luxury that GM Dave Caldwell and Head Coach Gus Bradley have for 2013.

But for only one year. And maybe a little of 2014.

There are a few ways to run an NFL team and a couple of ways to rebuild one and clearly the Jaguars have chosen the “building from the bottom up” path. Caldwell has been given the reins of the franchise and he’s making football decisions for the long haul. He could have cobbled a team together in 2013 that looked like it was a player or two away, won some games and continued along that grinding path. Instead he’s literally gutting the franchise and looking for pillars and stars that he can build a winner on that will last.

It’s hard to watch George Selvie, Rashad Jennings, Rashean Mathis, Daryl Smith, Montel Owens and now Eugene Monroe go to other teams with productive years left on their NFL careers. Nobody would argue that the Jaguars would be a better team in 2013 with those guys on the roster. But would they be better in 2014 or 2015 if those players were taking up spots and playing time from players you hoped to develop into long-term contributors?

Clearly Caldwell, and Bradley for that matter, have told Shad Khan that it’s a rebuilding project that will take time. Perhaps three years. And Khan has bought into that, partly because he trusts that those guys are making the right decisions and partly because he can.

The Jaguars under Wayne Weaver could never afford to be historically bad as they’re threatening to do this year. Weaver’s Jaguars had to win some games to keep fans at least mildly interested and as potential season ticket holders. Khan isn’t worried about that right now. He’s not blacking out games and he’s not worried about the percentage of fans that won’t re-up next year if the team drops to historical lows in 2013.

He’s also looking to the future and the long-term possibility of having a solid base to build on over and over. It’s easy to pick those franchises out in the NFL. They’re the ones who are in the playoffs year after year and are the favorites week after week. That takes some short-term pain in exchange for the hope that there are better days ahead.

Khan wouldn’t have minded that last year but since he didn’t have much NFL experience he listened to his football “people” Gene Smith and Mike Mularkey. Their thought was that adding a few free agents and a high draft pick would make the Jaguars competitive in the division. So Khan spent the $60 million and for that got two wins. In his world, that means the decision making process is broken so he changed the decision makers.

You could argue that the Jaguars traded their best offensive player for draft picks. If Monroe wasn’t the best player on offense, he was at least 1A. So if they’re willing to do that, who might be next?

“That thought does run through your mind,” said Marcedes Lewis, one of a couple of Jaguars players who might have some trade value this season. “But if you’re thinking about that, your mind’s in the wrong place.”

“I want to stay here,” said Paul Posluszny, the most valuable player on the Jaguars roster when it comes to what he would bring on the trade market. There’s not a team that wouldn’t want Posluszny on their roster. “I hope that doesn’t happen. I want to play for Coach Bradley, for these guys. You just have to compete one day at a time and not worry about any of that other stuff.”

That’s the right theory but it wasn’t to hard to see the furrowed brows and the worried glances in the locker room as Monroe’s departure sent a noticeable ripple from locker to locker.

“It might make the running game better,” Bradley said before practice. When pushed on that statement Gus stood by his position. “I have to think that way. That’s the way I’ve been in my life. If something changes, it could make it better. That’s the way I think.”

Which means with what Caldwell is doing, Bradley is the right man for the job. Any other attitude and they wouldn’t take the field.