JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan felt the organization “lacked football IQ” in previous years.
So Khan hired two-time Super Bowl-winning coach Tom Coughlin to handle all football-related decisions.
With Coughlin calling the shots, the Jaguars (10-6) made the postseason for the first time since 2007 and will host a playoff game for the first time since January 2000.
“It’s a structure that’s been unsuccessful in the past, but for me, what I felt we lacked was football IQ,” Khan said Thursday, three days before Jacksonville hosts Buffalo (9-7) in an AFC wild-card game. “And you can’t just say, ‘Let me go to craigslist or Backpage.com and get some football IQ.’ You want somebody who really it’s not just a job, it’s a passion, emotion and a drive. Nobody really personifies that better than Tom Coughlin.”
Khan wasn’t sure how the front-office dynamic would work with Coughlin and new coach Doug Marrone joining carry-over general manager Dave Caldwell.
Coughlin and Marrone changed the culture almost overnight and improved the roster by signing the best free-agent class in franchise history.
“The norm is these things don’t work,” Khan said. “The short answer is: How do you get people together who are going to pull toward one goal, which is winning, and not be focused on, ‘Hey, is this right? Who gets the credit? Who gets the blame?’ This was the one time for us to really get that right.”
The Jaguars appear headed in the right direction, with a young and talented roster that appears built to be competitive for several years.
“I think it turned out better than probably, certainly, I thought it would,” Khan said. “And really the credit is to (Coughlin). I can tell you he never asked for the 53-man roster. It was my idea, ‘Tom, that means nothing changed. It’s maybe not good for Dave’s ego, but there has to be somebody in charge, and it needs to be you.'”
The biggest question entering the season was about quarterback Blake Bortles.
Jacksonville picked up the fifth-year option in his rookie deal, a decision that seemingly will keep Bortles under contract another year. He’s due to make $19 million in 2018.
The Jags made the move in May, after passing on available quarterbacks in free agency and in the draft.
“Maybe we’re not the biggest idiot on the football block,” Khan said. “When his option was picked up, it was like, ‘What are these guys smoking?’ You’ve got to stay the course, but yet you have to have the agility and the flexibility. You have to have both.
“The other thing with Blake is he’s really a nice guy. … He’s from the area, he’s a nice guy, he’s talented, he’s stayed healthy. He’s not a China doll. We are invested. We want him to be successful.”
Bortles completed 60 percent of his passes this season for 3,687 yards, with 21 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. His passer rating was up and his turnovers were down, and he did it without star receiver Allen Robinson. Bortles also had a running game that stalled late in the season and two rookie receivers playing in place of Robinson and Allen Hurns.
He said he managed to avoid thinking about the future by focusing on football.
“My goal is to play football in Jacksonville for as long as they let me, and in order to do that, we have to win football games,” Bortles said this week.
The biggest one in a decade comes Sunday at EverBank Field.
The Jaguars sold every ticket available with ease and even got permission from the NFL to remove tarps covering four sections in the upper deck to satisfy part of the demand.
“If one thing we have proven, it’s fans matter,” Khan said. “They matter for us. We want them in the seats. … We want them showing up. We need the energy. If the Seattle and Houston games are example, it should be a notch up and it would be certainly (be) an incredible experience.”
Khan also said the Buffalo-Jacksonville game is the most expensive wild-card ticket on the secondary market. He said he saw Tennessee-Kansas City tickets available for $38, about $150 less than those for sale to see the Bills and Jaguars do something they haven’t done since 1999.
Buffalo in the playoffs for the first time since then and Jacksonville is hosting a playoff game for the first time since that same season.
“Could you imagine the hottest ticket in football is right here, selling for five, six times face value?” Khan said. “Could you believe that happening in freaking Jacksonville?”