The crowd cheered, and the man in the black suit and the moustache smiled.
Shahid Khan, less than two weeks after taking over sole ownership of the Jaguars, stood in front of a crowd of 6,789 fans at the Ready to Rise Rally at EverBank Field Tuesday night. As the crowd roared and yelled his name, Khan delivered a simple, direct message.
“Only in America,” he said, then added with a smile:
“Jacksonville – I’m all in.”
Khan and Jaguars General Gene Smith each addressed the crowd at the event, as did new Jaguars Head Coach Mike Mularkey. The trio spoke of the future, and upon being introduced by Smith, Mularkey – the Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator the past four seasons and Buffalo Bills Head Coach from 2004-2005 – seemed overwhelmed by the moment.
“Wow,” he said. “Wow.”
Mularkey after a few moments addressed the crowd.
“I’m very proud to be a part of this,” he said. “I’m amazed at the turnout. We’re going to bring something here and you’re going to be excited about coming to these games on Sunday. I appreciate being a part of this.
“I’m really excited to be a part of this organization. I’m excited about being part of this community and I’m really excited about being home.”
Speaking to the crowd, Mularkey emphasized new beginnings.
“It’s about the rebirth of the Jaguars,” said Mularkey, who played collegiately at the University of Florida from 1980-82. “It’s about the rebirth of me. It’s about the rebirth of you, the fans, and getting this thing on the right track and bringing a consistent winner here, year in and year out.”
The trio each took questions with former Jaguars offensive tackle Tony Boselli emceeing, but before the Q&A, Khan spoke to the gathered crowd of his commitment to the city and community.
“I’m absolutely with every fiber of my body committed to putting a winner and a Super Bowl right here in Jacksonville,” he said. “Every person I run into in Jacksonville, I tell them, ‘Don’t you ever forget it and hold me accountable every time you see me.’’’
Also Tuesday night at the rally:
*Khan spoke about the hiring of Mularkey. “My duty was to find the best person to lead the Jacksonville Jaguars. What I really liked about Mike is he’s a person you like and you trust. He will represent Jacksonville and he is absolutely a winner.”
*Smith said signing the team’s own free agents will be a priority. “We will start with our players first,” he said. “They’re the priority.” Smith said the team also will be active in pursuing free agents from other teams. “There are some definite needs on this football team,” he said. “I think most people are aware of most of them. We will be very aggressive in the process.”
*Smith, asked about pursuing wide receivers during the upcoming free agency period, said, “We’ll be very aggressive once we target the players – just like we were on the defensive side (last off-season), we’ll try to upgrade the weapons on offense.” At that point, Khan took the microphone and said, “Gene, Mike – please do that.”
*Khan said of Jaguars fans: “I think there’s no doubt Jacksonville has the best fans in the NFL. We’re going to have a lot of fun together and we’re going to win together.”
*Mularkey spoke about new offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski: “The one thing about our staff that is important is you have to have some creativity in how to attack people. That’s one thing I know Bob has – there is some creativity. The physical part of if it will be heavily focused. Teams should not want to step off the bus when they walk in this place when this thing is all said and done. We are really in agreement with how things ought to be done with the offense. Deception is a big part of it, trying to make them guess what’s going to happen. Running the football obviously is important with who we have (running back and NFL rushing champion
*Mularkey said the Jaguars for the last week have emphasized building the coaching staff and putting together the playbook. “We’re full speed ahead for this next season already,” he said.
*Gene Smith said of Mularkey: “This guy knows offense and he knows how to assemble a strong staff. Going through the head coach search, there were certain things Mr. Khan and I were looking for. Mr. Khan certainly has a very good feel for people and is very passionate about what he does. I can tell you, the one thing we certainly wanted was to bring a leader in here. I truly believe Mike Mularkey has all the traits you look for in a leader – starting with the first thing, integrity. He’s certainly all in to this community here.”
*Defensive coordinator/assistant head coach Mel Tucker received perhaps the event’s longest, loudest ovation. He was introduced by Mularkey to chants of “Mel, Mel, Mel, Mel . . . and dee-fense, dee-fense, dee-fense.”
*Mularkey also introduced linebackers coach Mark Duffner, defensive line coach Joe Cullen, special teams assistant Craig Aukerman and defensive assistant Brandon Blaney. All four assistants were on the staff last season, as was Tucker, who served the last five games as interim head coach. “I spent a lot of time watching all three phases of this football team,” Mularkey said of the interview process. “One of the things you look for on film is, ‘How are players stepping on the field and representing the organization and the city?’’’ Mularkey said. “I can tell you this – to the last play of the last game, Mel and this staff held this team together. That’s a credit to this staff and these players. We have the right guys in the locker room. We have a lot of right stuff.”