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- 2013 - January - 30th -

Former Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver: Responsibility and commitment

by Karen Brune Mathis, Managing Editor

A year after selling the team, former Jacksonville Jaguars majority owner J. Wayne Weaver says he is taking responsibility for the team's performance in recent years.

"I take full responsibility for our lack of success in the last few years, but it's not because people didn't work hard. We missed on too many draft classes. You have to be responsible for those mistakes," Weaver said 12 months after he and his business partners sold the franchise to Illinois businessman Shad Khan.

Weaver and his wife, Delores Barr Weaver, and their partners in the franchise sold the Jaguars in January 2012 for a reported $760 million.

Khan, born in Pakistan, attended the University of Illinois and eventually took over the Flex-N-Gate auto-parts company in Urbana, Ill.

In September, Forbes ranked the 62-year-old Khan as one of the richest people in America with a net worth of $2.5 billion.

Weaver declined interviews for a year after selling the team, taking some time before reflecting on the experience in the media. It also allowed Khan a full season of experience as the new owner.

Weaver spoke last week in his riverfront office in the EverBank headquarters building at 501 Riverside Ave., not far from his residence in the Villa Riva condominiums. He has one assistant.

He runs DAR Group Investments, which handles the businesses he and Delores operate. Weaver also remains chairman of the Shoe Carnival Inc. footwear chain based in Evansville, Ind. As of Jan. 14, it operated 352 stores in 32 states and Puerto Rico as well as online at shoecarnival.com.

He created DAR years ago and the letters reflect the initials of a former business partner as well as his former residence of Darien, Conn.

The Weavers brought Jacksonville its National Football League franchise in 1993, selling it only after identifying the right owner, he said.

The team began playing in 1995 and ended 2012 with a cumulative regular season record of 140-148.

"The one thing both Delores and I feel strongly about was while we were the principal owners of the team, the team really belongs to Jacksonville. We were stewards," he said.

Weaver, 78, said he was of an age that he could have remained the owner for another four or five years.

"If Delores and I had not felt that we found the right owner that was committed to this market, we would not have sold the team," he said.

"We made the decision to sell the team when we did because we believed we found the right owner that was committed to Jacksonville, that would keep the team in Jacksonville," he said.

Weaver, dressed casually, reflected in a 11/2-hour interview late on a Monday afternoon about his time with the team, his business interests and the travel plans he and Delores are making.

They intend to take a 30-day around-the-world tour soon after the Super Bowl, which is Sunday. They have more travel plans after that.

The Weavers also continue their philanthropic giving, recently converting their Weaver Family Foundation into a $23.7 million donor-advised fund at The Community Foundation in Jacksonville and donating $10 million to Baptist Health, the largest gift in its history. Baptist announced it would name its new Baptist Medical Center tower Downtown the J. Wayne and Delores Barr Weaver Tower.

Also, Delores Weaver donated $50 million to the Community Foundation to establish its largest single fund, the Delores Barr Weaver Fund.

Weaver declined to discuss some of the Jaguars' key personnel by name, emphasizing he did not want to focus on specific people during some of the discussion.

On Dec. 31, almost a year after the sale and at the end of a 2-14 season, Khan fired General Manager Gene Smith, who joined the franchise in 1994 as a scouting representative and moved up the ranks to become Weaver's GM in 2009. Smith compiled a 22-42 record as general manager.

Khan hired David Caldwell as the new GM, who quickly dismissed head coach Mike Mularkey. Mularkey coached the 2-14 season that was beset by injuries to some key players.

The Jaguars soon brought in new head coach Gus Bradley.

Weaver also talked about Tim Tebow, the hometown quarterback who played at the University of Florida and was drafted by the Denver Broncos. He was traded to the New York Jets, but has seen little time on the field.

Here is some of the interview.

After selling the team

I would be disingenuous if I didn't say that I was a little unsure of how much I'd miss the NFL and being around the players and my colleagues in the NFL and being so involved on so many committees in the NFL. Going from that to just a one-person office is a big change and it probably took me some time to adjust, but it was the right thing to do and I reconciled up front that it was the right time.

Adjustment

We go to all the games here in town. We don't travel with the team anymore, and I struggle with them just as much, but I can turn loose a lot quicker than I could before.

We have a suite (at EverBank Field). We are upstairs, which we wanted. That way, people weren't able to come up to the window. It's his (Khan) turn.

I think Shad is going to be great for this city. He has a vision of wanting to win.

He has a vision of how he wants to do it and a vision for the kind of people he will surround himself with in the organization, and you have to bet on his track record of what he's done in his other businesses that he'll be very successful.

Talking with Khan

I believe that when you move on from something, if you try to interject your feelings into what goes on in the organization, (that) would be disruptive. So any interaction I've had with Shad is to just wish him well and to see him at social events and that kind of thing.

Has he picked up the phone to call you?

No, and I haven't called him.

About the season

I'm hopeful. It was a very difficult season. They were very unfortunate for a number of things that happened. One, we had a young quarterback (Blaine Gabbert) that we had planned to bring in and mentor for a year or a year and a half with (former quarterback) David Garrard. Then David got hurt and we had to throw him (Gabbert) into the fire much sooner than we should. There were a lot of injuries this year. It was an unfortunate set of circumstances that you can't plan for.

When I look at the team, I see there are some really good pieces to build from. I like what I hear from the new GM in terms of he believes in the philosophy of building from the draft and adding in free agency where it makes sense.

I like what I've read about the new coach, so I am hopeful. I think that they are doing the right things. I think they are being very methodical and I am looking forward to next season and if we can show incremental growth over the next couple of years, it doesn't take that long to get back.

The decisions to fire Smith and Mularkey

These are always difficult decisions, but I think what Shad decided after a 2-14 season, which was certainly not what anyone would have expected, let's start fresh.

I actually think he is doing the right thing. He's putting his stamp on how he wants to rebuild the franchise. 

Whether he agrees

I would never second-guess those. Certainly you have a season like that, there's a reason for it. You have to decide what changes really need to be made. I honestly think Shad wanted to do what he felt was in the best interest of the franchise and fans and I think he made good decisions. It will only play out the next few years if they were good decisions or not.

Mistakes of the past

We clearly set our franchise back with missing on these early draft classes. Many of these choices should have been core players right now on our roster. And when you make those mistakes, it takes you time to rebuild.

You have to build your roster through the draft and if you miss on those early-round draft choices and those players aren't forming the nucleus of your football team over the next five or six years, you can't replace them that quickly. You can only do so much to strengthen your roster in free agency.

Overall, I'm proud of our record over the past 17 years that we were there. Our record was just above .500, which was average. However, average in the NFL doesn't win championships. 

My biggest disappointment is that we didn't bring a championship to Jacksonville.

But you can't go back and change it and you can't look back and wish you'd done it differently.

If you look back on the legacy that we've built, it's pretty impressive. We did go to the AFC Championship games. We were in the playoffs a number of times, and we just need to get back to that winning way.

Next season

I don't think we should have over-expectations but I think we should expect improvement. I would say improvement would be to win 5-6 games next year, maybe win 6 or 7.

If you do that, you have an expectation to get back to the playoffs or take that next step and by the third year you are back to competing at the highest level.

Teams have done it.

Super Bowl

One day we'll get there, absolutely. There is no question in my mind that we'll win a Super Bowl here. I wish I could tell you when. I hope it's in my lifetime because I told Shad when I sold him the team one of the things he had to commit was that Delores and I would get a ring.

Super Bowl XXXIX in Jacksonville in 2005

It was such a big achievement with Jacksonville being the smallest market to host a Super Bowl. The community did a magnificent job pulling it all together and welcoming people from all over the world.  

The fans

I am really proud of the fans in this community. This is a great sports town. The difference with us and the great traditions in the NFL is we've only been at this (since 1993) and we've grown a couple of generations of fans. I meet young people all the time and they say thanks for bringing the team to Jacksonville.

Moving the team

I just don't think so. I think Shad is committed to this community, I think as long as this community supports the team.

I think he really feels good about the community, wants to be involved in the community, and I think he has a passion to win and vision how he wants to do it.

Playing one game in London will help him build the brand to get international exposure. I think he is really committed and laying out a longer-term plan on his strategy to build a franchise and win.

It's not easy to move a team. You have to have permission of the (NFL) membership, all 32 clubs. There is also a lease agreement with the City; we extended our lease (at EverBank Field) way out for that reason to confirm our commitment to Jacksonville. The lease goes through 2026 or 2027, so it would be very hard and costly to move the team.

Tim Tebow

I have great admiration for Tim Tebow. I think he is an extraordinary leader. He's clearly a great athlete. I certainly am not going to opine on whether he will be a successful quarterback in this league or not. A lot of people think that he can't be, but he could be a very productive football player in this league. So the question is really whether or not he wants to be quarterback or if he's willing to play another position.

It's not easy to shift. He's grown up since he was probably 4-5 years old as being ingrained that he is a quarterback.

I personally hope that someone will give him an opportunity.

I respect the new GM's decision of not bringing in Tebow if he has reasons he evaluated and has determined the reward is not worth the risk.

He made it very clear that he saw no scenario where Tebow would be part of the organization and I think he was very smart to make that announcement.

The new office

I didn't want to put my name on the door. I actually like the quietness of this office. I am enjoying it.

I don't have a lot of people to hand stuff off to. I go on my iPad and if I want information I look it up myself. I find it refreshing.

It's the first time in about 50 years that I haven't had a position where I had a lot of people around.

Do you like that?

I do. It was the right time for me. The first 23 years of my adult life I worked in a corporation and grew from the very bottom job to the next-to-the-top job. I then started my own business, Nine West, in 1978 with two other partners. In 1998, while still CEO at Nine West, I purchased Shoe Carnival and have grown from three shoe stores into a very successful company that this year will do close to $900 million.

And then (Delores and I) spent 20 years with the Jaguars, so we felt it's time to do what we want to do, when we want to do it and how we want to do it.

Supporting the community

This is our home. We are very fortunate that we are able to do the things that we have been able to do. Jacksonville is such a great city.

The coming year

I hope I can continue to learn and grow. Neither of us intend to retire, but we do intend to have more time with our children and grandchildren (ages 23 and 10).

Delores and I want to see parts of the world that we have never seen, to learn about the cultures and what's happening in the rest of the world.

kmathis@baileypub.com

@MathisKb

(904) 356-2466

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