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Draft Day in Jacksonville — The Storm Before the Calm

May 5, 2021
By Jim Woodcock

The “Presumptive First-Overall Pick.” 

That’s how Trevor Lawrence was described during the months leading into last week’s NFL Draft, and it was stating the obvious. The Jacksonville Jaguars owned the choice and would not pass up drafting the 21-year-old from Clemson University widely considered to be one of the greatest quarterback prospects ever to enter the league.

However, when first-year Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer coyly indicated that the decision would ultimately be determined by the team’s owner, all attention turned to Shad Khan. 

Khan, who has called on FleishmanHillard (FH) for support in all of his business and sports endeavors since 2010, wasn’t going to play spoiler. However, the opportunity to maximize the anticipation of Draft Day among fans, sponsors, rightsholders and others was the same as Trevor Lawrence himself — once in a generation. With the objective of generating new team business and just having fun, Khan and FH embarked on a plan built on exclusive access for select national media to one of sports’ most intriguing and engaging owners, provided all agreed to focus only on Lawrence, Coach Meyer, the NFL Draft and what Khan thought of it all. The buy-in was 100 percent.

The signature play was the sports front page — and nearly an entire page inside — in The New York Times on the Monday of Draft Week with two trusted NFL reporters who interviewed Khan, Coach Meyer, team executives, college coaches and fans over several weeks. Key to the success of the piece was accepting that the story couldn’t be told without owning how the Jaguars’ struggles in recent years, marked by a 1‑15 season in 2020, made the No. 1 overall pick possible. Client maturity and candor resulted in an epic color spread that wasn’t always glowing, but offered exceptional insight into Khan’s thinking and provided small-market Jacksonville a global stage to espouse hope and belief, and celebrate a moment unlike any in franchise history.

The same morning, a strategically timed Monday Morning Quarterback column on Sports Illustrated’s website led with Khan’s insight on the process of hiring Meyer, who won two national titles at the University of Florida and one at Ohio State, and the impact that a premier quarterback — presumptively, Lawrence — would have on the Jaguars. With appetite growing to hear more from Khan, a strictly invite-only video session with six writers the following day generated additional momentum on the Associated Press wire, NFL.com, the local Florida Times-Union and the team’s website. Khan continued to deftly dodge the question, but Trevormania was hitting a new stride.

In the 24 hours preceding the pick, Khan would make one more sweep with the local official radio and television stations of the Jaguars, the NFL Network and the Black News Channel, of which he is the majority investor. Finally, on Thursday night, it was Coach Meyer and general manager Trent Baalke who made the initial call to Trevor Lawrence, resulting in widespread celebration throughout North Florida while simultaneously creating a sense of comfort and calm among Jaguars fans of all generations. But, it was Khan who enjoyed the privilege the following day of first welcoming the quarterback and his wife Marissa as they arrived at the stadium for introductions, a raucous exchange with third-graders and a press conference that finally made it all real. 

NBC’s Peter King, who was afforded private Friday morning sessions with Khan and Coach Meyer, aptly concluded his report this past Monday with a parting thought from Khan:

“We’ll enjoy the honeymoon,” Khan said, “until the ball is snapped.”