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A great fit


Mark Lamping wasn't looking to move immediately, necessarily.

But he wanted to work with an NFL franchise, and wanted to do so long-term, so when Jaguars Owner Shahid Khan on Saturday offered the opportunity to be the team's new president, the timing made sense.

Lamping, named the Jaguars' president by Khan on Monday morning, had worked as President and Chief Executive Officer of MetLife Stadium and home to the New York Jets and New York Giants since April 2008. Under his watch, MetLife Stadium became reality – and a future Super Bowl host – but this much was true, too:

It was never meant to be forever.

"I knew this job had a start and an end," said Lamping, who is expected to begin working at EverBank Field in Jacksonville February 27. "As much as (Giants President and Chief Executive Officer) John Mara and (Jets Chairman and CEO) Woody (Johnson) would have liked I stay on long-term, I felt a very strong desire to hopefully stay in the NFL and do it with a team."

Lamping will be responsible for all non-football facets of the Jaguars, reporting to Khan. Jaguars General Manager Gene Smith will continue to report directly to Khan.

Khan called Lamping "a great fit for us."

"I wanted to get the best person for the Jaguars," Khan said. "I did talk to a number of people and really considered other people. Mark is obviously the best choice for us. I'm delighted he chose to join us."

Lamping said he considered his MetLife Stadium position essentially a five-year job, one with a limited lifespan once stadium construction was completed in time for the 2010 season.

He had spent 15 seasons as the president of the St. Louis Cardinals, but said the Jets' runs to the AFC Championship Game the past two seasons and the Giants' run to the Super Bowl title this year "really reminded me what I missed working for a (NFL) team."

Lamping not only will go from working with two teams to running one, he will move from the NFL's largest market to one of its smallest.  Though the Jaguars haven't had a game blacked out locally since the 2009 season, attendance is a priority for Lamping, and he said market size won't be used as "a crutch or an excuse."

 "I can give you the other side of the coin," Lamping said. "I'm up here in New York, a metropolitan area of millions and millions of people. The clutter up here is dramatic. There are nine professional sports teams in the New York market.

"Let's look at the positive. You have Jacksonville, which is not the largest NFL market, but it's the only major league team operating in that marketplace."

Of the Jaguars' market, he said, "Those things that make us different in some cases make us special. That's where our focus is going to be. I don't want to plan to fail. I want to make sure we spend all of our time thinking about what success is going to look like rather than what we're going to do if we fail."

Khan said he believes Lamping can bring a new approach and elevate the Jaguars to elite status "not only in the NFL, but all of sports."

"He's an excellent fit for what we're trying to do with the Jaguars," Khan said. "He shares the ambition and believes strongly in the great work we can do together with Jacksonville and the Jaguars."

Said Lamping, "I am very bullish on the Jaguars' future in Jacksonville. I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't think there was great success ahead for us. It starts with Shad, his enthusiasm, his commitment and his expectations. I just tell you, they are very high expectations, but I believe they're very achievable.

"I believe they're achievable, because I believe we have the basic building blocks in place to achieve success."

Lamping said those building blocks are:

*A strong, committed owner.

*"By far the strongest league in the world."

*A "highly desirable market" in North Florida and South Georgia. Lamping called Jacksonville "one of the best places in the world to live."

"It's a region filled with rabid, very knowledgeable football fans," Lamping said.

Lamping also lauded the Jaguars' current staff, and said, "From the research I've done, a great staff is in place."

"I've had a chance to see some of the recent fans surveys on this past season and the Jaguars did exceptionally well," he said.

Khan said Lamping's presence "greatly strengthens the management and front-office leadership of the Jaguars."

"I want this to be the best front office," Khan said. "As Mark gets to know the people and the operation, obviously I will be supporting him any way I can. We want to be the best, and we're going to do whatever it takes to do so, whether it's processes, practices or people.

"This is maybe the first step of a 1,000-mile journey."

Lamping spent 1994-2008 as president of the Cardinals and during his time there, the franchise drew more than 3 million fans nine consecutive seasons.

 "I find quite a few parallels between when I started with the St. Louis Cardinals in St. Louis and the challenges that the Jaguars are facing today," Lamping said. "I do know from first-hand experience that professional sports teams can flourish in smaller markets, but they must be willing to be creative, to be flexible and focus on our strengths."

Also on Monday:

*Lamping said a focus will be on "building a regional franchise," adding a major focus will be on expanding the Jaguars' regional footprint. "It's not that different than what happens in St. Louis," he said. "The Cardinals operate in one of the smaller baseball markets in Major League Baseball. They have focused on building the Cardinal brand throughout the Midwest. As a result, they have about 40 percent of their fans who travel from regional markets. We need to start at the center of the target and make sure we're very strong in the Jacksonville community, but have a focused and concentrated effort to build the regional markets outside Jacksonville."

*Lamping said issues such as location of training camp and preseason games involve football operations, and likely will be decided by Smith and Head Coach Mike Mularkey. "Those are things best decided by football folks, but it's important to have a specific, aggressive plan to reach out to those regional markets," he said. "If you spend time listening, your customers will tell you what they expect. Then, it's incumbent on us to give them a product they want to spend their hard-earned money on."

*Khan said as was the case with Mularkey, Lamping fit "culturally" with the organization. "The right cultural fit is somebody who really is not concerned about whether they get the credit or the blame, but doing the right thing," Khan said. "Having the self-confidence and not worried about ego – that is, I think, simply the right fit."

*Lamping said he spoke with former Jaguars Head Coach Tom Coughlin, now the coach of the Giants, about the franchise: "He could not have been more complimentary of not only all of Jacksonville, but also Gene Smith and Coach Mularkey."

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