“He’s very inquisitive, he’s studied it and he’s been talking about it for a long time,” said , a former athletic director at the university. Guenther asked his friend Jerry Colangelo, a former owner of the Phoenix Suns and the Arizona Diamondbacks, to tutor Khan on buying a team. Their first meeting was at the 2005 Final Four in St. Louis, where North Carolina defeated Khan’s Fighting Illini in the final.
“His interest was specifically football, but he may have mentioned baseball, too,” Colangelo said.
In conversations over the next few years, they focused on the politics of acquiring a franchise.
“You don’t just go in cold turkey to buy a team,” said Colangelo, a former chairman of the N.B.A. board of governors. “You develop relationships, and you create credibility.”
Even before the Pakistani-born Khan tried to purchase majority control of the St. Louis Rams early last year, he was known to the N.F.L. as a feasible buyer when a team came up for sale.
Khan sought 60 percent of the Rams from the family of Georgia Frontiere, but he lost out when Stan Kroenke, who owned 40 percent, exercised an option to match his bid.
“He wasn’t heartbroken about it,” said Sid Micek, president of the University of Illinois Foundation, who has known Khan for 12 years. “He was pragmatic and realistic. He said that’s the way things go.”
But Khan had no such obstacle blocking him when he made his deal to buy the Jaguars from Wayne Weaver for a reported $760 million. If the league’s finance committee recommends it to the ownership committee next week, he could be approved as the team’s owner soon after.
One problem that has shadowed Khan since he tried to buy the Rams is a dispute with the Internal Revenue Service over taxes the agency said he owed from tax shelters that he and his wife, Ann, used over five years to reduce their federal taxes by $85 million. He has said that he paid $68 million and was hoping to get that back through litigation. But that issue has apparently been settled, with Khan making some additional payments, said one person briefed on the approval process who was not authorized to speak publicly.
Weaver said Commissioner Roger Goodell supported Khan’s bid. And presenting a bid like Khan’s to the finance committee is usually a sign that it has strong league support.
Khan, 61, left his hometown, Lahore, in 1967 to study industrial engineering at Champaign-Urbana. While still a student, he began working at in Urbana, which makes auto parts. He left in 1978 to create a company to produce a one-piece bumper that he designed with no seams to rust. Two years later, he acquired Flex-N-Gate and built it into a private company with more than $3 billion in revenue, 12,450 employees and 48 plants in the United States and abroad.
In an interview in 2009 with The News-Gazette of Champaign, Khan discussed his support of the government’s auto industry’s bailout. “We can’t become a nation of hamburger flippers and insurance salesmen,” he told the newspaper.
He is described as a private person with a gregarious, salesman’s personality. With long, wavy hair and a thick mustache that ends in waxed tips, Khan cuts a somewhat rakish figure.
“That mustache didn’t come out of nowhere,” Guenther said. “That’s his signature.”
In Urbana, where Flex-N-Gate has 885 employees, Mayor said: “He’s a quiet person, not real loud, but he’s very effective. He and his wife take on responsibility. They took on buying and redoing the . We didn’t ask them to do it. They just did it.”
Khan and his wife, who live in Champaign, have donated tens of millions of dollars to endow five professorships in aging and disability research, and to finance the building of an annex to the school’s and an outdoor tennis complex.
“He came here to go to college and has really never left the community,” Micek said. “He stays committed to the community although he travels globally.”
Recently, Khan was named a Lincoln Laureate by the state of Illinois for his achievements.
“This gentleman is absolutely the American story,” Weaver said.
And like many wealthy business executives, Khan believed it was time to buy a sports team.
In the Jaguars, he is taking control of a 3-8 team that needs a new coach, after Weaver fired on Tuesday, and has been rumored to be a candidate to move to Los Angeles. It has struggled to fill its stadium, , to avoid local television blackouts (there were seven in 2009 but none since) and is the league’s least-valuable team, according to Forbes magazine, with a worth of $725 million.
If Khan is approved, his Pakistani roots will make him stand out among the 32 owners ( of the Minnesota Vikings is from Germany). But Colangelo said that an owner’s birthplace does not matter.
“He came here and created something out of nothing,” Colangelo said. “That’s a lot better than it being handed to you. You understand the work ethic.”
He added, “The key word is passion.”