No matter how beloved the owner of a sports franchise may be, there will always be plenty of reasons for fans to hate him. In a city like Houston, with three major sports franchises, there are bound to be times when owners take a beating, particularly when the teams are losing.
It is a rough time in Houston for sports fans and owners are naturally going to suffer. Astros owner Drayton McLane is getting out while the getting is crappy, admitting last week the team is officially for sale. Les Alexander is suffering through a miserable, injury-plagued early part of the season with the Rockets. But, none has suffered more than Bob McNair's Texans.
McNair is universally considered a good guy and has certainly been a winner in business, but has not come close to translating that magic to the playing field, especially this year. The team appears poised to miss the playoffs again and are surely destined to become one of the worst defensive squads in the history of the league.
There is plenty of blame to go around, but the man in charge must bear the bulk of the responsibility, particularly when he is the only constant in nine seasons of ineptitude. When evaluating any owner, we feel there are three primary variables on which to judge his performance: hiring, meddling and winning. On all three, McNair falls short of his peers.
Even Drayton McLane had the good sense to hire Gerry Hunsicker. He eventually drove him away with his cost-cutting measures, but trusting Hunsicker ultimately led them to a World Series. Les Alexander is unflinching in his willingness pull the trigger on big moves or the plug on sinking ships from the hiring of Darryl Morey to the firing of Jeff Van Gundy (he was fired no matter what any press release said). In many ways, he is the ideal owner from this standpoint.
McNair is the polar opposite of Alexander. He is slow to react and hesitant to take risks. From his choice of Charley Casserly to build the on-the-field part of the franchise through the first coach, Dom Capers, to Gary Kubiak and the seemingly endless stream of coordinators, McNair has made wrong move after wrong move.
His unwillingness to take risks on players with potential character problems, while laudable, serves to impede progress and fosters a sense that this is not a franchise with a personality strong enough to straighten out problems internally (see: Patriots, New England). It also leads to teams of really nice, really mediocre players. This philosophy is made even more laughable by the fact that two Texas this year were suspended for violating the league's performance-enhancing drug policy.
He is also unfailingly loyal, a wonderful trait in a human being, but often disastrous for an owner. As sweet as it may have been, watching McNair beg the league to look at all the medical evidence he had to back Brian Cushing's claims that he never took a banned substance was like watching the dad of a spoiled rich kid beg the prep school to take him back after he lit the dean's house on fire.
McLane has relied too much on the idea that fans of the Astros will only support a team full of brand name players. This benefitted them tremendously when Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell and Roy Oswalt were in their prime. But, the Astros waited too long to begin the re-building process and with the Astros up for sale, it looks like McLane's recent youth movement was more a by-product of making the team look financially attractive than starting over.
Alexander probably takes too many risks. It's hard to fault the guy for painting with broad strokes, but names like Eddie Griffin, Stromile Swift and Scottie Pippen still haunt the franchise.
In reality, there is a fine line an owner must walk between being too involved (cough, Jerry Jones, cough) and not being involved enough. McNair most definitely falls into the latter. Lately, he's seemed more like a patient grandfather than a boss.
There is a time to allow your players to play and your coaches to coach. There is also a time to crack the whip and set the tone for your organization. In a season where the playoffs were widely considered the only goal, it is ridiculous to praise your team's effort when they are performing well below expectations.
McNair sat through too many years of Carr, too many years of Casserly and he can't even bring himself to dismiss a defensive coordinator at the helm of the worst team in the NFL by a wide margin. If you can't hire well, you have to lead on your own and McNair can't seem to do either.
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Unfortunately for fans of the Texans, this is an easy area to evaluate. The Astros were a perennial playoff team, making it as far as the World Series, until players began aging. The Rockets won back-to-back titles in the 90's, and despite a long run of playoff appearances without a win, at least they made the playoffs.
The Texans are one of the worst expansion franchises in league history. They have had only one winning season (last year) and never made the playoffs. In fact, they've never really even been in the race for a playoff birth let alone in contention for a Super Bowl.
In the most important qualification for being a successful franchise -- performance on the field -- McNair has fallen well short of Alexander and McLane. He's a distant third among Houston sports franchise owners. It's ironic considering we ranked him as the best in 2006.