Why Bob McNair Is the Worst Owner in Houston Sports History

The Houston Texans, we are often told, are the ideal franchise. The owner doesn’t interfere with the coach or the general manager. The players are paid well and treated as professionals. The team goes out of its way to ignore any player with a troubled history. It’s an organization of which all Houstonians should be proud.

This is all because of Bob McNair, a man treated by many as a saint. The man who brought football back to Houston. A man who wants to win the right way. He’s loyal to the men he hires — only two general managers and only three head coaches in the history of the franchise. His decisions are calculated and not triggered by emotion. The Texans are the ideal, and all the NFL should do things the way McNair does.

No owner in the history of Houston sports has accomplished less with his franchise than Bob McNair. Yet no owner in the history of Houston sports is less criticized than McNair. Who cares if his teams don’t win? It’s not McNair’s fault. He saved football in Houston. He puts smart people in charge of the team. He leaves them alone.

But in 14 seasons, McNair’s Texans have won just 89 games against 124 losses. There are only two playoff seasons, only four winning seasons in those 14 seasons. Can you imagine the treatment Bud Adams would have received from the Houston media if the Oilers had accomplished so little? The Oilers wouldn't be praised as the ideal model. The Oilers would be mocked as a train wreck run by an owner concerned only with making money. There’d be no praise for passing on players with troubled backgrounds; instead, there’d be loud criticism for Adams being willing to stick with unproven players like Alfred Blue instead of taking a chance on a proven veteran like Ray Rice.

Bud Adams is perhaps the most reviled franchise owner in Houston sports history. He’s the guy who blackmailed Harris County into destroying the Astrodome, and the guy who attempted to blackmail the city into building him a downtown domed stadium, then taking his team and splitting for Nashville when he was told no. Adams was mocked endlessly as caring only about money, and for interfering too much with the coaches and general managers. He’s the guy who fired Bum Phillips. The guy who dumped Earl Campbell and Warren Moon.

But Adams actually hired legitimately smart, accomplished people to run his teams. Sid Gillman was a true offensive genius, and Bum Phillips was one of the masterminds behind the 3-4 defense. Jerry Glanville was an accomplished defensive coordinator, and Jack Pardee was a man who coached multiple teams to playoff appearances and who helped shepherd a revolutionary offense into the pro game. Adams might have been quick on the trigger to fire people, but there’s no way that a Rick Smith or a Gary Kubiak would have held onto their jobs for as long as they have (did) without having actually accomplished anything, and it’s doubtful a blowhard with no history of accomplishment like Bill O’Brien would have even been hired by Adams.

Bob McNair is a failure of an owner, everything that Adams was accused of being. There’s no evidence that he cares about winning games or making the playoffs. He’s dumped high-profile, accomplished players when they became too expensive. Sure, he doesn’t fire coaches and staff quickly, but he hires people with no real accomplishments and seems not to care that they’re in over their heads.

And why should McNair care? He rakes in millions of dollars off the league’s TV contracts and off of merchandizing. Every single game is sold out (remember how, even when the Oilers were good, there was always the weekly question of whether the game would sell out and thus be on TV). As long as the games are sold out, as long as he gets the same cash for being on television as the Patriots and Packers do and makes money off of Aaron Rodgers jersey sales, there’s absolutely no reason for McNair to care about putting a winning product out on the field.

There’s money to be made, lots of money to be made, in being a mediocre product that plays it safe and refuses to take chances. Peyton Manning is expensive, so just stick with Matt Schaub. Ray Rice commands a decent price, so just use the excuse of his domestic abuse to save a few bucks and keep using Alfred Blue to back up the injury-prone Arian Foster. Sure, some fans might get upset that the team’s never competitive, but hey, as long as there are millions of suckers willing to pay up for J.J. Watt merchandise, why change?

Bob McNair is, without a doubt, the worse owner in the history of Houston sports. But there’s absolutely no reason for him to change. He’s making money. He’s everything that Bud Adams was accused of being, and it’s time the fans and the media started treating McNair the way they treated Adams.

McNair deserves contempt; he deserves fan anger. Not that it’ll matter, not that it’ll actually change anything. Not as long as he’s making millions upon millions of dollars a year by fielding a largely non-competitive, mediocre product year after year after year.
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John Royal is a native Houstonian who graduated from the University of Houston and South Texas College of Law. In his day job he is a complex litigation attorney. In his night job he writes about Houston sports for the Houston Press.
Contact: John Royal