Houston Texans owner Bob McNair has died; he was 81

Shalise Manza Young
·Yahoo Sports Columnist

Houston Texans owner Bob McNair has died, the team announced on Friday evening. He was 81.

The statement read:

“It is with deep sadness that we announced Houston Texans Founder, Senior Chairman and Chief Executive Officer and philanthropist, Robert C. McNair passed away peacefully in Houston today with his loving wife, Janice, and his family by his side.”

McNair had four children and 15 grandchildren.

Founded Texans in 1999

When the Houston Oilers moved to Tennessee after the 1996 season, one of the country’s biggest cities was left without an NFL team.

Enter McNair.

He founded Houston NFL Holdings in 1998, with the goal of getting a franchise. On Oct. 5, 1999, the NFL awarded him its 32nd franchise; he put up $700 million for the team.

Houston Texans owner Bob McNair died on Friday. He was 81. (AP)
Houston Texans owner Bob McNair died on Friday. He was 81. (AP)

The Texans began play in the 2002 season, with Dom Capers as their first head coach, and No. 1 pick David Carr as quarterback. They went 4-12 that inaugural season.

Houston had its first .500 season in 2007, first winning season in 2009, and first playoff appearance in 2011, when it won its first AFC South title. The Texans have made four trips to the postseason.

NRG Stadium, the Texans’ home, has hosted two Super Bowls: XXXVIII, in 2004, and LI, in 2017.

“Mr. McNair was an amazing man who made tremendous contributions to the NFL and the City of Houston,” head coach Bill O’Brien said in a statement. “He was a very caring, thoughtful and passionate individual. As much as he cared about winning, I think the thing I will remember most about Mr. McNair is the way he cared about the players. I know how much giving back meant to him and his loyalty and generosity to the City of Houston and our community will never be forgotten.”

A simple idea makes billions

McNair was raised in North Carolina, where he was a three-sport athlete in high school. He graduated from the University of South Carolina, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology.

According to a 2001 profile in Texas Monthly magazine, five months after graduating, the company he was working for went broke, and McNair was out of a job. A newlywed, he moved to Houston in 1960 with $700 and the promise of a $3,000 loan from a former employer, and started an automobile leasing company. He ran it for 20 years, before declaring bankruptcy in the 1980s.

McNair founded Cogen Technologies in 1984; the company built power plants that used cogeneration, or combined heat and power, a more efficient use of fuel to generate electricity. Over 14 years, he built five electricity facilities around the country, focusing on the Northeast, and Cogen became the largest privately held power company in the country.

In 1998, Enron made McNair an offer he couldn’t refuse: $1.4 billion for three power plants in New Jersey. McNair kept the other two he had in the state.

He used the money from the sale to Enron to fund the birth of the Texans. He and Janice also donated millions to various causes through their foundation.

Controversy with players

Last year, McNair found himself criticized by current and former Texans players for comments he made at a meeting of NFL owners to discuss player protests.

McNair said, “We can’t have inmates running the prison,” and while McNair later said it was a phrase commonly used in business – many have heard, “Can’t have the inmates run the asylum” – many interpreted it as a swipe at players, and wondered if he saw them as criminals.

McNair apologized after news of his comments came out, though he later said he regretted apologizing.

Receiver DeAndre Hopkins left the team facility after learning of McNair’s words, and over two dozen Texans players kneeled during the playing of the anthem before the team’s next game.

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