Houston Texans owner Bob McNair died Friday in Houston, the team announced. He was aged 81.
“It is with deep sadness that we announce 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,” the team said in a statement.
McNair, whose family has lived in Houston since 1960, was awarded the NFL’s 32nd franchise in 1999 after advocating for the league to return to the city since the Oilers moved and became the Tennessee Titans after the 1996 season. The Texans debuted in 2002, and the city of Houston hosted Super Bowls after the 2003 and 2016 seasons.
“Mr. McNair was an amazing man who made tremendous contributions to the NFL and the City of Houston,” Texans 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. My thoughts and prayers are with Janice and the McNair Family.”
McNair was the founder of Cogen Technologies, at one point the largest privately owned cogeneration company in the world, and chaired The Robert and Janice McNair Foundation and Houston Texans Foundation.
The Texans went nine years before their first playoff appearance but then reached the postseason four times in a six-year span. They are 7-3 after an 0-3 start this season, leading the AFC South by two games.
“During his nearly two decades as an NFL owner, Bob McNair left a lasting mark on his city and our league,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement, in part. “His leadership and determination brought the NFL back to Houston, built a magnificent stadium that hosted two Super Bowls, and his beloved Texans are in the midst of another successful season and are again contending for a place in the postseason.
“…He cared deeply about the league and was generous with his time and willingness to share his insights as an exceptional businessman. But above all, Bob was a family man. I extend my heartfelt condolences to Janice, their family, the Texans, and the entire Houston community.”
McNair drew criticism last fall when he was quoted as saying during an NFL owners meeting, “We can’t have the inmates running the prison,” while discussing NFL players who had knelt or done other demonstrations during the national anthem. He later apologized for those comments and said he was not referring to players, but to the relationship between the league office and team owners.
Defensive end J.J. Watt and several other Texans players offered their condolences on Twitter on Friday.
“Rest In Peace Mr. McNair,” Watt wrote. “Thank you for giving myself and so many others an opportunity here in Houston. My thoughts are with Janice, Cal and the entire McNair family.”
McNair’s death is the third of an NFL owner in the last two months. Alex Spanos, who left daily operations of the San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers to his son, Dean Spanos, in 1993, died at age 95 on October 9. Seattle Seahawks owner Paul Allen died at age 65 on October 15.