Robert “Bob” McNair, a Texas business owner and founding owner of the Houston Texans, who brought NFL football back to the city after the Oilers left for Tennessee, died Nov. 23 in Houston. He was 81.
He had been treated for leukemia and squamous cell carcinoma. The team announced his death.
When Houston lost the Oilers to Tennessee after the 1996 season, Mr. McNair made it his mission to return the National Football League to the city. He paid $700 million for the Texans franchise in 1999, the same year he sold his energy-generation company, Cogen, to Enron for $1.5 billion.
He continued to own power plants in New York and West Virginia, as well as a private investment company and a horse farm in Kentucky.
The Houston Texas began play in 2002 as the NFL’s 32nd franchise. Mr. McNair became a powerful force in the NFL as chairman of the league’s finance committee and as a member of the audit committee.
“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. “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.”
After several difficult years as an expansion team, the Texans won the AFC South title and a playoff berth in 2011. The team also won the division title a year later when it went a franchise-best 12-4. In both years, the Texans lost in the divisional round of the playoffs.
Mr. McNair made the agonizing decision to fire longtime friend and coach Gary Kubiak late in the following season as the Texans limped to 2-14, tying a franchise record for losses. He later hired Bill O’Brien as head coach.
Mr. McNair came under fire in 2017 when he said “we can’t have the inmates running the prison” during a meeting of the NFL owners about players who protest social and racial injustice by kneeling during the national anthem. He later apologized.
In response, almost all of the Texans knelt during the anthem before a game against the Seahawks on Oct. 29, 2017, after no one on the team had knelt before.
Robert McNair was born Jan. 1, 1937, in Tampa and grew up in Forest City, where his father worked as an office manager for a food company.
He graduated from the University of South Carolina in 1958 and moved to Houston in 1960.
He worked in advertising and later started an executive car-leasing company. He founded Cogen Technologies in 1984.
“Many people say I was an overnight success,” Mr. McNair told Houston Lifestyles & Homes, “and I was, after 20 years of struggling.”
Mr. McNair and his wife, Janice, gave more than $500 million over the course of their philanthropic efforts, including $100 million to the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
He also gave money to an effort to block a Houston ordinance aimed at ending discrimination against gay and transgender residents.
He later withdrew the donation when it became public knowledge.
Mr. McNair’s son, Cal McNair, will take over leadership of the Houston Texans.
Survivors include his wife, Janice Suber McNair; four children; 15 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
Read more Washington Post obituaries