Bob McNair, the owner of the Houston Texans since 1999 who brought professional football back to the city in 2002, has died, the team confirmed. He was 80.
McNair had been struggling with his health for more than 20 years, battling skin cancer and chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). He died peacefully on Friday surrounded by his wife Janice and his family.
Shortly after his passing, the Texans released a statement on Twitter and confirmed the news.
“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 organization tweeted.
In addition to the team, Texans Head Coach Bill O’Brien, General Manager Brian Gaine, and President Jamey Rootes all issued a statement on behalf of the man who “did so much for our organization” and helped “build a winning” program.
“Today is a difficult day for the Houston Texans family and the entire NFL. Mr. McNair did so much for our organization and the City of Houston throughout his time as owner of the Texans,” Gaine said. “He cared deeply about the players, coaches and staff, and he gave all of us unwavering support to be successful. I remain humbled and honored for the leadership opportunity he provided me here in Houston.”
“He was a true family man and his sincerity and kindness extended to the families of this organization,” Gaine continued. “I will always remember the support he gave to the vision both Coach O’Brien and I share to help build a winning organization the City of Houston deserves.”
“It was a privilege to know and work for Mr. McNair and his impact on our organization as well as our sport will last forever,” Gaine finished.
Rootes echoed Gaines’ sentiments about the NFL team owner, who he referred to as his “mentor, hero, and father figure.”
“We lost an incredible man today. Bob McNair had a positive impact on so many people’s lives,” Rootes wrote. “He was a role model as a father, husband, philanthropist and businessman. He was the reason professional football returned to Houston and he stewarded our franchise with a laser focus on honesty, integrity and high character.”
O’Brien added in a separate statement: “Mr. McNair was an amazing man who made tremendous contributions to the NFL and the City of Houston. 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,” O’Brien continued.
Not only did figures in the organization pay tribute to the owner, but so did former president George H.W. Bush, who lived in the same city as McNair and considered him to be a close friend.
“Bob McNair wasn’t just the brightest Point of Light in Houston; he was one of the kindest and most generous people anywhere,” he wrote in a statement issued by his spokesperson Jim McGrath. “Nobody cared — or helped people — more, and that’s just one of the reasons I will always be proud Bob was my good friend. He was simply The Best.”
Although the Texans’ owner was greatly revered by those who knew him, he was surrounded by controversy last fall after he warned other NFL team owners that the league should avoid having “inmates running the prison” in regards to players’ kneeling protests, according to Sports Illustrated.
He later apologized for his comment, explaining that he regretted using the expression. “I never meant to offend anyone and I was not referring to our players. I used a figure of speech that was never intended to be taken literally,” McNair said. “I would never characterize our players or our league that way and I apologize to anyone who was offended by it.”
Under McNair’s leadership, the Texans became the 32nd NFL franchise in 2002 and brought the 2004 and 2017 Superbowls to his NRG Stadium in Houston, according to the team’s website. He first came up with the idea to bring the NFL back to Houston in 1999.
His philanthropy extended into the city of Houston and beyond, establishing The Robert and Janice McFair Foundation, The Robert and Janice McNair Educational Foundation, and Houston Texans Foundation, serving as a chair for over 25 years.
With all three organizations combined, McNair gave away more than $500 million to scientific, literary, educational, and faith-based charities, including $100 million to build the Baylor College of Medicine McNair Campus, the Texans said. The school later presented him with their first Pink Ribbon Hero Award for his commitment to fighting cancer.
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From the business side, McNair founded Cogen Technologies, the largest privately-owned cogeneration company in the world. For his work, he was inducted into the Texas Business Hall of Fame in 1997 and the Houston Hall of Fame in 2010, the Texans reported.
He was also behind a 1,947-acre thoroughbred horse farm and racing stable in Kentucky called Stonerside Stable, which housed over 275 racehorses, broodmares, yearlings, and weanlings. The successful stable went on to breed the winners of more than $50 million and 72 Graded Stakes, the Texans said.
Most recently, in 2018, McNair became the sixth recipient of the Texas Sports Hall of Fame’s Lamar Hunt Lifetime Achievement Award.