Texans Owner Keeps the Faith in His Team and His Coach
Thus, his heart was with Baylor in that tournament game.
But his mind was stuck on Duke.
"I could tell you before the game who was going to win it,'' McNair said. "Certain coaches who have a certain kind of experience get it done. The Duke coach [Mike Krzyzewski] certainly has that. In games and competition like that where experience, discipline and character come into it, those coaches often prevail.''
As he enters his ninth season of Texans ownership, McNair sees an NFL ripe with those kind of coaches. And he has one, he says, in Gary Kubiak.
Kubiak has won six, eight, eight and nine games, respectively, in his four seasons as Texans head coach. Last year featured the first winning record in franchise history. But there's been no Kubiak-led playoff trip and his 7-17 record against Houston's AFC South rivals prod some Texans fans to wonder if mountains are, indeed, being climbed or if wheels are simply being spun.
"He's more of a leader than people have recognized,'' McNair said of Kubiak. "This is still his first head-coaching job. A person has to learn how to be more comfortable with what they are doing. More confident and assertive each year. He does an outstanding job of communicating with his players. He makes everyone accountable. He does not play favorites.''
McNair said entering last season that his team should make the playoffs. He is saying that again prior to the 2010 season.
When the Texans failed to reach that goal last season, speculation was rampant that Kubiak would be fired.
"I really thought we'd be in position last year to make the playoffs, but I never indicated if we didn't we were going to change the coaching staff,'' McNair said. "People thought that's what I might do, but I didn't say that. I evaluate and make decisions. It wasn't about being 9-7 like we were, because we could have been 8-8 or 10-6 and I still would have looked at injuries, the opponents ... so much plays into it. Under the circumstances, [Kubiak] did a good job.
"We've been working here in recent years with rookies in place at head coach, general manager, offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator. You have to give them time. As an owner, I want things that last over the long course. I do not believe in giving them experience and then sending them off for someone else to get the benefit.''
McNair, 73, knows the value of building something that will endure.
He grew up on dirt roads in Forest City, N.C., his father a loyal, lifetime worker for Sunshine Biscuits. That helped shape his long-term view of business mixed with what he calls his nature of pursuing high-risk/high-reward deals. He came to Houston in 1960 from the University of South Carolina with $700. Now his fortune is worth more than a billion dollars from building an energy/power empire of businesses. He made a $700 million bid to the NFL in 1999 to get the Texans into the league as an expansion club. They began playing in 2002 and now the franchise is worth more than a billion dollars. He has been married to his wife, Janice, for 53 years.
His eye and feel for business tell him that the players and owners will agree on a collective bargaining agreement that will ensure NFL football beyond this season. He left last week's NFL owners meetings in Orlando, Fla., encouraged.
"Clearly, we talked collective bargaining and the efforts everyone is making at the league level to work out an agreement that works for everybody,'' McNair said. "There have been a lot of critical comments said by D. Smith (DeMaurice Smith, NFLPA executive director) that I think have been very pessimistic. But for our people, for [commissioner] Roger [Goodell], we are optimistic we can work this out.''
McNair said the owners spent time discussing various player safety issues and adopted a new overtime system for the playoffs that he has longed for: "If you've played 60 minutes and you wind up tied and you go to overtime and don't get to possess the ball, that is not something I looked forward to. At least have a chance. You've got to grow and change. Look at horse racing. It's a great sport, but it's dying. They have not been innovative. We won't let that happen.''
He also says to pay attention to the "new media'' and the way it affects the NFL.
McNair says he is tuned in.
"The changing media and obstacles we face are crucial,'' McNair said. "Television has produced about half of the league's revenues, but the networks are being challenged by cable, internet, hand-held devices, you name it,'' McNair said. "Media is changing and we are trying to figure how we will change with it and not lose control of our game.''
McNair is chairman of the NFL's Investment Committee. He also serves as a member of the league's Los Angeles Stadium Working Group. And on Finances, Audit and Stadium committees. In a wide-ranging, two-hour interview in his office earlier this week, McNair offered more of his thoughts:
On the Texans' history: "You have to have a core group of really good players. It takes longer to get that than I had imagined. Early on, we did not take advantage of early draft picks. We weren't able to get that core group. We have that now. We have one of the best quarterbacks (Matt Schuab), the best wide receiver (Andre Johnson), a fine tight end (Owen Daniels), solid offensive linemen ... We'll pick up a running back or two in the draft to solidify our running game. We have an exciting offense. Coaches I talk to tell us they don't want to play us anymore. Last year, we had 15 of the 16 games going into the last four minutes where we had a chance to win the game and were in position to win it.''
On QB David Carr, the franchise's first draft pick in 2002, who was jettisoned in 2007 and now plays for San Francisco: "I think had David Carr been coached better, things might have worked. If I had it to do over, I think we would have gotten David a veteran quarterback in here. He needed someone to show him what it takes. I think we treated David as a No. 1 pick and did not demand enough of him. He thought he was doing everything that needed to be done and that wasn't the case. He needed to be the first player in here and the last one to leave. He needed to work more with our receivers and put in not just required time but go over and beyond. David did not understand that, and he said that recently. Knowing what I know now, I would not let that happen. Coaches set him up with video equipment in his home. I'm sure he looked at a lot of that tape. But he needed to be here more and working with the coaches and doing more with the players.''
On what happened to Houston after a 7-9 finish in 2004 was followed by a 2-14 2005 season under then-coach Dom Capers: "We were 7-9 and the wheels fell off, and some things happen like that when owners are so loyal to certain coaches. They can be like a band of brothers. They do not continue to make their staffs better as they go along. They have no problem moving a player, but they do with coaches. And as those weaknesses show, you start to get finger-pointing. It became one of those death spirals. Our coaching staff is better than it was four years ago. Better than it was three years ago and two years ago.''
On why he hired Kubiak in 2006: "Quarterback is the most important position. It is the most difficult position. Gary Kubiak played quarterback at Texas A&M. He backed up John Elway and coached Steve Young. He knows what it takes. He has an intimate understanding of how offenses work and a good understanding of defense. He wasn't like a Steve Spurrier, who doesn't want to be bothered with defense and gets somebody else to do it. [Kubiak] is a Houston native. I interviewed him before I hired Dom Capers and felt Gary wasn't ready then. Four years later, he was ready. He is ready now.''
On his patience with Kubiak: "If I had seen a losing locker room, sure, there would be a change -- if the wheels had fallen off again; if there was a lack of confidence and players not believing in him; a situation where players were not playing hard would have done it. A lot of people question Gary and his mistakes and they don't remember that none of us is perfect. You can look at a call made and this and that, and you can do that with anybody, any coach. If you want to find fault with somebody, you can find it. He's done a solid job. He's worked hard to find his style and strength.''
On the 2010 season: "We've got to start out without digging ourselves into a hole -- [play] good football the first half of the year and not wait until the second half. A little luck and we are in the playoffs. If Indianapolis plays its starters the whole game against the Jets, they win and we were in the playoffs instead of the Jets. Breaks and luck. You need a little. But what you want to do is put yourself in a place where luck runs over you. I'm optimistic. This could be the year for us. I do what I've always done -- hope for the best and prepare for the worst.''
On how he monitors his team: "I spend time with the GM (Rick Smith). After a game, on Mondays, I meet with my son Cal (the Texans vice chairman) and look at game film for an hour. Then I meet with Rick for an hour. Then I meet with Gary and Rick and Cal. The four of us talk about the game and express ideas and talk offense, defense and special teams. We go down the list and talk about every player. When I am here, I try to go to practice every day. I'm involved. I'm not the coach and I'm not the GM; I have one of each. But I'm involved enough to monitor what is going on. If you are not there, you cannot see people in action. You can't evaluate based on what you've heard.''
On the possibility of New York hosting a Super Bowl: "I'll listen to what they have to say, and do have an open mind. But if you remember the Super Bowl in Atlanta, it had an ice storm and it was a disaster. I don't know how much value there will be in anybody going up there to put themselves in that kind of situation. This is our championship. This is our pinnacle. Football fans may not want to deal with the cold situation. Maybe they have an argument to convince me that will make sense.''
On the value of the city of Houston: "I think Houston is a special place. It is one of the hardest-working communities I have ever seen. I have a real affinity for its culture and work ethic. It is a pioneering city. A space city. We had the 2004 Super Bowl here and I believe hosting events like the NCAA tournament, a regional final this year and the Final Four next year, continue to show the fine stage that Houston can present. I want to bring a championship here. Bringing NFL football back was not enough. Who knows? I look at what the New Orleans Saints just did and I believe that can happen for us. This might be our year. I always try to figure out how to add value. How do we get to be a championship team? That's adding value. And you do it with stable coaching, stable ownership.''
On the Cowboys' glitzy new stadium and Dallas hosting the next Super Bowl: "They have almost reached our level.''