FRED FAOUR

A look back at the Robert C. McNair I knew

A look back at the Robert C. McNair I knew
Texans owner Bob McNair passed away on Friday. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

You will read a lot of tributes to Robert C. McNair, who passed away on Friday at the age of 81. You will hear a lot about his character, philanthropy and caring nature.

Some will also choose to focus on the controversies he became involved with regarding his comments in recent years.

I have chosen to tell you about the Bob McNair I knew.

I first met him in 1994 at Sam Houston Race Park, while working as a horse racing handicapper and writer. When the track first opened, McNair brought some of his high quality racehorses to Houston. Over the next few years, McNair’s racing operation - under the guidance of John Adger - would grow into one of the largest in the world. People forget just what a major player he was in the racing game before the Texans were founded. That was how I came to know him intitially.

I once spent a day with Adger, McNair and his wife Janice at their Ranch in Lexington, Kentucky, touring the massive place with his dog Liberty sleeping on my feet in a golf cart. We talked about a lot of things besides horses. He had just won the rights to shell out almost a billion for an NFL team he had been working to bring to the city for years.

We talked about building winning organizations. Bouncing back from failures. Business practices. Politics. Family. The man I knew was driven, intent on winning and had a deep love for the city of Houston. And of course, football.

Over the next two-three years, I was fortunate enough to spend more time with him. We played golf on a few occasions (he beat me soundly), talked horses. I attended Super Bowl parties with him in San Diego and New Orleans. Whenever we saw each other, we talked about his horses. Where they should run next. What newcomers he had coming up. Breeding theories that Adger had to create “The One.” He always went out of his way to spend a few minutes with me, even as his profile increased significantly as the Texans continued to develop.

Once the Texans began playing on the field, my role changed, and I was running the sports department at the Houston Chronicle. It got me on his bad side once. The Chronicle chose to run a rather graphic cartoon depicting him and then-GM Charley Casserly as buffoons. It was frankly too much. I did not want to run it but I was overruled. It resulted in a rather tense meeting at his office, and the first time I met his son Cal. Bob was clearly angry, but he handled it in a measured, sincere way, and accepted my apology.

It was not long after that I left for radio. He was my first guest on a Saturday morning show whose only listeners were friends and family.

I only saw him a few times at Texans practice after that. We always chatted for a few minutes, sometimes about the team, sometimes about the few remaining horses he had. The racing operation was sold off once he became an NFL owner, and our common bond eventually drifted away.

I lost touch in recent years, in part because it is hard to have a relationship with someone you have to talk about on radio. It started early on in my career, with dozens of callers saying “he didn’t want to win. He is just happy with selling out every game and making money.”

It was a take that was frankly as far from the truth as anything I have ever dealt with. I once saw how angry he got over one of his horses, a significant favorite, finishing fourth in an allowance race at Churchill Downs. He wanted answers. He was not happy. But he never lost his temper.

McNair’s theory on building a winning operation was simple: Get the right people in place and give them everything they need to succeed. With his horse operation, he had that man in Adger. They would not deal with questionable trainers or people of low character. And they had remarkable success.

In football, he tried the same model. The problem was he never got a John Adger to run the operation. Casserly’s early drafts were disasters. Rick Smith was just successful enough to lead the team to mediocrity. Gary Kubiak had success then melted down. And Bill O’Brien continued the trend. If McNair had a flaw, it was never quite getting the right people.

So I watched from afar as the team never got where he hoped. And I could see how frustrating it was for him.

The last few years, his “inmates” comment and support of fellow owner and friend Jerry Richardson cast him in a negative light. I did not agree with those comments, and they weren’t reflective of the man I knew. I attributed it to age and illness, and I stand by that.

The man I knew loved horses. Loved winning. Wanted the Texans to be successful, not for the money, but for the city of Houston. I learned a great deal about business and life from him. I am sad his team never achieved the success he wanted. I am sad I lost touch with him. I am sad he is gone. I am sad that his comments will taint his legacy with many people.

I will miss the man that built that racing operation and fought hard to get Houston the Texans. I miss the friendship with someone I admired.

That was the Robert C. McNair I knew.

 

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The Astros rotation looks like a strength moving forward. Composite Getty Image.

The Houston Astros are coming off a much-needed series win over the White Sox, but have a quick turnaround as they host the Orioles on Friday night at Minute Maid Park.

The 'Stros dropped the first game of the series with Framber Valdez on the mound, but were able to rebound with Hunter Brown and Spencer Arrighetti starting the final two games.

Brown was brilliant once again, and Arrighetti bounced back after a disastrous start against the Tigers over the weekend. Despite all the injures to the Astros staff this season, their young pitchers are stepping up when they need them the most.

Brown has six consecutive quality starts and is beginning to show signs that he can be the top of the rotation pitcher the club always hoped he could develop into.

Arrighetti has stepped in and shown that he belongs in the big leagues, and has provided innings Houston desperately requires with so many pitchers on the injured list.

Speaking of which, with Justin Verlander on the IL, Double A prospect Jake Bloss will make the start for Houston on Friday night. Bloss has quickly progressed through the farm system, having been drafted just a year ago.

We'll see how he performs in his MLB debut, but the club seems to have a lot of quality pitching options moving forward, especially with Luis Garcia and Lance McCullers scheduled to return in late July and early August respectively.

And as we look at the Astros rotation moving forward, perhaps they will go back to a six-man rotation during certain stretches in the second half of the season.

Which could prove to be vital to the team's success. As good as Ronel Blanco has been, he's never pitched as many innings as he'll be asked to pitch this year. Same goes for Arrighetti. And let's face it, sending Verlander out to pitch on four days rest consistently at 41 years old doesn't sound like a wise decision. He's already been on the IL twice this year.

While some see Garcia and McCullers as wild cards to help the team this season, Astros GM Dana Brown doesn't see it that way. He told the Astros flagship station this week that he's counting on those guys to make big contributions when they return. And he's counting on their postseason experience should they get there.

Keep in mind, Garcia has a 3.61 career ERA and has been durable outside the Tommy John surgery. And McCullers has always been good, it's just the health that causes concern.

Garcia is also an example of how a player can skip Double A and Triple A and have success right away in the big leagues. Hopefully, Bloss can follow in his footsteps, since he's bypassing Triple A to make his first start.

So what's the short and long-term outlook for the Astros rotation? And should we expect Verlander to return in 2025?

Be sure to watch the video above as we address those questions and much more!

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