Here's why the biggest loss for the Texans is flying under-the-radar

Jamey Rootes' departure will devastate the Texans. Composite photo by Brandon Strange

The Houston Texans, seemingly in the blink of an eye, have hired a new head coach with no experience as a head coach, a new general manager with no experience as a general manager, fired their popular director of media relations and other popular behind-the-scenes personnel, said goodbye to the team's biggest and most beloved star, traded their best receiver for peanuts and, while they deny it, they're on the verge of losing their divinely talented and accomplished quarterback for a bushel of untested draft picks.

Oh, yeah, and they've gone from perennial division champions to a 4-12 disaster.

The Texans are in turmoil. They're the laughingstock of the NFL. But here's what I'm wondering:

Does Texans Chairman and CEO Cal McNair know that fans refer to him as "Hee Haw" and "Jethro" and "Hillbilly Cal" and believe he simply doesn't have the intelligence to run an NFL franchise?

Does McNair know that fans see Jack Easterby as an evil Svengali who has mind control over McNair and has driven the Texans into the dumpster and created a toxic work environment? Seriously, I know very smart people who believe that Easterby has photos on McNair. They're not saying it as an expression, they think there are actual photos.

Does Easterby hear fans call him a phony TV preacher and puppet master who is pulling the strings at Texans headquarters. They say that Easterby has singlehandedly destroyed the Texans as a winning NFL franchise. Well, not singlehandedly since his other hand is up McNair's backside controlling the CEO's mouth.

For me, the final brick in the Texans' demolition project was team president Jamey Rootes' resignation last week. Because Easterby refuses to talk to the media, McNair shouldn't, and Deshaun Watson won't, we don't know what's really going on with the Texans – except every move they make of late is a head shaker.

This much I do know, Rootes' departure will devastate the Texans, not so much on the field (that's Easterby's wrecking ball), but off the field where the Texans are one of the most successful, valuable and admired sports franchises in the world. The Texans are a $3.3 billion empire in Houston. To a large measure, that was Rootes' doing.

Rootes came aboard the Texans in 2000, two years before the Texans even played a game. Team owner Bob McNair hired Rootes from the Columbus Crewe soccer team. Over the next 20-plus years, Rootes helped build a spectacular, state-of-the-art stadium, negotiated contracts with sponsors and vendors and hired the business staff. He helped lead the charge that brought two Super Bowls to Houston.

Most important, Rootes created the "culture" (Easterby's favorite word, except it's b.s. when he uses it) that inspired the love affair between Houston fans and Houston Texans. Every home game ever played in NRG Stadium has been a sell-out. It's not a little thing to Rootes, but the Texans host the best tailgate parties in the NFL.

Rootes wasn't just leader of the Houston Texans, he made his mark in Houston as Board Chairman of the United Way of Greater Houston, Chairman of the Greater Houston Partnership and professor at the University of Houston. Rootes ran the Houston Texans Foundation that raised $32 million for youth activities in Houston. After Hurricane Harvey, he helped coordinate NFL fundraising efforts that provided $50 million for the United Way.

He was named the Steinberg/DeNicola "NFL Humanitarian of the Year" in 2020.

Rootes once told me, "We are the most diverse big city in America in terms of people, cuisine, culture and industry. Houston is a fun city. If you want to do it, you can find it in Houston - and it's affordable, and you can do it year 'round. This is a special city. If you can dream it, you can do it. That's the essence of the brand we're selling, the message we're trying to get out."

I asked Rootes, what exactly does an NFL team president do? His answer was "I just find the best people and put them in position to best use their talents and succeed. I trust my people and I let them do their jobs."

That's the biggest difference, I guess, between late owner Bob McNair and prince Cal McNair who inherited the Texans reins. Bob McNair hired Jamey Rootes and let Rootes do his job. Which Rootes did magnificently.

They say an apple doesn't fall from the tree. In Cal McNair's case, he's stumbled completely out of the orchard.

Cal McNair hired a reputable search firm to find a new general manager for the Texans. The firm gave him two recommendations. McNair ignored them. Instead, he hired a Jack Easterby disciple with no experience. After recruiting a distinguished panel to help pick a new head coach (Rootes was a member of the panel), McNair ignored them and hired a head coach also with no experience in that position, a choice that came as a shock to Texans fans.

With Rootes' departure, the team's rudder, the adult in the room, is gone. While Rootes has not announced his next move, some say he will put together an ownership group to buy a pro soccer franchise.

I've got a better idea. I know a city that's begging for new ownership of its NFL team.

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A new hotel is in the works near Minute Maid. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Astros owner Jim Crane says the team is ready to break ground on a major construction project that will include a hotel and entertainment complex across the street from Minute Maid Park as soon as the 2023 baseball season wraps up – hopefully with another World Series parade in downtown Houston.


But another hotel? Another entertainment complex? More construction downtown? My first reaction was, how much more does Houston need? I remember when the Super Bowl was held in Houston in 2004, clubs and restaurants sprung up downtown practically overnight, only to disappear virtually the morning after. When it came to downtown development, the expression “less is more” turned out true. At least that Super Bowl.

I asked my contacts in government and the Houston welcome wagon, is this a good idea, building a hotel and entertainment complex next door to Minute Maid Park? Do we need it? Can we sustain it?

The answer every time was a resounding yes! For a couple of reasons: first, downtown Houston, coming out of Covid, is booming, leadership is creative and budget-minded these days, and most important, if Jim Crane is behind the idea, you can trust it’ll work. The guy’s got a track record.

“In 2004, the idea was to turn downtown’s Main Street into Bourbon Street. Is that what we really want? It was a misguided plan, the wrong philosophy, and businesses opened and closed in short order,” a source told me.

It was a different story when the Super Bowl returned to Houston in 2017. This time Houston saw the Marriott Marquis, a 1,000-room hotel complete with an iconic Texas-shaped swimming pool, open in time for the tourist onslaught. Also, Avenida Houston greeted downtown visitors with new restaurants and entertainment venues. Both the Marriott and Avenida Houston have continued to thrive long after the Super Bowl left town.

“We want our downtown to attract visitors while providing services for the growing number of singles and families who are making their home downtown. As we continue to host major events and conventions, there will be a need for more hotel rooms,” the source said.

The Astros’ plan to build a sprawling hotel and entertainment complex originally was discussed in 2021 but was put on hold due to Covid. Now Crane and the Astros are ready to come out swinging. Similar complexes operate successfully next to the baseball stadium in St. Louis, Chicago and other cities.

An Astros-themed hotel adjacent to Minute Maid Park is particularly intriguing. The lobby could be home to an Astros museum and team Hall of Fame. Rooms and restaurants could be decorated in honor of Astros legends – the “Nolan Ryan honeymoon suite,” or “Strech Suba’s Bullpen Bar and Grille.” There could be meeting space for autograph and memorabilia shows. There could be a broadcast facility for post-game interviews and analysis. And maybe one day, fingers crossed, a betting parlor like the Cubs have at Wrigley Field.

The Astros have a contract to play at Minute Maid Park through 2050 – the only long-term contract that doesn’t make Crane cringe. Anything that enhances the fan experience and generates revenue is good for the team and the city. I might even consider going downtown on non-game nights.

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