Oilers, Titans greats recall Adams as AFL, NFL pioneer

Titans owner 'Bud' Adams, who died at 90, was a pioneer in multiple leagues and pro markets.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Kenneth Stanley 'Bud' Adams Jr. peacefully passed away Monday morning in his beloved hometown of Houston, Texas.


As co-founder of the American Football League in 1960 and original owner of the Houston Oilers, Bud Adams was a self-made billionaire who epitomized the stereotype of Texas oilmen.


He was also on the ground floor of the 1970 merger between the AFL and National Football League, while contributing to the NFL's subsequent growth for 40-plus years.


Love him or hate him — and there were plenty on both sides of that spectrum over the years — Adams was a man's man. And he didn't hesitate to move the Oilers here in 1997, eventually becoming the Tennessee Titans, when a new stadium deal in Houston could not be reached.


"Bud Adams played a pivotal role in the growth of pro football, as a pioneer and innovator," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. "As a founding owner of the American Football League that began play in 1960, Bud saw the potential of pro football and brought the game to new cities and new heights of popularity, first in Houston and then in Nashville."


The myriad of Adams' far-ranging business successes laid the foundation for allowing him to grow and enjoy what he loved most — being the only Oilers/Titans owner for a franchise that launched in 1960, leading up to his death at age 90.


"His commitment to the best interests of the game and league was unwavering," said Goodell. "The team's impact in community relations and philanthropy set a standard for the NFL. Bud was truly a gift to the NFL."


Because of his longevity and the team's consistent success through the years, the franchise had accumulated 409 victories, making him the winningest current NFL owner at the time of his death. Over the years, the Oilers/Titans earned 21 playoff berths in 53 seasons, ranking eighth among NFL teams since 1960.


The Oilers won the first two AFL titles in 1960-61 and went to consecutive AFC title games in 1978-79 during the “Luv Ya Blue” days that featured star running back Earl Campbell and head coach Bum Phillips, who died Friday. But Adams' crowning moment came during the 1999 season, when Tennessee reached the franchise's first and only Super Bowl appearance — losing to St. Louis in the final minutes.


"I'm extremely saddened to hear of the passing of Bud Adams," St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher said on Monday. Fisher coached the Titans for 17 seasons (1994-2010) and guided the franchise Super Bowl XXXIV in Atlanta.


"Mr. Adams gave me my first opportunity to be a head coach in the NFL," Fisher added, "and I'm eternally grateful to him for that. We enjoyed a great deal of success together during my 17 seasons with the organization, and I'll cherish those memories for the rest of my life.


"My respect for Mr. Adams goes well beyond the owner/coach relationship that we shared for many years. He was a pioneer in the football business."


Adams was also a pioneer in businesses other than oil and football. He owned companies that included tank truck transportation of liquid chemicals, oil and gas exploration and production, extensive farming and ranching in California and Texas, cattle feeding, real estate, automobile dealerships and leasing.


Adams was also known as an eccentric, too. Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon, who played for the Oilers from 1984-93, remembers a visit to Adams' office during some tense contract negotiations.


"Mr. Adams had this tall office building," Moon recalled on Monday, via teleconference, "but his office was in the basement. There was this stream of water and a bridge and all these artifacts and things I had never seen before.


It was Adams who made Moon the highest-paid player in the league at one time and allowed him to flourish under the famous Run and Shoot offense. There were infamous moments, too, like the sideline fight between offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride and defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan during a 1993 game.


"(Adams) gave me my first opportunity in the NFL," Moon said. "The guy had a tremendous impact on the game of football as one of the original owners of the AFL. There were a lot of different things he did that helped make him an iconic figure.


"Bud Adams left a big imprint on the game of football."


During his six decades as owner, Adams made professional football history on numerous occasions, including the Oilers becoming the first AFL/NFL team to play home games indoors (the Astrodome). During the 1960s, the Oilers dominated the AFL, playing in the title game four times (1960-62 and 1967) and winning it twice (1960-61).


Following the AFL/NFL merger, the Oilers/Titans reached the playoffs 16 times, including 10 in Houston and six in Tennessee. The playoffs streak of seven straight seasons from 1987-93 was the longest in the NFL during that span. The team has not made the postseason since 2008.


"I would like to acknowledge Bud Adams as being one of the great owners of his time," former Houston Oilers great Curly Culp said on Monday, via email. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame earlier back in August.


"I was very pleased to be a part of the Houston Oilers football club in the late 70s and early 80s," Culp added. "He was pivotal in establishing the American Football League. He will be missed. My condolences to the Adams family, the Tennessee Titans and the former Houston Oilers teams."


Offensive tackle Brad Hopkins, the franchise's first-round draft pick in 1993 and a 13-year veteran, was one of a handful of players to suit up for the franchise in both Houston and Tennessee.


"As a pioneer, Bud Adams is and always will be responsible for bringing professional sports to Nashville," Hopkins said. "We now have the NHL with the Predators, and so many huge corporations like Nissan America have relocated their headquarters here.


"Along with the music industry, much of Nashville's emergence as a first-class city has had a large part to do with the NFL relocating here from Houston."


According to reports, Adams attended his last Titans game on Sept. 15, when Tennessee visited Houston in Week 2. After Nancy Adams, his wife of 62 years, passed away in 2009, Adams had been in failing health.


While the succession plan of team control has not been publicly outlined, it is generally considered that Adams IV will take over active ownership of the team.


He formerly worked for the Titans as administrative assistant to Steve Underwood, the franchise’s Nashville-based senior executive vice president and general counsel, from 2006-10.


Adams had two daughters, Susie Smith and Amy Strunk, and a son, Kenneth S. Adams III, who is deceased. Adams had seven grandchildren, including Kenneth S. Adams IV, who has worked in various front-office roles within the franchise since 2006.


"I know that he had been in bad health for quite some time," Moon said. "It is sad to see him pass, but it is also a relief to know that he no longer is suffering."