Kenneth Stanley “Bud” Adams, owner of the Tennessee Titans and one of the founders of the American Football League, was found dead Monday at his Houston home. He was 90.
Adams, an eccentric Texas oilman, lived alone and reportedly had not been seen since Saturday. He died of natural causes, the Titans announced.
A sharply controversial figure in Houston, Adams moved the Oilers to Tennessee after the 1997 season because he could not strike a deal for a new, publicly funded stadium to replace the aging Astrodome. He eventually got that stadium in Nashville, changing the name of his franchise to the Titans in 1999.
Adams was one of only four NFL owners to win at least 350 games, sharing that honor with the Oakland Raiders’ late Al Davis, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Dan Rooney and the Buffalo Bills’ Ralph Wilson.
Born Jan. 3, 1923, in Bartlesville, Okla., Adams was the son of the chairman of Phillips Petroleum and grew up in the oil business.
In 1959, Adams was one of eight founders of the AFL, which was a response to the NFL’s reluctance to expand too quickly and “oversaturate” the marketplace with a sport that was far less popular than baseball. Adams and Dallas millionaire Lamar Hunt were the Texas contingent of what became known as the “Foolish Club.”
Adams formed the Oilers, and Hunt founded the Dallas Texans, the team that later became the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Oilers played in four AFL championship games in the 1960s, winning titles in 1960 and ’61. After the AFL and NFL merged in 1970, the Oilers went on to reach the playoffs 10 times.
Adams’ death came less than three days after that of former Oilers coach Bum Phillips with whom he will be forever linked. Adams fired Phillips in 1980, bringing the club’s “Luv Ya Blue” era to an end. Phillips had coached the team to the AFC championship game in three consecutive seasons.
Although he never won a Super Bowl ring, Adams saw his Titans get to Super Bowl XXXIV in Atlanta in their inaugural 1999 season. There, they lost to the St. Louis Rams.
Adams stayed involved in football decisions throughout his life and was the driving force behind the Titans selecting quarterback Vince Young in 2006. In 2012, Adams offered quarterback Peyton Manning a “lifetime contract” if he would come to Tennessee.
In 2009, the NFL fined Adams $250,000 for raising his middle finger to the Buffalo Bills sideline while celebrating a victory. He later apologized.
In an interview with the Nashville Tennessean last month, Adams argued his case for a place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“I don’t like tooting my own horn,” he told the newspaper. “But at my age, and now being the senior NFL owner, there is no one from back in those days that can really speak up for me now. I really feel like this year could be a year I get serious consideration after 53 years. I’m sure hoping that’s the case.”
In 2008, Adams publicly announced his succession plan, saying that upon his death his two daughters would each get one-third of the Titans franchise, with the other third going to the family of his deceased son.
Adams’ son, Kenneth Stanley Adams III, died in 1987, and his wife, Nancy, died in 2009.
He is survived by his daughters, Susie Smith and Amy Strunk, and seven grandchildren.