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Kenneth "Bud" Adams
Bud Adams Titans.jpg
Tennessee Titans
Personal information
Kenneth Stanley "Bud" Adams, Jr. on (1923-01-03)January 3, 1923
Bartlesville, Oklahoma, U.S.
July 21, 2013(2013-07-21) (aged 90)
Houston, Texas, U.S.
Alma Mater:
University of Kansas, BA, Engineering
Career information
Co-founder, present owner of the American Football League (1960-69) Houston Oilers/Tennessee Oilers/Tennessee Titans
Founder/former owner of Nashville Kats (Second Incarnation)
Founder/former owner of Houston Mavericks
Championships Won:
1960 American Football League Championship
1961 American Football League Championship
1999 AFC Championship
Teams as owner/general manager:
1960-1969 Houston Oilers
1970-2013, his death
Houston Oilers/Tennessee Oilers/Tennessee Titans
Arena Football Leauge (AFL):
2005-2007 Nashville Kats (Second Incarnation)
Professional Basketball:
Houston Mavericks (ABA)

Kenneth Stanley "Bud" Adams, Jr. (born January 3, 1923 – died October 21, 2013) was the owner of the Tennessee Titans' National Football League franchise. He was instrumental in the founding and establihment of the former American Football League. Adams became a charter AFL owner with the establishment of the Titans franchise, which was originally known as the Houston Oilers. He is the senior owner (by time) with his team in the National Football League, a few months ahead of Buffalo Bills' owner Ralph Wilson. Adams also was one of the owners of the Houston Mavericks of the American Basketball Association and the former owner of the second Nashville Kats franchise of the Arena Football League. He was elected to the Hall of Fame of the American Football League.

Adams has many business interests in the Houston area. An enrolled Cherokee who originally made his fortune in the petroleum business, Adams is chairman and CEO of Adams Resources & Energy Inc., a wholesale supplier of oil and natural gas. He also owns several Lincoln-Mercury automobile franchises.

Early life

Adams was born in Bartlesville, Oklahoma in 1923. He was the son of K.S. "Boots" Adams and Blanch Keeler Adams and became an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation by virtue of his maternal line. Two of his great-grandmothers were Cherokee women who married European-American men: Nelson Carr and George B. Keeler, who played roles in trade and oil in early Oklahoma. Keeler drilled the first commercial oil well, near the Caney River.[1] Adams' father succeeded the founder Frank Phillips as president of Phillips Petroleum Company in 1939.[2] Adams' uncle William Wayne Keeler, CEO of Phillips Petroleum Company for years, was appointed chief of the Cherokee Nation by President Harry S. Truman in 1949 and served through 1971, when the Cherokee were able to hold their own elections. Keeler was democratically elected and served until 1975.[3] Adams' ancestors include other prominent Cherokee leaders.[1]

Adams graduated from Culver Military Academy in 1940 after lettering in three sports. After a brief stint at Menlo College, he transferred to the University of Kansas (KU), where he completed an engineering degree.

During World War II, Adams served in the United States Navy in the Pacific Theater of operations, attaining the rank of Lieutenant, Junior Grade. After the war, he returned to KU for additional studies and became a member of the Sigma Chi fraternity.

Shortly after his 1946 discharge, Adams was on a trip in which his plane was fogbound in Houston, Texas. He liked the area and decided to settle there.

Soon afterward, Adams launched a wildcatting firm, ADA Oil Company, that eventually grew into Adams Resources & Energy. The company's basketball team was an Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) powerhouse, finishing third nationally in 1956.

Sports career in Houston

Early career in the American Football League

Adams soon became interested in owning an NFL team. In 1959, Adams tried to buy the struggling Chicago Cardinals and move them to Houston. When that effort failed, he tried to get an expansion team, only to be turned down. A few days after returning to Houston, Adams got a call from fellow Texas oilman Lamar Hunt proposing an entirely new football league. They met several times that spring, and Hunt convinced Adams to field a team in Houston. In Hunt's view, a regional rivalry between Hunt's Dallas Texans (now the Kansas City Chiefs) and a Houston team would be critical to the league's growth. On August 3, Adams and Hunt held a press conference in Adams' boardroom to announce formation of the new league, which was formally named the American Football League.

Although less popularly associated with the formation of the AFL than Hunt, Adams was likely nearly as crucial to the league's success. He and Hunt were both more financially stable than some of the other early owners.

Adams helped establish the league by fighting and winning the battle with the NFL for LSU's All-American Heisman Trophy winner Billy Cannon. Particularly crucial to the league's early years was Adams' relationship with Harry Wismer, original owner of the league's New York franchise, the Titans. For their first three years, the Titans played in the deteriorating old Polo Grounds. The team was mostly derided or ignored by the New York media. Adams' help was essential in keeping Wismer's team in business until it could be sold to more financially capable ownership and moved into Shea Stadium as the Jets. Unless a team sports league has a New York franchise, U.S. television networks have limited interest in it, as New York is by far the largest media market in the U.S.

Adams' team was the best of the new teams during the early period of the AFL. It won the first two championship games behind the quarterbacking and kicking of former Bears reject George Blanda. His team played in a total of four AFL Championship games. Adams is a member of the American Football League Hall of Fame. This success was not to be duplicated by the team during the rest of its time in Texas.

Houston Mavericks

Along with wealthy Houston businessman T. C. Morrow, Adams owned the Houston Mavericks, a franchise in the American Basketball Association, from 1967 through 1969. The team was not successful in Houston, and its attendance was among the lowest in the league. After the 1968–1969 season, under new ownership, the Mavericks moved to Charlotte and became the Carolina Cougars.

The Houston Oilers and the Astrodome

Adams and the other AFL owners received a tremendous boost in credibility and net worth in 1969 with the merger of the AFL with and into the NFL. It was effective with the 1970 season. In 1968 Adams moved his team into the Astrodome, which since 1965 had been the home of the Houston Astros of baseball's National League.

While the Astrodome ameliorated the hot, humid climate, it had several drawbacks as a venue for the Oilers. Despite being almost completely round, the Astrodome's football sight lines left much to be desired. The seats near the 50-yard line, usually the most desirable (and expensive), were the farthest from the field of play, while those nearest the action were otherwise-undesirable seats in the end zone. Additionally, the Astrodome seated only about 50,000 for football. By the early 1980s, it was the smallest venue in the NFL. Adams chafed at being the Astrodome's "secondary" tenant. He knew his position was unlikely to change as long as the Astros were playing 81 home games and his team was playing ten.

Houston vs. Adams

Adams was initially a hero in Houston for making the city a major-league town, but his popularity tailed off during the Oilers' early NFL years. Some critics believed he had mishandled the team. His tendency to micromanage the Oilers brought considerable scrutiny since he had no background in the sport. For example, he required personal approval of any expenditures of $200 or over.

In the late 1970s the Oilers rose again to football prominence. Despite being in the same division as the Pittsburgh Steelers, they were very popular nationwide. Their coach, Adams' fellow Texan O. A. "Bum" Phillips, who dressed, spoke, and acted much like the popular image of a rancher, was well-known and popular. After the Oilers lost to the eventual Super Bowl Champions 3 straight years, two consecutive AFC championship game losses to the Steelers, followed by a Wild Card loss to the Oakland Raiders, Adams fired Phillips. The team fell off and would not be a serious contender again until the late-1980s. Most of the Houston sporting public blamed Adams. This era of rotation between mediocrity and disaster was to last several years.

In 1987, Adams threatened to move the Oilers to Jacksonville, Florida (now the home to the division rival Jaguars) unless significant improvements were made to the Astrodome. The county responded with a $67 million renovation that added 10,000 more seats, a new Astroturf carpet and 65 luxury boxes. Adams promised that with the new improvements, he would keep the team in Houston for 10 years. These improvements were funded by increases in property taxes and the doubling of the hotel tax, as well as bonds to be paid over 30 years. That same year, the Oilers seemed to right themselves on the field. They made the AFC playoffs every year from then until 1993, but each time they fell short of making it to the Super Bowl. After Adams made good on a threat to hold a fire sale if the Oilers did not make the Super Bowl after the 1993 season, the Oilers finished with the worst record in franchise history a year later. They were barely competitive for the rest of their stay in Houston. (As of 2011, Harris County and its taxpayers are still paying off the debt from the Astrodome renovations.)

By the mid-1990s, several NFL teams had new stadiums built largely or entirely with public funding, and several more such deals had been agreed to. These new venues featured amenities such as "club seating" and other potential revenue streams that were not part of the NFL's revenue-sharing arrangements. Adams began to lobby Mayor Bob Lanier for a new stadium. Lanier told him what the city did for him in 1987 was enough.

Adams began to shop the team to other cities. He had taken particular notice of the offer made by Nashville, Tennessee to the New Jersey Devils of the National Hockey League to become the primary tenant of a new arena then under construction in downtown Nashville. (It is now called the Bridgestone Arena). While this deal was never consummated (Nashville eventually received an expansion team, the Nashville Predators), Adams wondered what sort of offer he might receive for a venue for his NFL team. After Adams met several times with then-Nashville mayor Phil Bredesen, they announced a deal to bring the Oilers to Nashville for the 1998 season to a new 68,000-seat stadium (originally called Adelphia Coliseum, now known as LP Field). It was to be built largely with city and state funds, across the Cumberland River from downtown Nashville. Nashville opponents of this arrangement forced the issue to a referendum vote; it passed easily, with over 57% of those voting in favor.

Adams' opponents in Houston were not idle. Then-House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, whose district included portions of Houston and its suburbs, even introduced a bill in Congress banning the move, but it did not pass. Other opponents filed lawsuits, but all were dismissed in a way favorable to Adams. The 1996 season in the Astrodome was a disaster after Adams announced the move, to be one year earlier than the ten he had promised to keep the team in Houston. Local support for the Oilers all but vanished. At times the crowds were so sparse that some of the few in attendance (and watching on television or listening on radio) could hear all of the action on the field, including play calling, collisions, and the players talking to one another, even the occasional profanity. In addition, the Oilers' radio network, formerly statewide, was reduced to a single station in Houston and a few new affiliates in Tennessee. Both Adams and the league found this unacceptable. The city agreed to let the Oilers out of their lease to enable the move to Tennessee a year earlier than planned.

Sports career in Tennessee

The Tennessee Oilers

Adams' immediate problem was finding a suitable place to play prior to the completion of the new stadium in Nashville for the renamed Tennessee Oilers ("Tennessee" was used instead of "Nashville" to appeal to the broader region). The stadium's opening had been forced back a year by the time necessary to get the appropriate enabling measure on the ballot in Nashville. The largest stadium in the Nashville area at the time, Vanderbilt Stadium on the campus of Vanderbilt University, seated only 41,000 and was considered inadequate even as a temporary home for anything beyond preseason games. Further, the Oilers were concerned that Vanderbilt refused to permit the sale of alcohol in the stadium, always a source of considerable revenue. The University of Tennessee's Neyland Stadium in Knoxville was only two hours east of Nashville, but was deemed too large (at 102,000 seats) for an NFL team. The league and the Oilers decided to use Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis until the new stadium in Nashville could be completed. The team would be based in Nashville and commute to Memphis for games.

The 1997 season in Memphis proved to be almost as disastrous as the prior years in the Astrodome, largely because the arrangement was very unpopular in both Memphis and Nashville. Whether from disappointment at their city's numerous failures to get professional football in its own right, their longtime rivalry with Nashville or general disgust at the prospect of a team that was only there for a temporary stay, Memphians showed no interest in the Oilers. Nashvillians balked at traveling 210 miles to see "their" team, especially since Interstate 40 between the two cities was undergoing a major reconstruction near Memphis. As a result, the Oilers played before some of the smallest NFL crowds since the 1950s. For many games, there appeared to be more visiting fans than Oiler fans.

Despite the problems, Adams initially intended to stay in Memphis for two years. But, only one game, the finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers, attracted a larger crowd than could have been accommodated at Vanderbilt. Although 50,677 people showed up, the crowd appeared to be composed of at least half, and as many as two-thirds, Steelers fans. Adams was so embarrassed that he scrapped plans to play the 1998 season at the Liberty Bowl, and instead opted to play at Vanderbilt after all.

When only four of the eight regular-season home games at Vanderbilt sold out for the 1998 season, it began to appear as if the team's move was going to be a net loss for all concerned. In the interim, a major tornado had hit downtown Nashville area, tearing directly through the new stadium construction site and knocking down two tower cranes. Timely completion of the new stadium appeared to be in doubt. But the contractors managed to compensate and the team had no need to play more games at Vanderbilt. Oilers players' participating in the post-tornado cleanup proved to be a public-relations bonanza for Adams and his team, as did Adams' large charitable contribution for relief for the storm's victims. More than a few fans, some of them quite seriously, suggested renaming the team the "Tennessee Twisters".

The Tennessee Titans

During the following year, with the team at its new stadium, was one of major changes. During the 1998 season, Adams announced that the team would change its name to one better suited for its new home. He also announced the addition of navy blue to the team's color scheme. Last, he said the team would be considered the continuation of the former Oilers franchise, and would retain all their team records. He announced he would open a Hall of Fame at the new stadium to honor the greatest players from both eras. In fact, Adams' desire to ensure that no NFL team in Houston would revive the Oilers name was thought to be a major cause of the delay in announcing a new name for the team. He wanted to avoid the experience of the "Cleveland Browns", which had been in the same division as Adams' team since 1970 (they have been in separate divisions since 2002). A blue-ribbon committee selected the nickname Titans.

The rechristened Titans proceeded to finish the 1999 regular season with a 13-3 record, but they only qualified for the playoffs as a wild-card team. In their first-round playoff game against the Buffalo Bills, they won on a wild, controversial last-minute kickoff return play which the media dubbed the "Music City Miracle". The kickoff, caught by fullback Lorenzo Neal, was handed off to tight end Frank Wycheck, who made a lateral pass to wide receiver Kevin Dyson. Dyson ran the ball 75 yards down the sideline while Buffalo's defense had converged on Wycheck on the other side of the field. Many Bills' fans contended it was an illegal forward pass, though officials ruled it a lateral. Subsequent video analysis appeared to indicate that it was a lateral. The team went on to win two subsequent playoff games and appeared in its first-ever Super Bowl, in Atlanta's Georgia Dome. They lost 23–16 to the St. Louis Rams, having come just one yard short of a touchdown on the game's final play. It was one of the most thrilling conclusions in Super Bowl history.

1999 has thus far been the high water mark for the Titans' on-field success. The team won the former AFC Central Division the next year but fell short of the Super Bowl. They then won the AFC South Conference in the 2002 season with an 11-5 record and made it as far as the Conference Championship, falling to a high powered, hard hitting Oakland Raiders team at the McAfee Coliseum. After the 2003 season the team advanced only to the AFC Divisional Playoffs, losing to the eventual Super Bowl champion New England Patriots. 2005 was the team's worst season since its arrival in Tennessee, and it finished with an overall record of 4–12. They would not return to the playoffs again until 2007, when they sealed a playoff berth on the last day of the season. 2008 would see the Titans climb to the top of the AFC with a 13-3 record, but they were soon knocked from the playoffs by the Ravens. After a disastrous 0-6 start to 2009 (which included being crushed by the Patriots 59-0), the team managed to finish at .500. Adams was widely criticized for his decision to return to the role of team president rather than renewing the contract of the existing one. Reportedly Adams has arranged his affairs in such a way as to ensure his family will retain ownership of the team after his death.


Adams was fined $250,000 by the NFL for this act of displaying an obscene gesture at the Titans/Bills game on November 15, 2009.

On November 15, 2009, Adams was caught on video displaying an obscene gesture towards the Buffalo bench after the Titans routed the Bills 41-14. Commissioner Roger Goodell, who happened to be attending the game, fined him $250,000. Afterwards, Adams remarked "Oh, I knew I was going to get in trouble for that. I was just so happy we won."[4]

A promising start to 2010 quickly fell apart as the Titans tumbled to a 6-10 season and the bottom of the AFC South. Multiple conflicts between Adams, Jeff Fisher, and QB Vince Young led to the latter two being terminated in January 2011.

The Nashville Kats (Arena Football)

In 2001, Adams purchased the rights to operate an Arena Football League expansion franchise in Nashville for a reported $4,000,000. He found it impossible at first to negotiate a favorable lease for the use of the Gaylord Entertainment Center (now called Bridgestone Arena) from that facility's primary tenant and operator, the National Hockey League's Nashville Predators. A previous AFL team (the original Nashville Kats owned by Mark Bloom) had been forced by an unfavorable lease agreement to leave Nashville and move to Atlanta (with this team thus becoming known as the Georgia Force). This lease agreement resulted in sizable financial losses despite average attendance of over 10,000 per home game for the original Kats. Motivated by bitter memories of being a secondary tenant at the Astrodome, Adams briefly considered either financing the renovation of the Nashville Municipal Auditorium for use as an indoor football venue, building an entirely new facility with a seating capacity of 12,000 or so (dropped when Adams was convinced that the potential $30,000,000 price tag for such a building he had apparently initially been quoted was wildly optimistic), or expanding the Titans' existing indoor practice facility (at "Baptist Sports Park", named for a local hospital) for use as an Arena venue. As negotiations with the Predators dragged on and contingency planning continued, the Arena Football League extended his option on the new Nashville franchise at least twice.

By 2004, Adams and the Predators finally hammered out a mutually-acceptable lease agreement. Immediately afterward, it was announced that the new Nashville Kats franchise would begin play in the Arena Football League's 2005 season. Late in 2004 it was announced that country singer Tim McGraw had bought into the Kats franchise as a minority owner. This second Kats franchise reclaimed the name, logo, and Nashville history of the earlier franchise as its own (The original Kats franchise continued to operate as the Georgia Force until folding in 2008; Similarly, that franchise was reincarnated in 2011 when the existing AFL team Alabama Vipers relocated to the Atlanta area and assumed the Georgia Force identity).

As a result of limited on-field success and the subsequent drop in fan support and ticket sales, Bud Adams announced in October 2007 that the Kats would immediately cease operations.

Personal life

Adams was an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. He has served on the executive committee of the Cherokee National Historical Society.[1]

He attended River Oaks Baptist Church in Houston. He and his wife Nancy Neville Adams were married for 62 years, until her death in February 2009 at the age of 84.[5] They had two daughters, Susan and Amy, and a son, Kenneth S. Adams III, each of whom (and their children) are registered Cherokee. Their son died in June 1987 at the age of 29 from apparent suicide.[6]


Adams died of natural causes at his home in Houston at age 90 in 2013. His body was found in his River Oaks home after police were called for a welfare check.[7]

At the time of his death, Adams's 409 wins were the most of any current NFL owner. He gained his 400th career victory in the 2011 season finale when his Titans defeated the team that replaced his Oilers in Houston, the Texans. His franchise made 21 playoff appearances in 53 seasons, eighth among NFL teams since 1960.[7] Ownership of the Titans is now controlled by the consortium of the children and grandchildren of Bud (under the banner of KSA Industries)-- daughters Susie Smith and Amy Strunk, grandsons Kenneth S. Adams IV and Barclay Adams, and their mother Susan Lewis. Strunk owns the largest share of the team, 1/3, and is the team’s controlling owner.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 "History Museum receives generous gift", Examiner-Enterprise, 20 Nov 2004, accessed 21 Nov 2009
  2. Phillips: The First 66 Years, Oklahoma: Phillips Petroleum Company, 1983
  3. Demanding the Cherokee Nation: Indian autonomy and American culture, 1830-1900,Denson, Andrew (2004). Demanding the Cherokee Nation: Indian autonomy and American culture, 1830-1900. U of Nebraska Press. ISBN .
  4. "Adams draws $250K fine from NFL", ESPN News service, 16 Nov 2009, accessed 21 Nov 2009
  5. Nancy Adams dies at 84. Retrieved on 2009-02-02.
  6. "Son of Oilers' owner Bud Adams Jr. dead from gunshot wound in apparent suicide", Houston Chronicle, 27 Jun 1987, accessed 3 Feb 2009
  7. 7.0 7.1 Associated Press (October 21, 2013) "Titans owner Bud Adams remembered as pioneer, innovator Template:Webarchive". Retrieved May 1, 2014.

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