» Subscribe Today!
The Power of Information
The Ledger - EST. 1978 - Nashville Edition
Skip Navigation LinksHome > Article
VOL. 35 | NO. 3 | Friday, January 21, 2011

Heir Bud

The Titans' next big personnel move likely involves handing the franchise to a 26-year-old Sewanee grad

By Terry McCormick

Print | Front Page | Email this story

K.S. "Bud" Adams Jr., the only owner the franchise has even know, with grandson Kenneth S. Adams IV (inset). 

-- Associated Press

As he turned 88 this month, Tennessee Titans owner K.S. “Bud” Adams Jr. didn’t mind letting players, coaches, fans and media know he s still in control of the organization.

In a span of a week, Adams ended Vince Young’s tenure as quarterback and announced Jeff Fisher would return next year to coach his 17th full season.

As the founder of the franchise then known as the Houston Oilers and a co-creator of the American Football League, Adams has been the central figure in the organization for 51 years.

The question many ponder is what happens to the franchise AB – After Bud.

Officially, the Titans organization simply say “there is a plan in place” without offering specifics.

That plan, from all indications, is for the team to remain in the Adams family with interest split among his daughters, Susie Smith and Amy Strunk, and their families, as well as the surviving members of his late son Kenneth Adams III’s family.

That’s where Adams’ grandson, Kenneth Adams IV, comes into the picture. While Adams’ daughters’ families apparently have no interest in running the Titans – son-in-law Tommy Smith apparently declined an opportunity to come to Nashville and run the team several years ago – Kenneth Adams has been working for the Titans in Nashville since graduating from the University of the South in 2006.

Bud Adams has had Kenneth perform a variety of tasks, from equipment management to media relations, with the Titans and with some of this other companies to get him acclimated to the family business. He currently serves as administrative assistant to Steve Underwood, the Titans’ senior executive vice president.

Kenneth Adams, 26, could soon be promoted beyond that title, acting eventually as the managing general partner of the family football business, valued at $994 million by Forbes magazine in 2009.

“I think he’s gonna develop into being one of our leaders down the road,” Bud Adams says of his grandson. “I think he likes what he’s doing, and he works absolutely hard. I think we could be making some changes in our staff this coming year.”

The Titans declined a request to make Kenneth Adams available for an interview.

Long-time Houston Chronicle sportswriter John McClain, who covered the Oilers from 1977 until the team was transplanted to Tennessee 20 years later, says Kenneth is certainly the one Bud has in mind for the future and agrees with the owner’s assessment that the younger Adams is handling himself well while being groomed for the eventual succession.

“Kenneth is the apple of bud’s eye. Kenneth has done everything the right way,” McClain says. “He’s very highly thought of in the organization, and I know Bud would love to stick around long enough to see him ascend to the throne if that is indeed what Kenneth Adams wants.”

There have been rumors the team could be sold once it passes from Bud to his children and grandchildren.

Kenneth S. Adams IV, grandson of Bud Adams

-- Associated Press

And if the franchise ever goes to the open market, there is speculation that Gov. Bill Haslam’s brother, Jim, who currently owns a minority stake in the Pittsburgh Steelers, might be interested. FedEx king Fred Smith’s name also has been floated.

But if the team is ever sold, it won’t be a have-to case because of estate taxes, McClain explains. Long ago, the Joe Robbie family and the Hugh Culverhouse family were forced to essentially sell off the Miami Dolphins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, respectively, because the inheritance taxes were too steep for them to keep such a luxury item.

“Bud told me years ago that he and (late Kansas City Chiefs owner) Lamar Hunt set it up back in the ’70s, so that the things happened to the Robbie family and Culverhouse family would not happen to their families,” McClain says. “Whatever they did, he said they had smart tax people who said the teams would not have to be sold to satisfy the estate taxes.”

Indeed, when Lamar Hunt died in 2006, his son Clark made a relatively seamless transition to head the Chiefs organization.

At 88, Adams didn’t make it to as many games as usual this season, but he is still in control of the team and apparently plans to remain involved.

There had been talk of his health declining earlier this year, but recent indications are that Adams has been feeling much better. His wife of 62 years, Nancy, died two years ago next month.

“He worshiped Nancy, and when she died I thought he would deteriorate, but he’s been rejuvenated as much as he could, I guess. He’s gone to some road games, but he can’t travel like he used to,” McClain says.

Paine Webber executive Mark Bloom, who shared ownership with Adams in the Nashville Kats of the now-defunct Arena League, says he speaks to Adams several times a week. The two have forged a close friendship despite their distance, and have had several business dealings together, especially in real estate and investments.

“He gets around. He is doing great,” Bloom says. “Bud is 88 years old, but he tells me he’s got another 10 years in him. He’s still involved in investments and real estate and the team, his oil and gas businesses and his car dealerships. There’s nothing he’s not involved in since I met him in 1996.”

Indeed, Adams Resources, his public company, took in just under two billion dollars in 2009, and Adams works closely all those businesses. He says he wishes he could be more involved in the day-to-day operations of the Titans, but 800 miles away makes it difficult..

“It’s not good, I don’t think (that it’s so far away),” Adams admits. “But I’ve got almost 900 employees here (in Houston) in all these different businesses. Adams Resources, my public company, took in in sales in 2009 one billion and $950 million.”

So much of the trust and day-to-day operations of the Titans falls to Underwood, General Manager Mike Reinfeldt, Don MacLachlan, executive vice president of administration and facilities, and Fisher.

Still, Adams isn’t above letting everyone know he is still the boss.

“He always liked it when he can ‘flex his muscles’ and show people he is still in control,” McClain says. “Now, the only time he gets any attention is when it’s controversial. He enjoys being in the limelight, and he loves the team. I’m sure he wishes he were 58 again, so he could get involved all the time.”

And more than that, Adams desperately wants the one thing his franchise has yet to deliver him – a Super Bowl championship, something that made the past season so difficult, Bloom says.

“I can tell you that nobody wants to win and wants to win a Super Bowl more than Bud does,” Bloom says. “Anything short of being in the playoffs is not good enough. He loves this team and wants to compete. He’s not happy sitting at home watching the playoffs without the Titans in it, because he has dedicated his life to the Titans.”

Adams concurs.

“That’s why I got into football way back there,” he says.

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter & RSS:
Sign-Up For Our FREE email edition
Get the news first with our free weekly email
TNLedger.com Knoxville Editon