Houston Oilers

By: Eric M. Pfeifle

Type: General Entry

Published: 1976

Updated: February 16, 2017

The Houston Oilers, a professional football team, are now known as the Tennessee Titans and belong to the South Division of the American Conference of the National Football League. The club began play in 1960 as one of the original six franchises in the newly-formed American Football League. K. S. "Bud" Adams was the team's original owner and controled the team until his death. He also served as the club's president. Adams selected the name Oilers for his Houston franchise for "sentimental and social reasons." In the first AFL draft before that 1960 season, the Oilers made Billy Cannon their first pick and were able to sign him to a contract. Cannon had won the Heisman Trophy his senior year at Louisiana State University and gave instant credibility not only to the Oilers, but the entire league. Lou Rymkus was hired as the first ever head coach of the franchise, and his 1960 team proceeded to win the first AFL championship. The team played its home games in a renovated high school stadium because Rice University refused to allow the use of their stadium. The club won the AFL championship for the second time in a row in 1961, and Houston fans regularly filled Jeppesen Field. The next year was also very successful, but the Oilers bid for a third straight championship ended with a double overtime loss to the Dallas Texans in the final. That same year, 1962, the Oilers became the first AFL team to sign a player to a contract who was still on an NFL roster, Willard Dewveall of the Chicago Bears. After the championship loss, the club went into a downward spiral, culminating in a last place finish in 1966. But, the next year the Oilers again won the AFL's Eastern Division, for the fourth time, losing the 1967 title game to the Oakland Raiders. After this the club also finally moved into a professional stadium, as Adams agreed to a lease with the three-year-old Astrodome. The Oilers won the first game they played at the Astrodome 9–3 over the Washington Redskins in the 1968 preseason.

The move to the Astrodome did not coincide with tremendous success on the field for the team. By the end of the 1973 season the Oilers had experienced their second straight 1–13 record and attendance was sagging. On January 25, 1975, Adams hired O. A. "Bum" Phillips as the team's tenth head coach in its fifteen seasons. The club finished with a 10–4 record for the 1975 season, barely missing the playoffs. However, the Oilers did set a new home attendance record. Billy "White Shoes" Johnson was even named most valuable player of the Pro Bowl played in New Orleans. The next year the team slipped badly, finishing with a 5–9 record. This resulted in the drafting of the club's second Heisman Trophy winner: Earl Campbell out of the University of Texas. The Oilers again experienced regular season success, but could not win in the playoffs. Phillips was fired after the 1980 season despite a 59–38 record over the previous six seasons. The mid-1980s saw Warren Moon become the team's quarterback and Jerry Glanville the team's fourteenth head coach. Moon's quarterbacking once again made the Oilers successful. Jack Pardee became the team's fifteenth head coach, but they still suffered in the post-season. In fact, the Oilers gave up the biggest playoff comeback in NFL history to the Buffalo Bills in 1992, turning a 35–3 third quarter lead into a 41–38 loss. After that devastating loss a major coaching staff change resulted in the hiring of Buddy Ryan as defensive coordinator.

During the next season, after initial losses, the Oilers had an unprecedented twelve-game winning streak, but still suffered an early loss in the playoffs. During and after the 1993 season internal strife had been apparent among the coaching staff, especially between defensive coordinator Ryan and offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride. Also a breakdown in contract talks resulted in the trading of quarterback Warren Moon to the Minnesota Vikings, and backup Cody Carlson took over. Early in the 1994 season Jack Pardee was fired, and staff member Jeff Fisher was hired as the team's sixteenth head coach. Quarterback Steve McNair, the NCAA's all-time leader in passing yardage, was drafted. That year the team finished in last place in their division. Under Fisher the Oilers improved to 7–9, tied for second place in the division, in 1995; and 8–8, tied for third in the division, in 1996. Following the 1996 season, which had seen the professional debut of star running back Eddie George, the franchise moved to Tennessee. In both 1997 and 1998 the Tennessee Oilers finished 8–8. In 1999 the team changed its name from Oilers to Titans and finished the year with a 13–3 record, good for second in the division, then went on to lose Super Bowl XXXIV in Atlanta to the St. Louis Rams on January 30, 2000. The Titans again finished 13–3 during the 2000 regular season, good for first place in the division, but were beaten by the eventual Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens in the playoffs. Owner Bud Adams died in 2013; his children and grandchildren assumed ownership of the team.

Kenny Hand, Year of Pain: The 1989 Houston Oilers Season (Austin: Diamond, 1990). The NFL's Official Encyclopedic History of Professional Football (New York: Macmillan, 1977). O. A. "Bum" Phillips and Ray Buck, He Ain't No Bum (Virginia Beach: Jordan, 1979). Beau Riffenburgh and Ken Thomas, American Football Almanac (Moffat, Scotland: Lochar, 1991). James Rothaus, The Houston Oilers (Mankato, Minnesota: Creative Education, 1981).

  • Sports and Recreation
  • Sports (Football)
  • Teams
Time Periods:
  • Texas Post World War II
  • Houston
  • Upper Gulf Coast
  • East Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Eric M. Pfeifle, “Houston Oilers,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 30, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/houston-oilers.

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February 16, 2017

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