The War Room | HoustonProFootball.com November 25, 2004
The Vanishing Houston Oiler
by Warren DeLuca
Let’s form a non-profit group, wear Columbia blue ribbons (or wristbands), and march on NFL headquarters in protest. Unless something is done, within a few years the ex-Houston Oiler will be extinct from the ranks of NFL players. Only eight former Houston Oilers are still active (and I use that term loosely) NFL players, down from 13 in 2003. Here’s a look at what the remaining members of that endangered species have been doing since the team headed for the Tennessee hills in 1997:
QB Chris Chandler (1995-96). Chandler was unwilling to be the backup and mentor to Steve McNair, so the Oilers traded him to the Falcons after their final season in Houston. Chandler had the best years of his career in Atlanta, including two trips to the Pro Bowl (1997 and 1998) and one to the Super Bowl (1998). He must have experienced déjà vu in 2001 when the Falcons drafted their own quarterback of the future, Michael Vick. In 2002, Chandler moved on to Chicago. He is now in his first season as Marc Bulger’s backup in St. Louis and has yet to take a snap in a regular season game.
QB Steve McNair (1995-96). McNair took over as the full-time starter in the franchise’s season in Memphis. He has led the Titans to the AFC Championship Game twice (1999 and 2002) and to the Super Bowl once (1999). McNair was named to the Pro Bowl in 2000 and 2003 and earned NFL co-MVP honors last year. He is one of five players in NFL history to have passed for over 20,000 yards and rushed for over 3,000. McNair has proven to be extremely tough and played through numerous injuries. Those injuries may finally caught up with him this season, as he has missed three games and his passer rating is the worst of his career.
RB Eddie George (1995). A workhorse back, George has rushed for at least 1,000 yards in every season but one and was named to the AFC Pro Bowl squad in 1997 through 2000. The Titans cut George in a salary cap move last summer, so he signed with the Cowboys. He is Dallas’ leading rusher this year but is clearly not the back that he once was.
OT Brad Hopkins (1993-96). Hopkins has been a mainstay at left tackle for Bud’s franchise. He was chosen to the Pro Bowl in 2000 and 2003. Hopkins recently broke his hand and is expected to miss the rest of the season.
OT Jon Runyan (1995). Runyan earned the starting right tackle job in his second season and held it until 2000, when he signed as a free agent with Philadelphia. Runyan played in the Pro Bowl following the 2002 season. He has also played in the NFC Championship Game the last three seasons.
DT Josh Evans (1995-96). Evans earned a starting spot at defensive tackle for Bud’s franchise when Gary Walker left as a free agent in 1998. He missed four games in 1999 due to a drug suspension. The NFL busted Evans again in 2000 and sat him down for the entire season. He signed with the Jets in 2002 and failed yet another drug test in 2003 and was suspended for ten games. Evans had back surgery in September so the Jets placed him on injured reserve.
DE Gary Walker (1995-96). Walker was a starter at defensive tackle for Bud’s franchise through 1998. He then signed with Jacksonville, and played against his former teammates in the 1999 AFC Championship Game. He earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl in 2001. The Texans selected Walker in the 2002 expansion draft, making him the only player to have suited up for both of Houston’s NFL franchises. He returned to the Pro Bowl in 2002 but shoulder and toe injuries limited him to four games last season. Injuries have slowed Walker at times this year and he missed the Green Bay game with a foot problem.
LB Michael Barrow (1993-96). Barrow signed as a free agent with the Panthers in 1997. He played outside linebacker that year and recorded a career-high 8.5 sacks, but moved back inside for his next two seasons in Carolina. Barrow moved on to the Giants in 2000 and started at middle linebacker for three years, including the team’s 2000 Super Bowl run. Barrow is in his first season with Washington, but has yet to play for the Redskins due to a knee injury.
While the former Houston Oilers are rapidly disappearing from rosters, the Columbia blue can still be found around the NFL. Ex-Houston Oiler players, coaches, and other personnel work as coaches, scouts, executives, and at other positions throughout the League:
Clancy Pendergast’s first NFL job was a quality control assistant for the 1995 Oiler defense, and now he’s in his first year as the Cardinals’ defensive coordinator. A spinal condition cut short linebacker Frank Bush’s promising career (1985-86). Bush scouted for the Oilers from 1987 through 1991 then coached the teams’ linebackers from 1992 through 1994. He’s now Arizona’s linebacker coach. Cardinal pro personnel assistant Jim Stanley was the Oilers’ defensive line coach from 1990 through 1994.
Defensive back Jerry Gray (1992) has been Buffalo’s defensive coordinator since 2001.
Dan Henning’s first NFL job was on Bill Peterson’s Oiler staff in 1972. Henning went on to serve as head coach of the Falcons and Chargers and is currently the Panthers’ offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Rod Perry coached the Oiler secondary in 1995 and 1996 and now does the same for Carolina.
Richard Smith held three positions for the Oilers: tight ends and special teams coach (1988-89), linebackers coach (1990-91), and offensive line coach (1992). He is now the Lions’ assistant head coach and linebackers coach.
Green Bay Packers
Green Bay receivers coach Ray Sherman coached the Oiler running backs in 1988 and receivers in 1989. Oiler offensive line coach Larry Beightol (1992) now holds the same position with the Pack. Frank Novak was the Oilers’ running backs coach from 1989 through 1993 and special teams in 1994. He retired as a fulltime coach in 2003 but still works as a consultant with the Packer special teams. Fullback Alonzo Highsmith (1987-89) lives in Houston and scouts the southwest for Green Bay. The Oilers drafted Lee Gissendaner as a return man and receiver in 1994. Gissendaner didn’t make the roster, but now is the Packers’ east coast scout.
Offensive coordinator Chris Palmer coached the Oiler receivers from 1990 to 1992. He also served as head coach of the Browns in 1999 and 2000. Defensive lineman Ray Childress (1985-95) is now a limited partner in the Texans’ ownership group. Quarterback Oliver Luck (1982-87) isn’t part of the Texans organization, but as CEO of the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority, which manages Reliant Stadium, he’s the team’s landlord. Luck has also been a vice president of the NFL and president of NFL-Europe.
Russ Purnell coaches the Colts’ special teams, just as he used to for the Oilers (1995-96).
Kansas City Chiefs
Wide receiver Charlie Joiner (1969-72) coaches the Kansas City wideouts. Offensive tackle Irv Eatman (1995-96) is an assistant offensive line coach for the Chiefs.
Charlie Baggett, who coached the Oiler receivers (1993-94), is now the Vikings’ wide receiver coach.
New York Giants
Kevin Gilbride was the Oiler quarterback coach in 1989, offensive coordinator from 1990 through 1993, and assistant head coach for offense in 1994. He was the Chargers’ head coach in 1997 and 1998 is now the Giants’ quarterback coach.
Defensive end Sean Jones had been an agent before the NFLPA suspended his certification until next year for misusing clients’ funds. Jones now works as a pro personnel assistant for the Raiders.
San Diego Chargers
Wade Phillips was a member of his father’s Oiler coaching staff in 1976 as linebackers coach and 1977 through 1980 as defensive line coach. He has been the head coach of four NFL teams: the Saints (on an interim basis in 1985 after Bum was fired), Broncos (1993-94), Bills (1998-2000), and Falcons (another interim gig in 2003). Phillips is now the Chargers’ defensive coordinator.
Linebacker Ted Thompson (1975-84) is Seattle’s vice president for football operations and considered by many to be a future general manager. Safety Mike Reinfeldt (1976-83), his Oiler teammate, resigned from his position as senior vice president of the Seahawks earlier this year. Record-setting quarterback Warren Moon (1984-93) is the analyst on the Seahawks’ radio broadcasts.
Jeff Fisher started the 1994 season as the Oilers’ defensive coordinator under Jack Pardee, and was promoted to head coach six games into the season when Pardee was fired. He still holds that position with Bud’s franchise and also holds the title of executive vice president. Sherman Smith has coached the team’s running backs since 1995, and Alan Lowry the special teams since 1996. Hall of Fame guard Mike Munchak (1982-93) also served as an assistant offensive line coach for the Oilers from 1994 through 1996, and is now in charge of the Titan offensive front. Safety Chuck Cecil (1995) coaches the Titans’ safeties and nickel backs. Steve Watterson has been the team’s strength coach since 1986.
Titans Executive Vice President, General Manager, and Director of Football Operations Floyd Reese was the Oiler linebacker coach from 1986 through 1989 under Jerry Glanville. In what turned out to be a shrewd career move, Reese turned down an offer in 1990 to join Glanville’s staff in Atlanta in order to move to the Oilers’ front office as assistant general manager. He was promoted to general manager in 1994. Titans Director of Player Personnel Rich Snead started as the Oilers’ Director of Player Personnel in 1994. Linebacker Al Smith (1987-96) is now the Titans’ Director of Pro Scouting. National Coordinator of College Scouting C.O. Brocato has scouted for the franchise since 1974, other than five years away from the team in the late ’70s . Another linebacker, Johnny Meads (1984-92), is a Titan scout. Safety Marcus Robertson (1991-96) is Director of Player Programs.
Of course, Bud Adams still owns the franchise, and several other former Houston Oiler staffers in the administrative, trainer, and equipment departments have remained with the organization.
Joe Bugel was Bum Phillips’ offensive line coach from 1977 through 1980. Bugel had stints as head coach of the Cardinals and Raiders and is now the Redskins’ assistant head coach for offense. Washington offensive coordinator Don Breaux was Peterson’s running backs coach in 1972. Rennie Simmons, who coached the Oiler offensive line in 1996, is the Redskins’ tight ends coach. Gregg Williams’ first NFL job was as an Oiler quality control coach from 1990 to 1992. In 1993, he took over the special teams, and from 1994 through 1996 he coached the linebackers. After serving as Buffalo’s head coach from 2001 through 2003, Williams is the Redskins’ assistant head coach for defense. Cornerback Steve Jackson (1991-96) is Washington’s third down and safeties coach.
Wide receiver and special teamer Steve Tasker (1987-88) is an NFL game analyst for CBS. Running back Spencer Tillman (1987-88, 1992-94) works mainly as a college football studio analyst for CBS but also contributes to NFL broadcasts from time to time.
Linebacker Ralph Cindrich (1973-75) is one of the top agents in the NFL. Safety Bo Orlando (1990-94) is also a certified agent.
Okay, so maybe a benefit concert at the Astrodome headlined by Carl Mauck singing “Oiler Cannonball” isn’t necessary after all.
Warren DeLuca is one of a handful of people who can honestly say that he attended the infamous "Save Our Oilers" rally at Houston City Hall in December 1994.
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