11. The Hunt Family, Chiefs
Without the Hunt Family, there’d be no NFL as we know it. So why do the Chiefs have only one Super Bowl title, one that came before half of today’s fans were born? Most of the time, you’d point the finger at ownership. But an examination of recent Chiefs history reveals a franchise that’s almost always followed the right process, but simply hasn’t been rewarded with the right results. The greatest coach never to win a Super Bowl title, Marty Schottenheimer, spent his formative years in Kansas City. Dick Vermeil oversaw some of the greatest offenses in league history, but couldn't win a playoff game. Bill Belichick’s right-hand man, Scott Pioli, came to whip the roster into shape, but couldn’t answer the big questions (coach and quarterback). Now there’s Andy Reid, an elite runner up if there ever was one. The Chiefs want to win and know how to win. They just haven’t won. Sometimes it’s that simple. As long as the Hunts are at the helm, however, next year could always be the year.
12. The York Family, 49ers
Jed York’s track record as the 49ers’ CEO is two things: Short and great. Promoted by his parents at the tender age of 28, York had questionable credentials, but apparently sound judgement. He’s overseen the 49ers’ return to relevance under GM Trent Baalke and coach Jim Harbaugh, as well as the team’s move into a gleaming new stadium in Santa Clara. He’s made the most of an opportunity of a lifetime, and there’s little reason to believe that won’t remain the case in what could be a decades-long tenure atop one of the league’s most storied franchises.
Tier III. Great with a touch of gray.
13. Jim Irsay, Colts
Here are the facts of Irsay’s ownership. 1. The Colts are 168-104 since he became principal owner in 1997. 2. In that time, the Colts have had the No. 1 overall pick two times, 1998 and 2012. 3. In 1998, they used it on one of the greatest players of all time, Peyton Manning. 4. In 2012, they used it on his heir apparent, Andrew Luck. 5. That’s not a bad way to make a living. So yes, Irsay’s caught some lucky breaks during his time in the owner’s box. Which brings us to our next point: Who cares. Life is not fair, something the Colts almost learned the hard way when they nearly accidentally won their way out of the right to select Luck. Frequently described as “offbeat,” Irsay has always seemed an affable gent, one deserving of the good fortune that’s come his way. That’s why it was so shocking when rumor turned to truth in March, and Irsay was arrested for DUI and drug possession. Roiling beneath the facade of the NFL’s most happy-go-lucky owner were demons that manifested themselves in ways dangerous to both Irsay and the general public. What once appeared to be comedy now has all the hallmarks of tragedy. This doesn’t change the fact that Irsay is a winning owner with a devotion to his team and city. It’s just the latest reminder that the truth is rarely as simple as two draft picks or two personality ticks. Narratives are nice, but don’t be so surprised when the lines get blurred.
14. Tom Benson, Saints
You’re unlikely to hear many Saints fans complaining about their owner these days. Long the laughingstock of the NFL, Benson’s team won its first Super Bowl in 2009-10, and has reached the playoffs in five of the past eight seasons. Outside of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, there isn’t a better coach/quarterback combination than Sean Payton and Drew Brees. But if Super Bowl XLIV and Brees/Payton are Benson’s two miracles, there’s one major stumbling block on his path to canonization. Hurricane Katrina was one of the lowest moments in recent American history. It was New Orleans’ darkest hour, one whose reverberations are still being felt today. What did Benson do in Katrina’s immediate aftermath? Leverage his ravaged hometown for stadium money by threatening to move the team San Antonio. In the history of sad, cynical stadium ploys, Benson’s has to be the most sad and cynical. It’s a black eye on what’s otherwise been a remarkable turnaround. Benson is a Crescent City hero today, but there was once a tomorrow 550 miles to the West. It’s a sin not easily forgiven.
Tier IV. Solid, but unspectacular or unproven.
15. Bob McNair, Texans
Since earning the rights to the league’s 32nd franchise in 1999, McNair has largely stayed out of the spotlight. He’s made solid hires, and remained patient. His team just hasn’t accomplished much of anything. The Texans’ first-ever playoff appearance in 2011-12 was marred by the loss of quarterback Matt Schaub, while McNair’s 2012-13 unit fell off a cliff after looking like one of the best teams in the league for the season’s first three months. McNair is now reloading after a lost 2013. With an epochal talent in J.J. Watt and a highly sought-after new coach in Bill O’Brien, McNair has the right pieces in place. It’s just a matter of those pieces regaining the franchise’s forward momentum. McNair’s reign has been nondescript, but that’s not a bad thing for an owner. McNair’s tenure should ultimately bear fruit.
16. Shad Khan, Jaguars
As far as rebuilding projects go, the Jacksonville Jaguars are particularly challenging. A tradition-less team situated in one of the league’s smallest markets, the Jags have made two playoff appearances since the first “Harry Potter” movie was released. When Khan took the reins from Wayne Weaver in late 2011, he had neither a coach nor a quarterback. Former GM Gene Smith left behind a roster populated with college team captains, but not many guys who could actually play football. As such, the Jags haven’t done a whole lot of winning on Khan’s watch. What they have done is set the table for the future, making the right hires at coach (Gus Bradley) and general manager (David Caldwell). Khan’s men refused to reach for a quarterback in last year’s draft, and have taken a more analytical approach to roster construction. This kind of slow burn could lead to a few more losing seasons, but is the right way to remake a broken franchise. The only question is Khan’s loyalty to Jacksonville. At the very least, he thinks London is a nice city. At worst, his master plan includes eventually hopping across the pond. Wherever he’s playing his games, however, Khan has a team that he’s rounding back into competitive form.
17. The Spanos Family, Chargers
When you think of great NFL franchises, you do not think of the San Diego Chargers. When you think of bad NFL franchises, you do not think of the San Diego Chargers. Since Alex Spanos took control of the team in 1984, the Bolts’ primary function has been to exist. As fans of the Raiders or Redskins might tell you, this is not necessarily a bad thing. There have been AFC Championship years, losing years and Norval Turner years. Mistakes, like drafting Ryan Leaf and firing Marty Schottenheimer after a 14-2 season, have been made. But the Bolts have been largely competent on the Spanos’ watch. That is not something that can be said for many of the owners farther down this list.
18. Malcolm Glazer, Buccaneers
When Glazer bought the Bucs in January 1995, he was purchasing a team with an 87-204-1 all time record. That’s a .298 winning percentage over 19 seasons. In the 19 seasons since, the Bucs have gone 146-158 (.480), winning their first and only Super Bowl in the process. Glazer and his sons have taken a laughingstock and turned them into your normal, everyday NFL franchise around the block. But since Glazer seized control of the Premier League’s Manchester United in 2005, his focus on the Bucs has waned along with their play. Only three of the Bucs’ past eight seasons have been of the winning variety, while a 50-78 overall record has produced just one playoff appearance. Glazer is a solid owner who rescued the Bucs from the depths of American professional sports, but not a particularly passionate or memorable one.
19. Jerry Richardson, Panthers
You probably didn’t know that Richardson played in the NFL. This is because his career was undistinguished. In two years as a Baltimore Colt, Richardson caught just 15 passes. “Undistinguished” can also be applied to Richardson’s ownership career. In the 21 years (19 seasons) since the Panthers’ founding, there have been only five playoff appearances, and little consistency. Before 2013, the Panthers had won 11 or more games four times. All four times, they won eight or fewer the following season. As a person, Richardson’s humble persona is sometimes belied by surprisingly vicious actions. He infamously fired his own sons before even more infamously insulting Drew Brees and Peyton Manning during 2011’s CBA negotiations. Throughout the talks, Richardson was billed as the “least flexible and most pessimistic” of the owners, and didn’t seem to want to mediate with the union so much as break it. Finally, there’s Richardson’s stadium machinations. Despite Bank of America Stadium’s relative youth, Richardson has already ransomed the fine people of Charlotte for $87.5 million, and a favorable lease. With the team instructed to be sold within two years of Richardson’s death, it’s conceivable it could jump town. Richardson is to be commended for bringing football to the Carolinas, and seemingly doing his best to field a competitive team. But his actions in recent years have suggested that his ego comes before all else.