NASHVILLE — Floyd Reese, the general manager who assembled the roster for the Tennessee Titans' lone Super Bowl appearance, died Saturday. He was 73.
His family told the team of his death. Reese had cancer and was with his family when he died at his Brentwood home just south of Nashville, according to a social media post by ESPN 102.5 The Game, the radio station where Reese worked until mid-December.
Reese spent 21 years a coach and executive with the franchise, starting with the club when it was the Houston Oilers before making the move to Tennessee in 1997 and becoming the Titans in 1999. They qualified for the playoffs as a wild card that season with a 13-3 record, then advanced to Super Bowl XXIV in Atlanta before losing to the St. Louis Rams in a game that came down to the final play.
The team won 111 games, including five playoff victories, during Reese's tenure as general manager from 1994 to 2006, and he remains the franchise's wins leader among GMs. He is to be inducted into the Titans Ring of Honor this season.
"As general manager, he built a team that saw sustained success and helped guide our franchise in the toughest of times and the highest moments," Titans owner Amy Adams Strunk said in a post on the team's website Saturday. "His keen eye for talent led him to some of the best players in our team's history, which led the team to some of our greatest accomplishments."
Reese drafted three players who were recognized as the NFL's rookie of the year: running back Eddie George (1996), defensive end Jevon Kearse (1999) and quarterback Vince Young (2006). He made quarterback Steve McNair, who shared the NFL MVP honor for the 2003 season, the No. 3 overall pick in his second draft as GM in Houston. Reese called McNair and George, a No. 14 overall pick, key building blocks.
Reese's selection of Kearse at No. 16 overall in 1999 proved the final piece of the Super Bowl team coached by Jeff Fisher. Kearse anchored the defense with 14.5 sacks, still a rookie record.
"It was magic," Reese said in 2019 before the franchise retired the numbers for both McNair and George. "So after we spent time with those guys, we said, 'Hey, if we can build a team of these kind of guys, we're going to be OK.' And, at least for a while, it worked out."
Reese was linebackers coach for four seasons in Houston before moving to the front office in 1990 as assistant general manager. He took over as GM just as the NFL instituted the salary cap, which Reese said in 1997 was the toughest challenge he faced in that job.
"No team has had to rebuild the way we have, due to our salary structure and seven-year run in the playoffs," Reese said in 1997. "We're part way there, hopefully we can complete the task."
Reese also hired Fisher as coach of the Oilers after Fisher was interim coach for the final six games of a 2-14 season in 1994.
Together, Reese and Fisher oversaw the franchise's departure from Houston in July 1997. The Tennessee Oilers played that season in Memphis and in 1998 at Vanderbilt University, with team offices behind a doctors' building in Nashville.
The franchise reached two AFC championship games over the next four seasons, losing to the Oakland Raiders with a Super Bowl spot on the line in the 2002 season's playoffs. Fisher is also to be inducted into the Titans Ring of Honor this year — along with late Oilers coach Bum Phillips — and when news of the induction was made public this year, Fisher reflected on Reese's impact on the franchise with his "hard work, his vision and everything over the years, those years leading up to the '99 season."
"To bring the Oilers to Nashville, to have the success that we did, none of it would've been possible without Floyd," Fisher said. "Floyd behind the scenes did so much for this organization. The head coach gets the credit, the head coach gets fired when they don't win, the GM, the general managers just work. It's what they do, they just work."
Reese also was an analyst on ESPN's NFL Live and wrote for ESPN.com before joining the New England Patriots as a senior football adviser in 2009. He later worked in sports talk radio in Nashville.
A native of Springfield, Missouri, Reese played linebacker at UCLA from 1966-69, then spent a season in the Canadian Football League as a defensive lineman.
He went into coaching at Liberty Union High School in Brentwood, California, in 1970 before working as an assistant at his college alma mater from 1971-73. He was an assistant at Georgia Tech in 1974.
Reese went to the NFL in 1975 as strength coach for the Detroit Lions. He had the same job with the San Francisco 49ers in 1978, and Bud Grant hired him as linebackers and special teams coach for the Minnesota Vikings in 1979. He was promoted to defensive coordinator in 1984.
Survivors include his wife Sally, sons Jeremy and Sean and four grandchildren.
"I'm saddened to hear about the passing of Floyd Reese and my heartfelt condolences go out to Ms. Sally, the family, and all that were close to him," Titans GM Jon Robinson said on the team's website. "He was a great man. He loved his family, he loved football, and he loved the Titans. I learned a lot from him, he was always willing to listen, and he wanted to pass on his knowledge of the game to me and so many others. I'm forever grateful that I could call him a friend. Thank you for everything Floyd, I'll see you again someday!"