San Antonio business icon Red McCombs passes away at 95 years old

McCombs died at home, surrounded by family

SAN ANTONIO – San Antonio business icon Red McCombs passed away at his home on Sunday, his family announced in a statement. He was 95.

In the statement released Monday, the family of McCombs, who was known as a car dealership and communications magnate and philanthropist, said he was surrounded by family.

McCombs was also pivotal in bringing the Spurs to San Antonio and owned the team two separate times. He also owned the Minnesota Vikings and Denver Nuggets at one time.

The McCombs family released the following statement:

While McCombs was known as a multi-business tycoon across Texas, he and his wife, Charline, planted their roots in San Antonio. She passed away in December 2019.

Red McCombs was born Billy Joe McCombs on Oct. 19, 1927, in Spur, Texas, but to the world, he was known simply as Red.

He served in the Army after World War 2 and later used his GI bill to study business and law at the University of Texas at Austin. There, the business school, softball stadium and north end zone at DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium were later named in his honor.

After graduating from UT, the Longhorn worked at a Ford dealership in Corpus Christi while awaiting a corporate job.

“After selling ten in one weekend, he was hooked and never made it to that corporate job,” a biography released by his family states. “McCombs immediately began selling 30 or more cars a month, and within half a year set out on his own.”

In 1952, he opened McCombs Used Cars on Water Street in Corpus Christi.

He expanded to San Antonio when he took over operations of a struggling car dealership owned by his first boss, Austin Hemphill.

He later became the owner of the dealership, which is now known as Red McCombs Ford, and his empire expanded to more than 60 locations.

McCombs also co-founded Clear Channel with Lowry Mays in 1972.

In the early 1970s, McCombs and a group of local businessmen, including Angelo Drossos, John Schaefer and Art Burdick brought professional basketball to San Antonio.

Red McCombs and the San Antonio Spurs coyote. (Courtesy, McCombs family)

They purchased the failing Dallas Chaparrals before the 1973-1974 season and renamed it the Spurs. They played their first game against the San Diego Conquistadors on Oct. 10, 1973, at the HemisFair Arena.

“While the first years were tough, the city of San Antonio eventually latched on to the Spurs and the common identity it offered for San Antonio,” his profile states. “The team truly does belong to the people of San Antonio.”

He owned the Spurs twice and then went on to purchase the Vikings in hopes of bringing an NFL team to the Alamo City.

He sold the Vikings after seven years and sold the Nuggets after three years.

His philanthropic work includes numerous donations to his alma mater and $30 million to M.D. Anderson for the Institute for the Early Detection and Treatment of Cancer.

“Beyond his notable major gifts, McCombs has given tens of millions to numerous San Antonio organizations; it all started by seeing the joy that came from giving to others during the Great Depression,” his profile says.

“From the Corpus Christi Clippers to Clear Channel, Red has owned more businesses and told more stories than can be detailed here, but most of them are in his autobiography, Big Red. Red’s legacy will continue as the current and future generations of the McCombs family carry the torch and execute the vision he laid out.”

Upon learning of McCombs’ death, tributes to his legacy poured in, including from the San Antonio Spurs and the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce.

Dave Petersen, interim president and CEO of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce

The San Antonio Chamber of Commerce and the business community are saddened by the news of Red McCombs’ passing. Red was a San Antonio legend and visionary whose business acumen and positive influence helped shape our city and set it on a trajectory of growth, development, and success.

Red served as the Chamber’s Chair of the Board in 1965, and was recognized with the Chamber’s Pathfinder Award, which honors individuals who have forged new and innovative courses for our city and our community, in 2011.

In addition to being an entrepreneur and iconic businessman, Red had a heart of gold and a generous spirit. He was a true philanthropist whose contributions have benefited organizations in San Antonio and across Texas. Our thoughts and prayers are with the McCombs family. Red was a true friend and will be dearly missed!

Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs Head Coach

“Red was a true icon. A Texas legend. It’s impossible to overstate the impact he had on the City of San Antonio. Perhaps, his most impressive trait was his commitment to community. Red and Charline impacted tens of thousands of lives, here in San Antonio and across Texas. From multimillion dollar donations to flying a stranded Little League team back to San Antonio, the McCombs family has always put community first. To me, most of all, he was a good friend and mentor.”

Peter J. Holt, SS&E Managing Partner

“Red had a profound influence on our family through his focus on positively impacting all around him. For me personally, his kindness, thoughtfulness, and boldness will forever shape my perspective. His card that reads “Expect to Win” sits on my desk as a daily reminder of the continuous need for positivity and abundance in this world. We sure do love Red and will miss him deeply.”

RC Buford, Spurs Sports & Entertainment CEO

“As we celebrate our 50th anniversary, it’s important to state that without Red and Charline there would be no Spurs. His approach, vision and impact were unique and wonderful. On a personal level, I am forever grateful for the trust, support and lessons that Red provided to me and my family over our 35-year friendship. There will never be another Red McCombs.”

Red McCombs. (Courtesy, McCombs family)
Red and Charline McCombs. (Courtesy, McCombs family)
Red McCombs. (Courtesy, McCombs family)

About the Author:

Rebecca Salinas joined KSAT in the fall of 2019. Her skills include content management, engagement and reporting.