By Gil Brandt, NFL.com Senior Analyst
Special to Profootballhof.com
Al Davis has never been one to shy away from taking chances. When he hired Jon Gruden at the age of 34 before the 1998 season to be the Raiders' newest head coach, many wondered if Gruden was too young to handle the job. He wasn't, and Davis didn't make this leap without precedence.
Early in 1969 when Raiders head coach John Rauch left for the same position with the Buffalo Bills, Davis didn't hesitate to name linebackers coach John Madden as Rauch's replacement. The 32-year-old Madden became one of the youngest head coaches in NFL history, and he went on to an unprecedented 10-year run that saw the Raiders make the playoffs eight times, win seven division titles, and reach 10-plus wins on six occasions.
Taken as a 21st-round (No. 244 overall) tackle in the 1958 draft, I don't have any personal scouting reports for his on-field ability because the Cowboys were still two years away from becoming a franchise. Unfortunately, Madden's playing career was cut short due to an injury. He spent his time on the injured reserve wisely, though, learning the game in the film room from a quarterback's point of view with future Hall of Famer Norm "Dutch" Van Brocklin, who befriended the rookie and took Madden under his wing.
Madden's coaching career had him work under legendary offensive genius Don Coryell at San Diego State in the mid-1960s. I remember him from my visits to the school as a high-energy person with a passion for the game. (In his three years as defensive coordinator, the Aztecs went 27-4 and gave up just 263 points in those 31 games.) His passion is a trait you can still hear in the broadcast booth each and every week. He always demonstrated an amazing ability to remember the people he met.
For Madden, it was onto the Raiders as a linebackers coach for two years, starting in 1967. I remember meeting with him during his first training camp as head coach in 1969, as our Dallas Cowboys training camp was in Thousand Oaks, Calif. Even though there was a player's strike underway, Madden wanted to have a scrimmage/practice game at the Oakland Coliseum. But since he didn't want the game billed as the Raiders against the Cowboys because of the strike, his idea was to call it the Ron Wolf vs. Gil Brandt game. Madden figured the game should be named for the personnel men that drafted these players, rather than the teams. It was to feature only rookie and first-year players. Roger Staubach and Ken Stabler were there on the field in a game won by the Raiders 30-0.
The only time the Cowboys missed the playoffs in a 20-year span was in 1974 when Madden's Raiders were led by a 47-year-old George Blanda. They beat us 27-23 in the final game of the regular season, which was played on a Sunday night, to knock us out of the race.
Madden's coaching career reached its pinnacle in 1976 when the Raiders ran away from the rest of the league with a 13-1 regular-season record, and took down the Patriots and arch-rival Steelers in the AFC playoffs to advance to Super Bowl XI in Pasadena, Calif. A convincing 32-14 win over Bud Grant's Vikings gave Madden, Davis and the Raiders their first-ever championship trophy, and cemented Madden as a Pro Football Hall of Famer.
With a career regular-season record of 103-32-7, Madden compiled the highest winning percentage in the history of the NFL amongst coaches with at least 100 victories. His journey to 100 wins was the third fastest in NFL annals, with only legendary HOF coaches George Halas and Curly Lambeau getting there quicker. Isn't it ironic that a team like the Raiders, which was known for taking on veterans as players, hired one of the youngest coaches ever to lead them?
Since he left coaching at such an early age, then-commissioner Pete Rozelle wanted to hire him to work in the league office. But Madden turned the job down because he had no interest in moving to New York City from Northern California. The following year he made the transition to the broadcast booth, and a pop culture icon was born. Because of his knowledge of the game, both offensively and defensively, Madden was able to help in the creation of the ultra-successful video game that bears his name.
John Madden is one of a kind. And the one thing that always distinguished Madden from the other coaches was his short sleeve shirt and tie on the sideline.
Did you know?
John Madden is the author/co-author of four books, each written with New York Times sports columnist Dave Anderson. All of them reached the New York Times Best Seller List.
During his 10 years as a head coach, Madden won at least one game against all 27 teams that were in the league at the time (1969-78). He did not have a losing record against a single opponent he played during the regular season.
When the 2006 season begins, Madden will be the first broadcaster to have worked all of the "big four" U.S. television networks.
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