Madden enters Hall on coaching merits

General Published on : 8/5/2006
By Vic Carucci, National Editor
Special to

CANTON, Ohio (Aug. 5, 2006) -- Coach John Madden has taken his rightful place in football immortality.

That’s Coach Madden. Not Announcer Madden. Not Video-Game Mogul Madden.

Coach Madden.

John_MaddenHe is the man who became a head coach at the tender, young age of 32. He is the man who won 112 games (including the postseason) in 10 seasons at the helm of the Oakland Raiders, including a 17-game winning streak from 1976 to 1977. He is the man who guided his team to a Super Bowl victory. He is the man whose roster would send nine players to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, which also includes his former boss, Al Davis.

Now, at 70, Madden has joined them.

And he is here, first and foremost, because he was a terrific coach.

Some people might have a hard time remembering that, because it was a long time ago. Many who are aware of Madden’s coaching career see him only as the big, booming presence that the cameras of NFL Films captured on the sidelines -- as the screaming, yelling, foot-stomping maniac with the flaming red hair (that has since turned gray) in dire need of a comb and polyester pants straining against a considerable waistline.

Madden left coaching in 1978, mainly because he didn’t like traveling in airplanes. But he also realized that, after all of that screaming, yelling, and foot stomping, he had had enough.

Madden took what, for him, seemed like an easy way to make a living when he became an NFL television analyst for CBS. And Madden did make it look easy. His folksy, colorful style and a delivery that included sound effects (“Boom! Bam!”) with replays and a sense of sheer joy and enthusiasm just to be around the game made him an automatic viewer favorite. He would establish himself as one of the best analysts in the history of the league, moving from CBS to Fox to ABC’s Monday Night Football to NBC’s Sunday Night Football (on which he will make his debut with the Aug. 6 broadcast of the Hall of Fame Game between the Raiders and Philadelphia Eagles).

Then came the incredibly popular Madden video football games.

But it was Coach Madden who established the credentials worthy of Hall of Fame induction. It was Coach Madden who knew how to get the very best out of his players by recognizing that they were a collection of diverse and sometimes outrageous personalities, and that the best approach was to allow them to be themselves. Madden didn’t get hung up on whether everyone wore a tie on road trips, just so long as no one jumped offsides.

He knew he had the ingredients of a big-play, bombs-away offense, so he never hesitated to throw the ball. When he needed to go to a power game, he knew he had the gritty offensive linemen to pick up the tough yards. And there was always that tough, teeth-rattling, intimidating defense.

The Raiders’ hard-bitten image is commonly and correctly attributed to Davis, who served as Madden’s presenter. However, it was Madden who truly shaped it with an understanding that the game has to be played with an unforgiving, passionate attitude. Those were the kinds of players he put on the field. That was the kind of mentality he stressed.

Madden worked extremely hard to become the best coach he could be. That meant many hours away from the three loves of his life -- his wife, Virginia, and his sons, Mike and Joe.

As Davis pointed in his presentation speech for Madden, “When you worked for Al Davis, you worked for the Raiders, there was no time for golf, there was no time for the kids. There was one thing -- Raider football, Silver and Black football.”

No one embraced that concept more than Madden. He understood that it wasn’t about acting the part of coach. It was about being a coach, being a leader. It was about having a vision and getting his team to share that vision.

John_Madden“I go into the Hall of Fame as a coach and I go into the Hall of Fame because of my players and what they did,” Madden said in a speech that was as folksy and as colorful as he always is behind a microphone. (At one point, he said that at night, after all of the workers leave the Hall and the lights go out, “I believe that the busts talk to each other. I can’t wait for that conversation … That’s what I think is going to happen, and no one’s ever going to talk me out of that.” He turned to the Hall of Famers seated behind him and said, “These guys are going, ‘Oh, no, I hope I don’t have to put up with his BS for an eternity.’”

Then Madden asked his 30 or so former players seated on folding chairs on the field of Fawcett Stadium to stand. He urged them to keep standing to enjoy “our day in the sun.” Their smiles, under graying hair and mustaches, were unmistakable, even while wincing in the glare of the sun on an incredibly beautiful afternoon.

“I mean, 30 or 40 years ago, they were ready to hit anything,” Madden pointed out.

He coached at a time when some of the all-time greats prowled the sidelines -- Hall of Famers Don Shula, Chuck Noll, Hank Stram, Sid Gillman, Tom Landry, Weeb Ewbank, and Bud Grant.

“John did what you would call the impossible,” Davis said. “In his 10 years of coaching, he won more games than he lost against every Hall of Fame coach in this great shrine.”

And that, more than any other reason, is why Coach Madden is here as well. END