Madden's coaching credentials are Hall worthy

Updated: August 4, 2006, 2:39 PM ET
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Before the video games, the athlete's foot commercials, the announcing booth and the six-legged Thanksgiving turkeys, John Madden was a football coach.

And, as Madden the announcer might put it, he was a pretty darn good one.

On Saturday, Madden will enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame 28 years after coaching his final game, recognition some might say is long overdue for a man that has become, especially for PlayStation lovers, the face and voice of the NFL.

"It means everything to me," said Madden, who was elected by the Seniors Committee. "It's just something that humbles you and excites you more than you've ever been excited."

Madden was only 32 when Al Davis hired him to coach the Oakland Raiders in 1969. Before leaving the sideline for the announcing booth in 1978, Madden led Oakland to a 103-32-7 regular-season record and a victory in the 1977 Super Bowl. Oakland never had a losing record under Madden, winning seven division titles and making the playoffs eight times.

Current broadcast partner Al Michaels likens Madden's short career as a coach to that of Hall of Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax. Only Hall of Fame coaches George Halas and Curly Lambeau reached 100 wins faster than Madden. His .759 regular-season winning percentage stands as the highest ever among coaches with 100 career victories.

And his Raiders teams stand as some of the most successful, and colorful, in league history.

With players such as Ken Stabler, Fred Biletnikoff, Gene Upshaw, Art Shell and Willie Brown, the Silver and Black had plenty of talent -- and maybe even more attitude. Even Davis, the team's owner, was brash, proclaiming his mantra to "Just win, baby."

While some coaches Madden's age -- he was one of the youngest head coaches in league history when he was hired -- may have been intimidated by the cast of characters, it played right into Madden's strength.

"I always thought his strong suit was his style of coaching," said Stabler, the team's quarterback. "John just had a great knack for letting us be what we wanted to be, on the field and off the field. … How do you repay him for being that way? You win for him."

Madden was never revered as a master tactician. Stabler said "he basically pitched me the playbook and said go play," letting the quarterback lead the offense. But he was at his best when relating to his players, often seeming more like a friend than a coach as a result of his age and demeanor.

"Players loved playing for him," said Shell, now in his second stint as Raiders coach. "He made it fun for us in camp and fun for us in the regular season. All he asked is that we be on time and play like hell when it was time to play."

Said Madden: "Sometimes guys were disciplinarians in things that didn't make any difference. I was a disciplinarian in jumping offsides, I hated that. Being in bad position and missing tackles, those things. I wasn't 'Your hair has to be combed.'"

But what his players saw as a coach letting them be themselves, some observers saw as a young coach simply trying to not mess with a formidable collection of talent.

It may be one of the reasons Madden had to wait nearly three decades to enter the Hall. Another, at least in the beginning, was the possibility he could return to coaching, which he left in part because of a fear of flying. That led to the Madden Cruiser becoming part of modern sports lexicon.

"It was one of those things that you cannot control so you try not to worry about it," Madden said of the long delay before he was elected. "But to say you don't think about it would be a bunch of baloney. Twenty-seven years ago I was a finalist and one of the reasons they said I didn't make it was because they said they were afraid that I was going to go back into coaching and not stay retired, so they wanted to make sure."

Apparently they're sure now.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press