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'Hey, Wait A Minute! I Want To Talk'
Sarah Pileggi
September 01, 1983
John Madden has burst upon the American scene as few others in sport, but contrary to his bull-in-a-beer-ad image, he loves nothing more than good quiet conversation, and his skill as a communicator is the key to his success both as a football coach and as a broadcaster
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September 01, 1983

'hey, Wait A Minute! I Want To Talk'

John Madden has burst upon the American scene as few others in sport, but contrary to his bull-in-a-beer-ad image, he loves nothing more than good quiet conversation, and his skill as a communicator is the key to his success both as a football coach and as a broadcaster

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Clearly, Madden has come a long way from Daly City. His coaching career, which began in 1960 with a part-time assistant's job at Allan Hancock College while he was still teaching junior high phys ed in Santa Maria, was quietly meteoric. Just nine years later, at 32, he was coach of the Oakland Raiders and a year later AFL Coach of the Year. In between he had done two years as head coach at Hancock (13-5-0), three years as an assistant at San Diego State and two years as linebacker coach with the Raiders under John Rauch. When Rauch left abruptly for Buffalo after the '68 season, claiming that Al Davis had interfered with his handling of the team, Davis elevated Madden, saying, "He relates well to people."

Among the people Madden related well to was Davis. "It's chic to criticize Al Davis," says Madden, "but I found him to be a great owner. In all my years as head coach he never turned me down for one thing I wanted. I always wonder how they figure an owner can 'interfere.' He owns it. How can he interfere?"

Like Rauch, however, Madden had to coach in Davis' long shadow. When football's pundits looked for enlightenment and trenchant quotes, they invariably turned to Davis. Madden was the coach, but it was Davis' "organizational genius" that got the credit. Davis, it was widely felt, pulled all the strings. Davis and others in the Raider organization occasionally tried to correct that misconception, but they never quite managed to get their message across.

The fault lay less with Davis than with the nature of the Oakland operation, which was often secretive and always informal in those days. The Raiders owned no computers and wouldn't have recognized a flow chart if one had been taped to the locker-room door. They were less a hierarchy than a family circle. Information moved horizontally and decisions were arrived at rather than imposed.

"The whole time I was there," says Madden, "I never had a 'meeting' with Al Davis. We were always just kind of around talking. When I started out, our scouting department consisted of one full-time guy, Ron Wolf. Al was the general manager, and there was me. That was the organization. Even when we hired a full-time scout, Ken Herock, we would bring him to training camp with us, and to get him involved we'd give him a job as a tight end coach. And in the early spring, the coaches would go out and scout. So the coaches scouted, the scout coached, everyone did everything. We never had to write it down, we were all just living it."

The Raiders have always been known as a happy home for squirrels, many of whom reached their zenith as players under Madden. "I really believe," says Madden, "that normal people are only capable of accomplishing normal things. I don't know that I ever had a great player that was normal. To get outstanding performance you get some people that are a little left of plumb. I believed in letting them alone, personality-wise, giving them freedom, not thwarting them. In football you're doing things that aren't normal—running at high speeds, hitting and being hit, and getting tired and sore and hurt. That's not normal, yet some coaches want that same person to take off his gear and go be normal. They call it discipline. Bull. That's not discipline. It has nothing to do with discipline. I've seen teams that have dress codes, hair codes, this code, that code, all having nothing to do with winning and losing. They'll get to third down, short yardage, and three guys'll jump offside. I mean those guys come in and they look nice in the lobby, and then they jump offside. Those are undisciplined sons of guns. I'll take a guy that's wearing a T shirt and a pair of jeans and tennis shoes in the lobby, who when it's third down doesn't budge till the ball's snapped. That's discipline."

One of Madden's favorite eccentrics was Dave Casper, the five-time Pro Bowl tight end for Oakland who's now with the Houston Oilers. "I feel really close to him, and he still calls," says Madden. "If you had some way to really test who the best football players in the NFL are, Dave Casper would be one of the top five. He is able to do everything—run, catch, block. He's very bright, graduated cum laude from Notre Dame, took the stock brokerage test two years ago and got the highest score they'd ever had in the Houston area. He's squirrelly, but he's a good guy. I like those kinds of guys, they're different. Dave's just goofy, he does crazy things out of boredom or because he's trying to get recognized. You always had to recognize him, whether it was good or bad. He didn't care. The second year at Houston he had his helmet off, and the coach told him he had to keep his helmet on at all times. So he said O.K. and went in, took a shower, put his helmet on and went to lunch, with the chinstrap buckled. Ate lunch through his mask. I thought those things were funny. I'd go along with him. But with them he's a bad guy."

Madden believes that a team is built around its offensive line. Veterans of Madden's offensive lines included, besides Casper, Art Shell, left tackle; Gene Upshaw, left guard; Jim Otto, Hall of Fame center; Dave Dalby, who replaced Otto; and Henry Lawrence, right tackle. "Unless you have an offensive line that can do it, it's all academic," says Madden. "You can draw up all the best pass patterns in the world and they say, 'Boy, what a genius,' but if you don't have five guys there that can block those guys that are rushing, your quarterback is going to be looking out his earhole."

On his CBS telecasts Madden goes out of his way to mention the play of the linemen. "During the game," he says, "the only time they get mentioned is when they get caught for a penalty, which is something I was always against—naming the guy. They always say, 'Holding, No. 63,' but they never say when 63 made a good block. No one does in the whole stadium. That's why I try to."

The 70s were difficult times for some NFL teams. There was labor strife, racial strife and social strife, but the Raiders came through it all with their morale relatively intact. Madden gives much of the credit for this to Davis, saying, "When he saw a player who was underpaid for one reason or another, Al would call him in, right then, and tear up his contract and give him a new one. See, Al was smart enough that he always knew the minute a guy was being underpaid. So we never got those disputes. Some teams wouldn't do anything about it until the end of the existing contract."

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