Today’s NFL coaches reflect on John Madden’s influence, legacy

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Most people may know John Madden as a broadcaster, or as the name behind perhaps the most popular and lucrative sports video game ever. But at his heart, Madden — who sadly passed away on Tuesday at age 85 — was a coach, and a football guy to his core. He led the Oakland Raiders from 1969 through 1978, compiling a 103-32-7 regular-season mark, and a 9-7 postseason record in which he won Super Bowl XI, and lost six AFL and AFC championship games to the eventual Super Bowl champions.

Madden’s football intelligence and genuine nature allowed him to succeed in multiple ways in the game, and several of the NFL’s current head coaches were happy to discuss Madden’s influence on them over the years.

Bill Belichick, New England Patriots

(AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Without any provocation, the Patriots’ head coach began his Wednesday press conference with this long statement.

“I’ll just start with our condolences to the Madden family. It’s a huge loss for the NFL and professional football. John is just a tremendous person to be around. I think we all, probably, set out to try to have a good professional career. John had about five of them. He set the standard for coaching in his era. They had the best record, best teams, championships, and all that. Raiders had a great style of play that was very, I’d say, captivating. He, certainly, did a lot for the league and the competitiveness of the league. He was a great champion for minorities and minority scouting.

“Some of the great players that they had with the Raiders from the smaller black colleges, he and [Al] Davis brought into the organization. Then he moved to broadcasting and, certainly, increased the popularity of the game, singlehandedly, by quite a bit. I don’t know how you’d ever measure that, but I think everybody that liked football enjoyed John’s commentary. A lot of people who probably didn’t even care about football found John entertaining and watched football because of him. He brought a lot of people to the game. He brought a perspective to the game that was very unique. Loved by all. I had a great opportunity to spend quite a bit of time with John. It seemed like he and Pat [Summerall] covered our games with the Giants every week. It was like a weekly broadcast crew.

“Going out to John’s bus and just spending time with him there and through the years, all the way up to Super Bowl XXXVI, all the other things that he’s done for the league… I particularly enjoyed the Top 100 conversations with John. There were about five or six of us that watched some of the players from the 20s, 30s, and 40s and those eras, decades. We had a lot of great conversations about the games that we saw, the players that we saw, the way the game was played, comparisons, comments, and so forth. John did a lot for player safety. I know he was on several committees in the league, advisory, and so forth, and studying the safety of the game, player safety. I know he’s instrumental in a lot of those changes, improvements to help player safety, specifically the defenseless receivers and protecting the quarterback, things like that. Just a very well-rounded person that had a great love of life, love of football, love of the history of football. He was always such an enjoyable person to be around and converse with unless you were standing across the field from him. That was a little different story.

“So, it’s a sad day for all football fans and, of course, the Madden game has to be one of the most popular things going. I think most of the current players in this generation knows John Madden through that and that’s a big part of it. Certainly, the popularity of football through the Madden game is pretty outstanding as well. He put it all together. Great person. Multiple great careers. Most importantly, just a great influence on the game of football and professional football. He was a good friend.”

Belichick was then asked why Madden had such an impact on the game.

“You can probably ask everybody that question. I think it was his enthusiasm and love for football. He just had a great perspective on the left foot spot, the right foot spot. He had so many things that just were obvious, but when he brought them to light, he did it in a humorous, yet educational way. Just always seemed to say the right thing and had the right mix of whatever the situation called for, whether it was emotionally or analytically. Whatever was called for, he always seemed to have the right words, the right perspective, and did it in a way that was easy to understand, concise, and as I said, a lot of times, humorous.”

Belichick said that he had received coaching advice from Madden, but that he’d rather keep that to himself. He also said that he’d played the Madden video game, but “I haven’t played in quite a while. I know when my kids were growing up, they would play it. I’d watch them and they’d beat me.”

Pete Carroll, Seattle Seahawks

Pete Carroll
Pete Carroll

(Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports)

The Seahawks’ head coach was asked about Madden right off the bat about Madden, and he was happy to discuss.

“Growing up in the Bay Area being a 49ers fan, but also a Raiders fan, just knowing him, the way he handled stuff, what he stood for, the impact that he had, and the legendary guy, he was an amazing character. My only real story with Coach, I only talked to him a few times, but he called me. Remember when we sent out the ‘Hawk tackling’ video, he called me out of nowhere and I guess he is on the long-term [NFL Competition Committee], but taking care of the game, he said that it was one of the coolest things he has seen in a long time. He said that getting the head out of football is where the game should go, and he made a big deal about it. I was all charged up by the fact that he called out of nowhere. That’s the only time I had an interaction with him, but how iconic can you be? In this game, he was everything, so everybody loves him.”

Carroll was also asked of Madden’s coaching style (he retired as a head coach after the 1978 season and never coached after that) would transfer well to the modern game.

“Oh, absolutely. You have to remember the relationship that he had with Al Davis and how they hit it off together. Al was really a part of everything and always was when he was around. The complement that coach had with Al really took advantage of the wisdom, the strength, and the philosophy because Al Davis had a lot to do with the scheme. He had a huge factor and John was wide open, he was tough, they threw the ball downfield, they really attacked you, and the defense was always really aggressive and physical. All of the same stuff that I think he represented, Al Davis, in really the best fashion. I think they took advantage of, that was a powerhouse relationship and we saw the benefits from it. Al was a tough guy, he was a tough guy to deal with, but John knew how to get the most out of that relationship, and I think that is still crucial in today’s game. I don’t think there is anything but that. I think he would be awesome today.”

John Harbaugh, Baltimore Ravens

(Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports)

The Ravens’ head coach did have a relationship with Madden, which he was eager to recall on Wednesday.

“Yes, it was just a blessing. This is… Some might argue the greatest coach, if you think of it a little more globally in terms of what? Maybe a 40-, 50-, 60-year impact on generations of football fans as a coach, a highly successful coach, and then an announcer reaching fans through the medium of football. Nobody ever did it like he did it, in terms of his ability to teach the fans the game on kind of a layman’s style that was entertaining, and then through the Madden game. To circle back the way he did… I know he was always involved with the League, but to circle back the way he did the last few years with the Madden committee and to be involved with all of the kinds of issues, especially the football issues. That’s what he was interested in, the football issues relating to the rules of the game and the way the guys played. Then the mentorship kind of part where you get on the phone with him, or you get a voicemail from him… I saw Bill O’Brien saved his voicemails [from John Madden], I just read that. I did the same; I still have all of his voicemails. You don’t erase a John Madden voicemail. That’s just… You don’t do it, and I never will. I have his text messages, [and] I’m probably going to get them framed. It was kind of a mentor-type deal.

“A lot of the things that we’ve done, in terms of the way we approach the players, I’ve learned from him. In terms of what’s important, what you pursue and what really doesn’t matter – I kind of try to put that stuff in perspective. He had just a great feel and a great way of expressing that. A great man [and] a beloved guy. Condolences to the Madden family. We all feel like we’re part of the Madden family today. So, great man.”

Kyle Shanahan, San Francisco 49ers

(Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports)

Shanahan’s dad Mike knew Madden well. Kyle Shanahan didn’t, but Madden’s effect on the 49ers’ head coach was clear.

“I didn’t know John personally, I know my dad did, but I don’t know much about that. I would’ve been a much better student if it wasn’t for John Madden. I spent my whole probably first 25 years of my life playing his video game all the time, which was as good of a game as it gets. And I think that’s where everyone from my generation kind of knew him exactly. And then you heard him on Monday Night Football all the time. It was cool to see, like me growing up, I always watched him on TV and loved him and as I got more into coaching or the aspects of football,

“I’d always be like, ‘why is he drawing on the screen so long? I want to hear what he’s saying.’ And then other new guys came when they tried to replace him and no one could entertain the normal fan as much as he could. And it seemed like they never totally did replace him for a while. And I just know how much he meant, starting with that video game, how much he meant to everyone. Hearing his voice on Monday night football and I think someone said it yesterday, but he lived as good of a football life as anyone. And without me knowing him, I would totally have to agree on that.”

Andy Reid, Kansas City Chiefs

(Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports)

Coach Reid became close to Madden over the years, starting with his time on Mike Holmgren’s staff in Green Bay in the 1990s.

“It might be because both of us like to eat, so we had that passion, obviously by our body types. He invited me on the bus one time in Green Bay, I got to ride to the parking lot on the bus, and it was the thrill of my life. Mike Holmgren was real close to him, so I automatically got kind of put in the bus. But a California guy, I’m from California, we had a couple things that were a little bit the same there.”

And though Madden’s Raiders had a long and hateful relationship with the Chiefs, Reid said that the behind-the-scenes relationships were quite meaningful.

“Well, he loved to hate the Chiefs, but he loved the Hunt family,” Reid said. “He would tell you that they had some knock-down, drag-outs—he could about remember every play. But he said it’s a great organization and the Hunt family is phenomenal. He would always remind me to tell Norma Hunt, ‘Hello.’ So, he liked them, but he didn’t like them.”

Reid also served on the Madden Committee with the late, great coach.

“So after he got out of the broadcasting business, Roger Goodell invited him back to the league. We always had a small sub-committee, there were just a couple coaches on it, but we ended up having the Madden Committee. So, we had six to eight coaches on there and he headed that up, and he was great. He was really into the rules, the regulations of the game, what made the game better—that’s how he wanted to touch the game at the end there. It was the Commissioner’s insight to bring him in and to let him do that, and we all just rallied around it, but we were like little kids following him around. But what a great insight. Just a football junkie.”

Dan Campbell, Detroit Lions

(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

The Lions’ mercurial coach met Madden when he was on Bill Parcells’ roster as a tight end with the Cowboys in the mid-2000s.

“Really, the first time I was able to meet him, he came out and did – he was kind of on the – when he used to do the training camp circuit. When I was at Dallas, I met him. He was over talking to Coach Parcells and that was the first time I got to meet him. Of course, I was a huge fan of John Madden. So, that was pretty good. That was pretty surreal. But obviously, a ton of respect and thoughts and prayers for his family. He’s just one of those guys. He’s an icon in our profession. To do it the way he did it, you win a Super Bowl, you’re a successful coach and then you go on to – really, he’s the name everybody remembers when you come into broadcasting. He’s one of those elite announcers, if you will. He’s embedded into the NFL if you will, and Monday night in particular.”

Campbell was asked whether he as a player, and the players he’s coached, looked forward to seeing their digital doppelgangers in the Madden video games.

“I think that’s one of those [things] where he stood the test of time because of what you said. Hell, he was all over the video games. He made them, so it didn’t matter. And, I think there are a ton of guys that – shoot, young players, that’s how they know him, by the video game, not the announcer himself. He’s a legend, is what he is.”

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