When John Madden got his first job in pro football—coaching the linebackers for the Oakland Raiders—he was ready. He prepared "a long list of drills for all my linebackers." But only one. Duane Benson, showed up on the first day of camp. "I didn't care," says Madden. "I had him doing all the drills over and over—hitting the tackling dummies, jumping over the dummies, hitting the sled, standing broad jumps...the ball drill, the mirror drill, the reaction drill. As soon as he finished one, I started him on another. I never gave the kid a breather. He came to camp at about 225, but by the time the veterans arrived he was down to 210 and gasping."
Sounds like the hyper Madden all NFL fans today know—and nearly all love. But he wasn't always so keyed up. Madden's father was an auto mechanic who hated his job. "Don't start working until you have to," he told his son. "Once you do, that's it." For a long time Madden followed that advice religiously. Oh, he played some ball in school and college, but mostly he hung out with his pals in Daly City and sneaked in to watch games in nearby San Francisco and Oakland. He tells about it in his autobiography, the title of which is Hey, Wait a Minute (I Wrote A Book!), by Madden with Dave Anderson (Villard Books, $14.95). Eventually another piece of advice, from Bear Bryant, took precedence in his life: Bryant had said, "Don't be a football coach unless you can't live without it." Madden found he couldn't live without it.
What made him the stunningly successful, charismatic coach of the Raiders? There were 10 years during which the Raiders won 103 games, went 11-1-1 on the NFL's Monday night telecasts and had an automatic advantage in every game they played simply because teams worried about them. The unlikely, but best, answer is that Madden apparently never met a football player he didn't like. That quality made him an extraordinary teacher of athletes and now, as a CBS analyst, a fine teacher of the general public. Madden says a coach shouldn't try to be "one of the guys. Your players don't need another friend. [They] have all the friends they need. Sometimes too many." However, "Knowing his coach likes him is more important to a player than anything else." Madden says. "To me, it was important to be able to chew out a player for screwing up and for him to accept it because he knew I liked him anyway." One example of the critical relationship that this rapport can create occurred during a Raider practice, when Madden bawled out defensive end Ike Lassiter for making a mistake. After two more plays, the other end. Ben Davidson, made the same mistake. Madden screamed at him, too. Later, still steaming, he called Davidson to his office.
"Only two plays later!" Madden said. "How could you do the same thing only two plays later?"
August 26, 1984
"You got mad at Ike," Davidson said in his raspy voice, "and I wanted you to get mad at me."
Though Madden may not realize it, this book is evidence of his admiration for not only his own men, but also nearly all the players in the league. There are a thousand and one funny and fond anecdotes and "inside" glimpses of athletes and NFL officials.
Madden had only two rules for the Raiders: Be on time and pay attention. In those days, most coaches believed in establishing discipline with rules about coats and ties and beards and sideburns—long lists of do's and don'ts. Says Madden, "Discipline is knowing what you're supposed to do and doing it as best you can.... On third down and short yardage, the Raiders don't jump offside. That's discipline—not a coat and tie, not a clean shave."
Whether he's right or wrong, there seems to be no question that Madden got the most out of his players because they were well aware of his genuine affection for them. He reveals it best in the last four words of a story he tells about one of the dozens of his "favorites," Pete Banaszak. Banaszak and teammate Tom Keating were visiting the Madden home. As they were leaving, Pete said to Mad-den's 3-year-old son, Joe. "C'mon, Joe, why don't you come to live with Tom and me?"
Says Madden, "Joe never hesitated.... He got his coat, put it on and was ready to walk out the door. I knew the feeling."