Yes, OK — we get it: John Madden was a cultural phenom who did funny beer commercials, “wrote” ghosted bestsellers, and gave his name to a popular video game. He was, as Harvey Araton said in yesterday’s New York Times, “one of three voices [that] resonate in the age of video.”
But now that the returns are in on Madden as Celebrity, it’s about time someone said a few words about John Madden the Coach, and the latter doesn’t quite measure up to the former.
(Read a superb summation of Madden’s career as both on ColdHardFootballFacts.com)
With a ten-year record (1969-1978) of 103-32-7 (for a W-L percentage of .763), Madden’s coaching career looks good from a distance, but when you get close to it, it tilts toward the ordinary.
His postseason record of 9-7 is very close to mediocre — and if you take away the one great championship season of 1976, his record (6-7) is less than mediocre. Despite coaching eight Hall of Famers (including offensive lineman Art Shell and Gene Upshaw, wide receiver Fred Biletnikoff, defensive back Willie Brown, tight end Dave Casper, center Jim Otto, kicker George Blanda and linebacker Ted Hendricks, Madden won just a single Super Bowl. And that list of HOFers doesn’t even include numerous players whose plaques aren’t in Canton but who, for years, played at a HOF level, including quarterbacks Daryle Lamonica and Kenny Stabler, linebacker Phil Villapiano, and defensive
end Jack Kemp.
A very good argument could be made that no coach from 1969 through 1978 — not Miami’s Don Shula or even Pittsburgh’s Chuck Noll, who won five Super Bowls between them during Madden’s tenure with the Raiders — had as much talent to work with as John Madden did. Unlike Kansas City’s Hank Stram, Madden coined no new offensive strategies and his defenses left much to be desired compared to his contemporaries — only twice in his ten years did his teams finish in the top six in points allowed.
Nor can it be said that Madden was even the best coach in Raiders history. His successor, Tom Flores, wasn’t as good in the regular season (83-53), but was a much better big game coach, 8-3 in the postseason with two Super Bowl rings, one more in nine seasons than Madden had in ten. But Flores didn’t get his name on a video game, and Frank Caliendo couldn’t impersonate him.