The Sporting News named John Madden the AFL Coach of the Year after the 1969 season, his first with the Raiders. In this story in the Feb. 10, 1970, issue of TSN — under the headline, “Brass Ring on Very First Try — Madden is AFL Coach of Year” — take note of the sub-heads to the story: “John Knows How to Laugh” and “Never Too Busy to Explain.” That gives you some very early insight on what became a Hall of Fame coaching career and unique impact in broadcasting.
OAKLAND, Calif. – National football selections virtually never please all the fans, but it would be difficult to find disagreement with THE SPORTING NEWS choice of John Madden as the AFL Coach of the Year.
In this, his first season as coach of the Oakland Raiders, he produced a 12-1-1 record, a feat unmatched in pro football. He had replaced John Rauch, who had fled to Buffalo, complaining about interference from General Manager Al Davis.
Little known and snickered at as a puppet for Davis at the outset, Madden, only 33, burgeoned at once with the speed of dandelions to rank as the most promising young coach in the game.
The former pro tackle seems to have the frame (6-4, 260) that can handle all the problems and pressures of big-time football, and his capacity for work matches that of a computer.
The popular choice of the players for the job, despite his inexperience, Madden communicates just as well with the front office.
Madden has fulfilled the highest hopes held for him. (The Raiders are the only team in pro football to win at least 12 games in each of the past three years.)
After the Raiders had blasted Buffalo, 50-21, at midseason, Davis called his first press conference in years.
“I wanted to say this before,” he asserted, “but I was afraid some people would think I was just sticking John up as a target in case we lost. My role has changed this season from giving direction to giving assistance.
“I am no more important than the lowest assistant coach today. Madden is in full control of the troops. Rauch never had such authority. Madden doesn’t need my help: Rauch did. The pressure doesn’t bother Madden.”
Madden is smart, eager and a completely dedicated coach to whom time means nothing.
John Knows How to Laugh
Madden had come to the Raiders only two years before. He wanted to become a head coach someday, but not even in his dreams did he see the chance coming so soon. Madden brought the Raiders along slowly the first half of the season, so as to peak them for the rough second half.
The genial, massive redhead has another quality rare among coaches: a wonderful sense of humor.
After the Raiders had slaughtered Houston in the playoffs, 56-7, he greeted the assembled writers and telecasters with: “I hope you fellows don’t expect this every week.”
Nothing seems to upset Madden. At the time, he was concerned about his son, Joe, 4, who had just been taken to the hospital with virus pneumonia and a 106-degree temperature.
And he was even his affable self after the Raiders were upset by Cincinnati.
“They simply outplayed us,” he told the scribes. “They deserved to win.”
Tom Grimes, the Raiders’ young publicist, says Madden likes to break up the long conferences in his offices by occasionally walking out and making small talk with the other employees.
Never Too Busy to Explain
No matter how busy he is, Madden has time for writers’ questions.
In the Oakland airport before the Raiders enplaned for Denver, I was doing a magazine article comparing Daryle Lamonica with Roman Gabriel. Sighting Madden walking by, I asked him to explain any differences they had in setting up and passing.
I didn’t know that, at the time, Madden was conferring with United Airline officials on whether to head for Salt Lake City or Omaha because of big snowstorms at Denver.
Still, he took the time not only to explain the differences, but even demonstrated them in the airport lobby as if he had a football in his hands.
Growing up in Daly City, just south of San Francisco, John competed in all sports.
“Other kids had all sorts of odd jobs,” recalled Madden, “but Dad felt that youngsters should have fun — work could come later, and I was happy to oblige him by competing in sports the year round.”
Madden starred in football and basketball at Jefferson High in Daly City. He received several scholarship offers from big colleges, but he decided to remain in California. He wanted to teach and coach there. Or, again, he might become a lawyer.
He attended the College of San Mateo, where he continued to take part in the two sports, and then finished up at California Polytechnic.
A knee injury suffered in 1959 in the Philadelphia Eagles’ training camp ended Madden’s pro career before it started.
In 1960, Madden taught physical education at Orchid Junior College, and at the same time served as basketball and football coach at Hancock JC. Two years later, he went to Hancock to teach health and physical education and to be the head football coach.
Before joining the Raiders in 1967, John had served as defensive coach at San Diego State (1964-66) and as head coach at Hancock (1962-63).
Madden picked up his nickname of “Fox” at Cal Poly. Even after he had moved on, he would return to Poly in the spring to coach the alumni against Roy Hughes’ varsity.
“They had a ritual at Cal Poly,” John explained, “when Hughes was winning about every game. At the end of the game, the rooters would yell, ‘Turn around, Silver Fox. Turn around. He’d turn around and tip his hat. When our alumni team started beating his varsity, the rooters began hollering: ‘Turn around Red Fox, turn around.’
“The name stuck. I don’t know how they picked it up, but when I came to Oakland, they called me ‘Fox.’ They still do.”
It’s much tougher to stay on top than to get there. Still, Madden says he’s pleased to head a team with a built-in winning attitude.
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