Playbook: Lessons From John Madden

John Madden

I am currently reading “Madden:  A Biography” by St. Louis Post-Dispatch sports columnist and HBO “Real Sports” contributor Bryan Burwell about NFL Hall of Fame  (HOF) coach and television analyst John Madden.   

Believe it or not, Madden’s great-grandfather moved from Pennsylvania to Iowa in the 1800’s, settling outside of Eldora.  One of his childhood friends is former USC and Los Angeles (St. Louis) Rams coach John Robinson. 

Madden is more than a great coach, commentator, and the name behind one of the best-selling video game franchises ever. 

John Madden to me, is one of the most creative leaders in sports history.  Beyond the big goof and “rumblin’ stumblin'” persona, Madden’s love of sports growing up helped him become one of the best coaches in football.  

Madden during his tenure as Raiders coach. I’m digging those sansabelt slacks from the ’70s.

There are several points and moves Madden made during his playing, coaching, and television career that made him, in my opinion, a creative and innovative mind. 

– Player’s coach:  the 1960’s brought a seismic shift of societal attitudes, specifically in the NFL.  John Madden brought a new philosophy of coaching that was in contrast to the buttoned-down conservative task-mastering of Vince Lombardi and George Halas.  Madden had three rules for his players:  

“Be on time.”

“Pay attention.”

“Play like hell when I tell you to.”   

Three simple rules, but it signaled a change in the locker room and how coaches and players interacted.  Madden didn’t scream at his players or demean them like an army general.  Former Raider Monte Johnson added another line that his coach told his players:  “I am interested in what you do Monday through Friday.  But I care greatly about what you do on Sunday.”  Madden was always interested in what his players did after practice (most of it was wild and crazy), and what they thought about topics and families. 

Madden had the foresight to understand that his players had lives away from the practice field and were adults.  So whatever they did during the week was fine, but as long as they showed up and performed on Sunday, that was important to him. 

One of John Madden’s requirements when he agreed to launch the Madden video games was that the video game had to resemble the actual game to the smallest detail.

Know what everyone’s job is:  When he sustained a knee injury that ultimately ended his playing career with the Philadelphia Eagles, Madden would finish rehab in the mornings and head into the bowels of old Franklin Field and watch game film with another Hall of Famer, quarterback Norm Van Brocklin.  Van Brocklin was the first to open Madden’s eyes to understanding how the play developed, as well as knowing what every single player’s responsibility was on the play. 

It fueled Madden’s passion for pro football in a way that helped him in the next chapter of his life:  coaching. 

Managing “Renegades”:  Madden was never a fan of conformity, but as a coach, he had to manage a team full of non-conformists that all bought into playing as a team.  Pat Toomay recalled how Madden had to handle John Matuszak, who was from time to time out of control.  Contrary to public perception, yes the Raiders played aggressively, crossed the line of “dirty play” occasionally, but consider this:  in 5 of the 10 years Madden was coach, the Raiders were one the least-penalized teams in the league.  That is attributed to the rules that were in place at that time in the NFL. 

Today, no team wouldn’t be able to get away with what they did over 40 years ago.

The greatness of the Raiders during Madden’s tenure.

Secondly, Madden preached repetition during practice.  Despite his sometime disheveled appearance, Madden was a perfectionist.  The team would run a play over and over in practice until every player knew what they were doing. 

-“Do your homework”:  After retiring as Raiders coach, Madden was approached by CBS to be a color analyst for their NFL games.  Madden noticed that CBS had a lackadaisical approach and attitude when it came to covering and broadcasting NFL games.  With the arrival and help of a new producer, Terry O’Neil, Madden and O’Neil changed how CBS broadcasted the games.  Today, all announcers, analysts, producers, and the entire game crew would spend the entire week watching game film, learning and understanding the “game” so it wouldn’t be foreign to them.  

Madden strongly felt that viewers wanted to see the game, not “entertainment”. Being a football man, he demanded that the television crew that was assigned to work with Summerall and him learn what plays were being run, what the defensive scheme is, and what to expect on the next play.   

Below is the first game that John Madden and Pat Summerall called on CBS.  (Minnesota vs. Tampa Bay, Week 13, 1979)

Madden bringing his coaching instincts to television rubbed off on Pat Summerall.  Summerall and the late Tom Brookshier would go out on a Saturday night, get ripped, head to the broadcast booth on Sunday, and call the game while drinking cocktails.  When O’Neil confronted Summerall and told him that his party days were over and his new partner was going to be different from Brookshier, Summerall wised up. 

Strengths and weaknesses:  Before the pairing of Pat and John, Madden was originally paired with Vin Scully (yes, Scully called NFL games for a while).  Madden realized quickly that Scully was great, but Scully was a baseball guy at heart.  Madden was a football guy.  The marriage, long-term, wasn’t going to work.  O’Neil knew this as well, but from the viewpoint of announcing styles.  Scully’s a wordsmith, Summerall’s a minimalist.  Pat could summarize a play in a few words and John could explain the play in detail. 

Plainly speaking, Madden believed that everyone who is working a football game should be focused on the the sport they are covering most of the time.  To John, it was football.  To Vin, it was baseball. 

The old #1 CBS NFL announcing team, Tom Brookshier (left) and Pat Summerall. Brookshier would be replaced with John Madden.

Right place, right time:  One day in 1966, a NFL executive visited San Diego State University to watch a practice.  Madden was a defensive coach for the Aztecs.  He was working on a defensive scheme to stop South Dakota State’s “wing-T” offense.  Madden was so excited about what he figured out, when the executive walked over, the burly red-headed assistant coach showed him.  The executive was not only impressed, but he added a suggestion to add to the scheme. 

Several days later, the Aztecs defeated the Jackrabbits. 

The executive:  Al Davis

A year later, Davis hires Madden as an assistant.  The following year, Madden becomes Head Coach.

There are several more takeaways about how John Madden’s life and career is a playbook for leadership, creativity, and being prepared, but I highlighted the key points about why Madden has left an indelible mark on pro football and away from the field.


News and Sports Links – February 10, 2011

The Midwest is more than agriculture these days, thanks to Silicon Prairie News.



I’m working on two posts that is providing some challenges for me.  So while I’m hammering them out, here are a couple of news and sports links that raised a few eyebrows, if anyone noticed.

  • Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun reports that the Baltimore Orioles are returning to powerhouse WBAL-AM 1090 radio in Baltimore after four years on the FM side (105.7 The Fan).  Add that to the St. Louis Cardinals’ return to KMOX-AM 1120. Does these moves signal that major leagues teams are returning to stronger AM stations that has helped their brand and popularity over the decades?
  • Lately, I’ve been reading Silicon Prairie News, a website that covers entrepreneurship and the new creative class in the “Silicon Prairie” (Omaha and Des Moines).  A new addition to SPN has been their Prairiecast shows, hosted by Geoff Wood and Andy Brudtkuhl.  This week, Alexander Grgurich of Foundry Coworking and Michael Ferrari of Smarty Pig were the guests.  If you want to know more about entrepreneurship and start-ups, SPN is the go-to site.

Mike Shannon and the Cardinals are returning to powerhouse KMOX radio.



Speaking of  Huff Post

As if Arianna needed the money.  She was already loaded before she created the vastly large news aggregate site.

Finally, Pete Jones of the popular Des Moines is Not Boring stops by Tony Lemmo’s new place, Gusto Pizza.   Pete’s verdict?  Well, I’ll let you read and decide for yourself.

That’s it for now, but enjoy Gusto’s viral commercial that had everyone talking prior to opening.

Get some!

and creatives on the Silicon Prairie

Sports and News Links – October 8, 2010


Prepared to be spooked out at the Bad Dreams Ball. (Ann Hamilton portrait of "commute 1"/courtesy of the Des Moines Art Center)


Tonight, I’m working the “Bad Dreams Ball” hosted by the Des Moines Art Center and Art Noir.  That means I will not be doing score updates and the Twitter feed for KWKY radio tonight, as the Dowling Catholic Maroons visit the Johnston Dragons.

But that doesn’t mean I’ll be too far from the action.  I’ll be following Twitter and the hashtag #IAHSFB to get my updates from across the state.

Without further ado, let’s check out some links today.

-Adam Jacobi of CBS Sportsline posts an email that was sent out by Montana’s athletic director Jim O’Day addressing concerns about Montana’s possible move to Division I and joining the WAC.  O’Day expresses concerns about the financial state of the Grizzlies and if it’s worth moving up.

-Twenty years on Wednesday (Oct. 6), Colorado and Missouri hooked up for a Big 8 football game.  What culminated at the end of the contest was the infamous “Fifth Down” play that gave the Buffaloes the win.  St. Louis Post-Dispatch‘s Vahe Gregorian re-tells this game and how it propelled Colorado to a national title and sent Mizzou into a decade-long spiral.

-Michael D. Bates of the Hernando Today (via Tampa Bay Online) chronicles how poverty is forcing people to make desperate choices to survive…even if it means putting their health off to the side.

LearnHub marks the 40th anniversary of the “October Crisis” as it became to be known in Canada.  The Quebec Liberation Front kidnapped two Canadian officials, killing one of them, forcing Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau to invoke the War Measures Act, suspending all civil liberties in Canada which resulted in a “police state.”

One of the most memorable moments of the October Crisis was the interview exchange between Trudeau and a CBC reporter, in which at the end of the clip Trudeau uttered “Just watch me” when asked how was he going to handle the situation.

A “Wonderland” of Stupidity

Gifted, talented, and unfortunately, in his own "Wonderland."

John Mayer.

He’s a great musical talent.  Has performed with other great singers and performers.

He’s also immature and need to take PR classes on how to think about what’s he going to say, before answering questions.

Call him a jerk, racist, or a misogynist, whichever, but let’s make this clear:  he needs to grow up and act his age.  This isn’t college, Johnny.  Mayer is immature, believes that everything is for fun, and has no care about the people around him, especially the former girlfriends or dates he has been linked to.  Dude, talking about your “conquests” to a national magazine is, well, uh, tacky?

Kurt Greenbaum. Was he justified in "ratting" out a poster and costing him his job?

A writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch is in hot water for how he dealt with someone’s post.  Kurt Greenbaum typed a “let’s see how many responses we get from this” question on the P-D’s website.  Someone posted a one-word term, and it was deleted.  The person then posted the word again.  Greenbaum notices that the IP address belongs to a school.  He calls the school and tells the headmaster about it.  It was discovered that the IT webmaster at the school was the culprit and he resigns on the spot.

Greenbaum then reports on what he did and cautions readers to don’t post vulgar comments while at work or you’ll get pink-slipped.

The reaction from the comment section and in some media circles were not happy about what he did.  Do you think that was bush-league of Greenbaum to do this, or do websites that has comment sections need to do a better job of monitoring comments, allowing dissent and sensible comments, while blocking vulgar and comments that have nothing to do with the topic being discussed?