John Madden: NFL coach and American football pundit dies aged 85 - who was he? Career highlights and tributes

Madden coached the Oakland Raiders during their Superbowl win in 1977, with a 32–14 win over the Minnesota Vikings

NFL pundit and Superbowl winning coach John Madden has died at the age of 85, the league has announced.

In a statement, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell described the Emmy-award winning commentator as “an incredible sounding board”, adding: “we will forever be indebted to him for all he did to make football and the NFL what it is today."

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Madden was best known for his punditry, as well as coaching the Oakland Raiders to their 1977 Superbowl win against the Minnesota Vikings.

So, who was John Madden and how have his former teammates and colleagues paid tribute to him?

Who was John Madden?

Madden was born in April 1986, in Austin, Minnesota.

As a young boy, his father moved the family to a small town just south of San Francisco in California where John graduated from Jefferson High School in 1954.

It was in school that Madden would get his first taste of a career in American football, before being granted a scholarship to the University of Oregon.

Upon sustaining a knee injury, Madden was redshirted and moved to the college of San Mateo in 1955 and then onto Cal Poly in 1958, where he played offense and defence from 1957 to 1958.

Madden during his early career in the 1960s

During his time at Cal Poly, he achieved a Bachelor of Science in education in 1959 and a Master of Arts in education in 1961.

Madden was drafted in the 21st round by the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles in 1958, but an injury during pre-season training was to end his career on the field before it had even begun.

Recalling how he got into coaching, he told EGM in 1995: “I got hurt in my rookie year with the Philadelphia Eagles — a knee injury — and I couldn’t play.

“While I was rehabbing, Norm Van Brocklin would be watching films and would explain what was happening. I ended up with a degree in teaching and my love for football meshed with teaching.”

He would go on to break records as the reigning coach with the best win record of any who has taken charge of more than 100 NFL games.

In 1959, prior to his big break in coaching, he married his wife Virginia and the pair welcomed two sons, Joseph and Michael.

Madden also became the namesake of the annual NFL video games made by EA, ‘NFL Madden’ - one of the biggest selling sports games of all time.

He saw the games as a “sophisticated lever” to educate people on how to play the game.

On Christmas Day 2021, Fox aired All Madden, a documentary highlighting Madden’s rise to stardom as a NFL coach and broadcaster. Former and current NFL players appear in the film.

Three days later, on 28 December, Madden passed away unexpectedly at his family home in Pleasanton, California.

John Madden coaching highlights

In 1962, Madden got his first run at head coach, when he was promoted from assistant at Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria.

By 1966, he was in charge of the San Diego Aztecs as they ranked among the best small county teams in the league.

During this time, he coached under Don Coryell, whom he would later sight as a huge influence on his coaching style and believed should be honoured in the NFL Hall of Fame.

Following his success at the Aztecs, he was scouted to take on assistant coach at the AFL’s Oakland Raiders. The following year, he replaced John Rauch as their head coach.

In February 1969, aged 32, he was the youngest ever coach to head up a professional American Football team.

For the following seven years, the team grew from strength to strength but failed to cement their victory with a Superbowl, reaching but losing in five AFC Championships. The Pittsburg Steelers stole the title from the Raiders in three championship games during this time.

In 1977, he finally achieved his pursuit of Superbowl success as the Raiders won with a 32–14 win over the Minnesota Vikings.

Madden is still the coach with the most wins in Raiders history. He never had a losing season, with his overall winning percentage ranking second in league history.

In 1979, he announced his retirement from coaching due to a progressive ulcer condition and general fatigue after a decade leading from the sidelines.

In 2006, Madden was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in recognition of his coaching career.

During his acceptance speech, he famously said: "People always ask, ‘are you a coach or a broadcaster or a video game guy?’

"I’m a coach, always been a coach."

Punditry highlights

Immediately following his retirement from coaching, he was scouted by CBS as a color commentator, giving expert opinion and analysis as the game progressed.

Across his three decades of punditry, before bowing out in 2008, he worked for all major US networks as a sportscaster and host.

He won a whopping 16 Emmys for his punditry, while working across CBS, ABC, Fox and NBC.

Madden with his bust in the Hall of Fame, pictured in 2006

He spent the majority of his commentating career at CBS, where he continued to work until the late 90s.

As well as becoming well known for his use of interjections such as ‘Bang!’, ‘Doink!’, and ‘Wham!’, during his commentary, he also became synonymous with hosting the annual Thanksgiving game on CBS.

How have players and colleagues paid tribute to him?

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement: "On behalf of the entire NFL family, we extend our condolences to Virginia, Mike, Joe and their families.

"We all know him as the Hall of Fame coach of the Oakland Raiders and broadcaster who worked for every major network, but more than anything, he was a devoted husband, father and grandfather.

The NFL Twitter followed the statement with a number of tributes to him.

"Nobody loved football more than Coach. He was football. He was an incredible sounding board to me and so many others.

"There will never be another John Madden, and we will forever be indebted to him for all he did to make football and the NFL what it is today."

Green Bay Packers’ Brett Favre wrote on Twitter: “We lost a larger than life legend in John Madden. My career was narrated by “Coach”, one of the best in the game.

“I’ll always remember our pre-game mtgs, when we laughed & talked about anything but football. I’ll miss my dear friend.  Love & prayers to Virginia & the family.”

NFL coach Ron Rivera added: “Coach John Madden was an NFL icon, who played, coached and gave his name to a video game.  But to me he offered his time, wisdom and coaching insight. I was truly blessed to have him as a mentor!  RIP Coach”