Lombardi and John Madden

May 19, 2017

John Madden is known to millions of people as the former color commentator on Monday Night Football and the guy whose name is associated with football video games.  But before that John Madden was head coach of the Oakland Raiders during a career that had grown up from a junior college coach on the west coast. He idolized Lombardi from afar and one of his biggest thrills was coaching against Lombardi in Super Bowl II as the Raiders linebacker coach.

In June of 1963, Vince Lombardi spoke at a coaching clinic in Reno at the University of Nevada.  Madden signed up as soon as he heard about the event.  Madden thought he knew everything about Lombardi and his offense.  For a young coach, Madden thought he had a lot of football knowledge. “But I didn’t know anything, ” Madden later recalled.  That day Vince Lombardi talked about the Green Bay sweep play.  He talked about the play, showed film, covered the normal defensive adjustments to stop the play, how to counter the adjustments and answered questions.  The presentation lasted eight hours!  He talked about one play for eight hours. When Lombardi paused for just a minute for questions, the first question was asked by Sid Gillman, the head coach of the San Diego Chargers. Gillman’s team would win the AFL Championship later on that year.  They all came to hear Lombardi.

Coach Lombardi believed in less plays but more execution.  He believed that his team could execute the sweep better than the defense could defend it, especially late in the game when everyone was fatigued. When Madden became head coach of the Raiders, he had two great offensive linemen in future Hall of Famers Art Shell and Gene Upshaw on his left side and he decided his play would be the fullback power play, or as most would recognize it, as the Wing-T belly lead play.  The name of the play was 69 Boom Man.  “We will run this play every day of your life,” Madden told his team.  “If we can’t make this play go, we can’t win.”  This was absolutely Vince Lombardi philosophy at its best.  And the Raiders believed their coach.

After being named head coach of the Raiders, Madden went to a meeting of NFL head coaches.  Lombardi was the coach of the Redskins.  He got the opportunity to talk to the great coach and asked him what separated the good coaches from the average and even the bad coaches.  “The difference,” Lombardi said, “is knowing what you want, knowing what the end is suppose to look like. If a coach doesn’t know what the end is suppose to look like, he won’t know it when he sees it.”  Think about it. Every play, every drill, every defensive technique has a perfect way to be executed and the coach must know what that end result looks like.  The same is true for bigger items like your offensive structure or the intensity of your defense. The best coaches have the vision, can teach it and then can recognize how close the team is to the finished product.

John Madden said that he always remembered that and used Lombardi’s Vision Philosophy his whole career. Below is Lombardi on “The Sweep”, part 2.