Perhaps the most widely known coach in the history of the NFL is John Madden. The former leader of the Oakland Raiders established a virtually unsurpassed record of regular season success during his brief ten-year tenure. Madden won more than 76% of his games. His closest active pursuer, Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin, has managed only a .672 winning percentage. John Madden also coached the Raiders to an impressive, physical victory over the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl XI, 32-14. After leaving the sidelines, Madden carved out the most unique, imposing and meaningful niche in the history of sports broadcasting. And, if that was not sufficient, he also established the premiere video gaming series that has redefined how our society views, plays, and understands football. Simply, John Madden’s football legacy is incomparable. In 2006, John Madden was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Madden’s successor in Oakland and Los Angeles was the man pictured above, Tom Flores. Back in 1960, Flores shared passing duties with George Blanda and Babe Parilli, but he did most of the heavy lifting in the Raiders first season and over the next 6 seasons. The Raiders laid the foundation for one of the greatest offensive machines in league history. In the popular mind, the preeminent offensive teams were Bill Walsh’s San Francisco 49ers and the Miami Dolphins of Dan Marino. However, Al Davis’ Raiders ranked in the top 10 in scoring offense every year but 1 from their inception in 1960 until 1984. No team in the league has enjoyed a similar run of offensive prowess…not even the San Francisco 49ers during the era of Walsh and Seifert.
During this run, Tom Flores was the leading passer on the team for five of their first 7 seasons. And, he won two Super Bowls as head coach – one in Oakland and one in Los Angeles.
Time doesn’t permit a full exploration of all that Tom Flores achieved on the sidelines, but the recent nominations of Bill Cowher and Bill Parcells for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, suggest a few bullets may be in order.
Consider these facts:
- Tom Flores coached the Raiders for 9 seasons and won 2 Super Bowls. John Madden coached the Raiders for 10 seasons and won 1 Super Bowl.
- Tom Flores amassed an 83-53 record with the Raiders, and a winning percentage of .610. Bill Walsh’s career winning percentage is .609. Marty Schottenheimer, another nominee for induction to Canton, has a .613 winning percentage.
- Tom Flores ranks 2nd all-time in playoff win percentage (10 games minimum) behind Vince Lombardi. Bill Parcells has an 11-8 career playoff record. Bill Cowher has a 12-9 career playoff record. Marty Schottenheimer has a 5-13 playoff record. Tom Flores is 8-3.
- After the 4th Super Bowl title of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1979-80, Tom Flores’ Raiders were the only AFC teams to win the Super Bowl until 1997. The NFC dominated the Super Bowl for two decades with powerhouse teams in larger markets like New York, Chicago, Dallas, Washington, and northern California.
- Tom Flores won 2 Super Bowls in 4 years, and in 1983 he handed Washington Redskins head coach Joe Gibbs his only loss in a Super Bowl.
Perhaps the thing that has kept Tom Flores out of the Pro Football Hall of Fame these many years, aside from a bias against Latino excellence and a league-wide contempt for the Raiders, is the fact that he coached in Seattle. The Great Northwest has been the equivalent of a Black Hole for talented football players. It’s where careers go to die. Flores coached the Seahawks for 3 years. His teams had a combined record of 14-34.
Flores went from being a coach with a sterling 83-53 record to a rather pedestrian 97-87 (At .527, he’s tied with the recently fired Brad Childress…but he’s still ranked higher than Dick Vermeil). However, this should not undo the greatness that he achieved in Oakland and Los Angeles for the Silver & Black. Did a stint in Seattle keep Franco Harris from induction? Of course not. Did two 8-8 seasons in Seattle keep Warren Moon out of Canton? Of course not. The remoteness of Seattle and the irrelevance of many of their games may have shattered our collective memory of players like Cortez Kennedy, Kenny Easley and Curt Warner (with a C), but Flores should be teflon in this regard.
Mike Holmgren is still regarded highly even though he’s only managed to win one Super Bowl and lost two. Holmgren has a 13-11 playoff record and, unlike Flores, he had prized QB’s at the helm in each of his playoff games. Jimmy Johnson and Bill Parcells are still revered though neither has been able to ameliorate the morass or mend the mess that is the Miami Dolphins.
And, Tom Flores’ quarterbacks in Seattle were Stan Gelbaugh and Rick Mirer!! That he managed to win as many as 14 games in 3 years with these passers qualifies as a minor miracle.
Some other thoughts to consider on Tom Flores:
- In 1980, the Raiders won the Super Bowl as a Wild Card. Statistically, the Eagles were “better” than the Raiders on both sides of the ball, but Flores and his staff and team figured out a way to win that game.
- Since 1980, Eagles QB Ron Jaworski has become nationally known as a broadcaster and analyst for ESPN. Perhaps he could take up the mantle on behalf of Tom Flores. It’s long overdue.
- In 1983, the Raiders beat a team with one of the largest statistical advantages in league history entering a Super Bowl. The Redskins were defending champions and were perceived to be a juggernaut. Jack Squirek did to Joe Theismann what Rod Martin did to Ron Jaworksi. And Marcus Allen did to the Redskins defense what Kenny King had done to the Eagles only three years prior.
- Since 1983, Redskins QB Joe Theismann has become nationally known as a broadcaster and analyst for ESPN and the NFL Network. Perhaps he could take up the mantle on behalf of Tom Flores. It’s long overdue.
- Tom Flores won two Super Bowls with an over-the-hill, washed up, washed out quarterback named Jim Plunkett. He beat long odds twice and still stands in the record book — right next to Vince Lombardi as the second-winningest coach in the post-season with an astounding .727 winning percentage.
It’s time for Flores to make his speech and be heard…for perhaps the first time.