Coaches for the Coach – A Tribute to John Madden

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Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in the February 2022 issue of National Bus Trader.

We were saddened to hear of the passing of John Madden on December 28, 2021. Those who knew him and worked with him remember him fondly as being a good guy who often helped others. While most people connect John with football, he really had four careers. These included playing football, coaching football, announcing football and as an unofficial spokesman for the bus industry. It is this fourth vocation of his that interests us bus people. As a tribute to John, we can cover some of his football background and then relate his years involved with the bus industry.

College, Coaching and Commentator

John Madden was born in Austin, Minnesota, a community of about 20,000 population just a few miles east of Albert Lea and southwest of Rochester, not far from the Iowa state line. Later, his family moved to Daly City, California on the south edge of San Francisco. His parents were not involved with football or any other professional sports. John’s father, Earl, was an auto mechanic while his mother Mary was a homemaker. John’s education included both a B.S. and an M.S. from California Polytechnic College in San Luis Obispo, California.

John was involved with football at Cal Poly where he played both offensive and defensive lines in 1957-58 while earning his degrees. He was chosen for the all-conference team and was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles. His hopes of going on to a pro career in football were frustrated by a knee injury. Hence, he made the decision to turn to football coaching. He started coaching at Hancock Junior College at Santa Maria, California and then moved up to defensive coordinator at San Diego State and remained there for three years until 1967.

While most people remember John Madden in connection with football, many of us think of him as an unofficial spokesman for the bus industry. His preference for buses over automobiles, planes and trains helped improve the image of the bus industry. Here, reporters are interviewing John in his new third Madden Cruiser, an MCI 102EL3, circa 1998. CUSTOM COACH

Behind the scenes, John was a family man. He married Virginia Fields on December 26, 1959 at St. Mary of the Assumption Church in Santa Maria, California. They made their home in Pleasanton, California and raised two boys, Joseph and Michael. Virginia later became involved in helping to design the Madden coach interiors. She occasionally did ride on the buses but she often traveled by plane. At the time of John’s death, they had been married for 62 years.

Following San Diego State, John’s coaching record was set with the Oakland Raiders. The Raiders came into being when the American Football League’s Minneapolis franchise left to join the National Football League. This left the AFL scrambling for a replacement. There was pressure to have a second AFL team on the West Coast and Oakland was selected as the location with the new franchise created in January of 1960. This new team inherited the Minneapolis club’s draft picks.

In 1967 the owner of the Raiders, Al Davis, brought John Madden in as a linebacker’s coach. Oakland went to the Superbowl that year. In 1969, John took over as head coach at the age of 32, one of the youngest head coaches in history, and began an outstanding 10-year run. Madden went a remarkable 12-1-1 in his first season but lost the title game to Kansas City. He was named AFL Coach of the Year in 1969.

There were numerous highlights in subsequent years. In 1976, the Raiders won the AFC Western Division following a 31-1 record. Postseason play included wins over New England in a divisional playoff game followed by taking the AFC championship following a 24-7 victory over Pittsburgh. John ended the season with a 32-14 win over the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl XI. In the 1976-1977 season, the Raiders won 17 straight games, only one short of the all-time NFL record.

He retired from the Raiders at age 42 after coaching a 9-7 season in 1978. His all-time record was 103-32-7 for the regular season and 9-7 in post-season play. Madden’s .759 winning percentage during the regular season ranks as highest ever among coaches with 100 career victories. Only two other football Hall of Fame coaches, George Halas and Curly Lambeau, managed to reach 100 wins at an earlier age. While John was head coach, the Raiders never had a losing season. They did earn seven division titles and eight playoff appearances.

John Madden would visit some of the MCI customer appreciation events and share some of his thoughts with the bus operators. He was knowledgeable about buses and could discuss them at length. He was always a great addition to the events. NBT.
Larry Plachno (left) was able to meet with John Madden at some of the MCI events. John could speak knowledgeably about buses and occasionally offered his opinions. It probably helped that both of us owned MCI Custom Coach conversions. NBT.

While John retired from coaching the Raiders he did not retire from football. His expertise in the game prompted a transition from a coach on the sidelines to an announcer up in the press box. He soon became just as successful at announcing as he had been at coaching. One of the reasons why John left coaching was because he was increasingly uncomfortable with flying. In John’s situation his lack of interest in flying was due more to confinement and claustrophobia. It did not help that John was a fairly big guy.

The combination of a tight announcer’s schedule and his lack of interest in flying began to create some interesting transportation problems for John. For a while he tried riding trains between his various announcer locations. This did work to some extent since he felt less confined and could walk around, although there were two major problems. One of these problems was the lack of point-ot-point convenience since the trains frequently did not go to where John wanted to go. A second problem was privacy. Being so well known, he could not walk through the train without people recognizing and stopping him.

Finally, the broadcasting company John worked with began looking for better alternatives. In 1986 they leased Dolly Parton’s private coach to see if this alternative worked better. It turned out to be a touchdown for John. The converted coach offered point-to-point transportation, privacy, and was roomy enough to eliminate most concerns about confinement. This led to the ongoing series of Madden Cruiser Coaches that would provide transportation for him for more than two decades. All five of his coaches were built by MCI and the first three were converted by Custom Coach Corporation

The first Madden Cruiser resulted from a three-year contract with Greyhound. The resulting coach was an MCI 102A3 painted in Greyhound colors and carried fleet number 0001. It was photographed while on display at the spring 1987 FMCA event. NBT.
Madden Cruiser #1 was photographed at the Greyhound San Francisco garage while being serviced. Note the lack of destination sign, fleet number 0001 and the “Maddencruiser” name just behind the door. NBT.
Walker Advantage Muffler sponsored the Madden
coach when the Greyhound contract ran out. This
resulted in a simplified paint scheme with blue
stripes on white and the Walker name towards the
front. CUSTOMCOACH.

Madden Cruiser One

The first Madden Cruiser came about when the chairman of Greyhound offered John Madden a three-year bus contract. Greyhound would provide a suitable converted coach, professional drivers and fuel for three years in exchange for some internal promotion for Greyhound employees. John accepted. As a result, a new 40-foot 1987 MCI 102A3 coach was sent to Custom Coach in Columbus, Ohio for conversion. Initially, the coach had a fairly typical Greyhound red, white and blue paint scheme. Since none of the windows were blocked out, you could pass it on the road and not know it was special.

There were only three external differences from a standard Greyhound coach. Being a conversion, there was no destination sign, something people not involved with buses might not notice. The fleet number on the coach was 0001, which suggested something special or unusual. The most obvious difference was the name MADDENCRUISER painted behind the entrance door. Most likely, most people passed this coach on the road without knowing that it was carrying John Madden.

John’s favorite place in the coach while traveling was the dinette at the front on the curbside. He had a CB mike to talk to the truckers and others on the road and an AM radio to listen to football games. This was a feature on all the Madden coaches. CUSTOM COACH.

One of the most noteworthy features of the coach was a dinette on the curbside in front with a couch opposite on the street side. The center aisle then angled to the curb with the galley to the rear and a driver’s bunk opposite. As with most converted coaches, there was a bathroom behind the galley followed by a bedroom in the rear. This initial coach proved that travel by private coach was what John wanted and needed. During this Greyhound contract the coach was serviced at Greyhound garages and facilities while Greyhound drivers were assigned to the coach (is that a pun?).

When the Greyhound contract ran out, Madden sought another sponsor and went with Walker Advantage Muffler. In exchange for covering some of the operating costs including drivers and fuel, Walker got to use the bus as an adverting billboard. The same MCI 102A3 was retained but the Greyhound red, white and blue was changed to a basic white with blue stripes and the Walker name in red.

At least two modifications were made to the coach. When delivered, the 102A3 was equipped with what was then state-of-the-art FM radios. John, however, preferred to listen to football games on AM. Hence, an AM radio was installed at the rear of the dinette. This dinette located behind the front door was Madden’s favorite sitting place while traveling. An extra CB radio was installed behind the dinette for John who often spent time talking with truckers and others while going down the road.

The loss of the innocuous Greyhound red, white and blue livery made the coach considerably more obvious on the road and when parked. Hence another modification was a sliding device that was installed on the exterior of the coach on both sides to cover the “Madden” in the Madden Cruiser name. This made the coach a little less noticeable and lessened the number of CB calls as well as reducing the number of questions at stops.

This first Madden Cruiser lasted the longest in football commentator service of the following replacements. It was used for seven years: three under Greyhound and four under Walker Advantage Muffler. The following coaches in the Madden Cruiser series were replaced sooner. This particular bus has had an interesting history. After John moved up to his second Madden Cruiser, the late Dick Zimmerman purchased the 102A3. Dick resided in California at that time and later moved to Idaho. He drove it to several bus industry gatherings including Bus Bash events. After Dick passed away, John Madden reacquired the coach. When the hurricanes of 2005 hit the Gulf States, John graciously allowed this coach to be used as a mobile command post to help the evacuation and disaster effort.

When Madden moved on to his second coach, the 102A3 was sold to a California film producer. John eventually purchased it back. In 2005 he graciously allowed this bus to be used as a mobile command post during the Katrina Hurricane disaster. Here, some of the MCI support crew pose with the coach. MCI.
The second Madden coach was sponsored by Outback Steakhouse and had an additional five feet of length permitting a more elaborate interior including a large bed, an additional half bath and a small office at the rear. CUSTOM COACH.
The second Madden Cruiser was a 1994 102DL3 that again was converted by Custom Coach. This was the first 45-foot coach for Madden. It was also the first Madden coach to carry the Outback Steakhouse graphics. CUSTOM COACH.

A side note worth mentioning is that John had no control over the location of the football games where he served as announcer and commentator. They could be only a few hours apart or entirely across on the other side of the country. Hence, in a worst-case scenario, John and his drivers would have less than a week to cross the country to arrive and get ready for the next broadcast. You might bear in mind that the football season does not coincide with pleasant weather. In some cases, the Madden Cruiser would take a longer route to avoid some of the worst weather.

Soon after deciding to travel by private coach, John Madden started what might be called his fourth career as an unofficial spokesman for the bus industry. The fact that he decided to travel by motorcoach rather than by automobile, train or plane, helped improve the image of the bus industry. In addition to being seen around the country in his coach, John would frequently show up at MCI Customer Events to meet with bus operators. Your editor had the opportunity to speak with him on occasion and found John to be not only knowledgeable about buses but also enthusiastic about their use. It possibly helped that both of us were owners of coaches converted by Custom Coach.

After approximately four years of service with John Madden, the 1994 102DL3 was retired and came back to Custom Coach for resale. Painted in a simple deep blue, the coach is shown here at the FMCA show in Perry, Georgia in early 1999. NBT.

Madden Cruiser Two

In 1994, John Madden moved up to his second coach. This was a 1994 MCI 102DL3 again converted by Custom Coach. Information received from Custom Coach suggests that three miles of wires and 4,000 feet of lumber were used to build this coach. While this coach was 45 feet long and hence five feet longer than the initial 102A3, much of the interior was similar because it had worked so well with the first Madden Cruiser. The additional five feet of space was primarily used to add a second bathroom as well as a small office.

This coach again had a dinette behind the buddy seat at the front that continued to be John’s favorite traveling location. Opposite was a couch that also served as a sleeping area for the driver. Behind the dinette, on the curbside, were two chairs separated by a small table. The galley area included a stove, microwave, coffee maker and refrigerator. Again, the galley angled towards the curbside and a full bath was located just behind the galley.

John’s queen-sized bed faced the rear with the headboard up against the rear of the bathroom. It was mounted on sliders to slide up against the street sidewall when not in use to make a larger aisle on the curbside. Most of the additional five feet of space was used at the rear of the coach for a small office and a second bathroom. The office area contained a phone, a fax machine and a video player. The video was there to view game films and the office area could also be used for simple broadcasts. On the street side at the rear of the coach was a half bath with a toilet and sink.

Madden Cruiser Two originally started out painted for Walker Advantage Muffler. The Walker contact expired while the coach was in use and the Outback Steakhouse elected to sponsor the Madden Cruiser. This resulted in more elaborate exterior graphics featuring the Outback Steakhouse name.

This coach also had an interesting second life. When John moved on to his third Madden Cruiser this coach ended up back at Custom Coach for resale. It was repainted in a simple deep blue and was on display at the FMCA show in Perry, Georgia in the spring of 1999. It was soon snapped up by a husband-and-wife team who worked on computers for medical facilities. They found that having two bathrooms was ideal since they needed to get started at the same time in the morning, presumably while parked in a hospital parking lot.

John Madden took delivery of Madden Cruiser number four in New York City in the summer of 2002. Here MCI President and CEO Tom Sorrells (right) presents the keys to John. This was another “E” model and the first Madden Cruiser where John repeated a previous model. MCI.
Madden Cruiser Four was another MCI “E” model and Outback Steakhouse continued to sponsor operators. External graphics were again changed. The most obvious changes were the elimination of the jungle grass at the bottom and the addition of a boomerang at the center of the coach. MCI.

Madden Cruiser Three

In 1998, John decided on moving to a third coach. MCI had just introduced their new Renaissance® design with sleek styling that impressed him. While he continued using Custom Coach for the interior, John decided on the new Renaissance (102EL3) model for this Madden Cruiser. Outback Steakhouse remained as the sponsor and a custom jungle exterior with the Outback Steakhouse name was applied by Vernon and Sons. An official delivery ceremony took place outside of Chicago’s Water Tower Place in November of 1998.

With this third Madden Cruiser, John’s wife Virginia became involved with the interior design which resulted in some obvious changes from the previous coach. What was noteworthy in this coach was the use of granite, marble and leather. The galley and both bathroom areas had tiled floors.

The overall design of this coach was very similar to the second Madden Cruiser with a dinette behind the buddy seat and a couch opposite on the street side. Behind this was the now-standard angled galley, two chairs separated by a small table and then a bathroom. One of the major changes on this coach was the movement of the shower to the rear bathroom. The bath just aft of the galley became a half bath with a toilet and sink while the bathroom in the street side rear corner now became a full bath.

This coach again had an office in the rear curb side corner. As with the earlier coaches, the overall design of this coach included lighter colors and open windows. John preferred this to avoid a confined or closed-in feeling.

With Madden Cruiser Three, John moved up to the new MCI Renaissance® 103EL3 model. On this new coach the Outback Steakhouse graphics got a little more elaborate with the tall grass at the bottom of the coach. John’s wife Virginia became involved with the interior design of this coach which resulted in some modern touches. NBT.

Madden Cruiser Four

The fourth Madden Cruiser coach came in 2002. It broke with tradition in two areas. It was the first time that a previous coach model was repeated. John had been so pleased with the performance and reliability of Madden Cruiser Three that he wanted another MCI “E” model. The only difference being that with the change in model designation at MCI, this 2002 coach was officially an E4500 model.

This coach represented the first time that a conversion company other than Custom Coach did the interior of a Madden Cruiser. Due to the problems at Custom Coach, Klein Interior Specialists of Nolensville, Tennessee converted this coach. Outback Steakhouse continued as the sponsor and the exterior graphics once again carried the Outback Steakhouse name.

While much of the interior remained similar to the previous two coaches, there were some changes. Once again, Virginia was involved in selecting some of the options and this coach also had some state-of-the art electronic equipment. Stained rosewood was used for the interior finish with contemporary soft tones obvious. The traditional dinette had granite tops and accents. Special equipment in the galley area included a three-burner glass top electric stove and an Amana side-by-side refrigerator. Three Sony flat screen televisions were strategically placed to give virtually any seat in the coach a good view.

Once again, the bed in the rear bedroom could slide during the daytime to provide a wider aisle. The rear bathroom had an extra-large glass steam shower in this coach. John’s office area in the rear received some improvements with this coach. It now contained a built-in desk, a computer, a fax machine and a cell phone system with three telephone lines. This coach was also equipped with a Datron mobile satellite system which provided hundreds of stations for the onboard televisions.

John Madden took delivery of this coach in New York City in the summer of 2002. The surrounding ceremony included a presentation of the keys by MCI president and CEO Tom Sorrells. One of the most noteworthy trips of this coach came towards the end of its career. John sent the coach to participate in the AASHTO Convoy out of San Francisco on June 19, 2006.

On occasion, John would send his coaches to participate in various events. On June 19, 2006, Madden Cruiser number four led the AASHTO convoy out of San Francisco commemorating the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Interstate Highway System. Madden Cruiser number five was already under construction when this photo was taken. MCI.
John again selected an MCI “E” model for Madden Cruiser number five. Outback Steakhouse continued to sponsor the Madden Cruiser, but the exterior graphics were again modified to more sophisticated, darker colors. Both the MCI staff and John’s wife Virginia were involved with the design of this coach. MCI.

Madden Cruiser Five

The fifth Madden Cruiser went into service in late 2006. Due to his excellent past experience with the MCI “E” model, John again selected an E4500 for his shell. This coach came with a Caterpillar C-13 engine and a SmartTire™ tire monitoring system. This time the conversion company selected was Super Coach of Lebanon, Tennessee. Outback Steakhouse continued as sponsor but the exterior graphics on this coach were a deeper red in color.

Both Virginia and the MCI staff were involved with the interior and the finishes. Once again, many of the usual design features continued but there were several changes. The front lounge had two televisions on this coach. The galley area, which includes a side-by-side stainless steel refrigerator, came with both granite flooring as well as granite countertops.

Once again, many of the changes were in the rear of the coach. The master bathroom at the rear now had had a four-foot by four-foot steam shower. John’s office and workspace at the rear of the coach had been expanded and enhanced. In addition to hosting a radio show on board, he often used his coach to prepare for his television broadcasts.

Noteworthy additions on this coach include an in-motion satellite system from KVH Industries, two 32-inch flat screen HD TVs, and three 15-inch flat screen TVs. This coach also had a 24 KW generator and Sirius satellite radio.

This coach was picked up from the conversion company in September of 2006.

Shown here is the rear of Madden Cruiser number five. This coach featured an expanded work area at the left, the large bed on the right and a four-foot by four-foot steam shower. The bed was mounted on sliders and could be moved when not in use to increase the aisle width. MCI.

In might be noted that John often put as much as 80,000 to 100,000 miles on his coach during the football season. Depending on game locations, John could easily find himself crossing the country between games in weather conditions that might be considerably less than ideal. Typically, there are two drivers on board. The drivers on this coach were Willie Yarborough and Joe Mitchell.

Those people who have worked with and for John Madden indicate that he is very considerate of his staff and co-workers. On one noteworthy occasion, one of his drivers became seriously ill and had to be hospitalized. John allowed his other driver to accompany him, thus leaving the Madden Cruiser driverless in spite of a forthcoming engagement and a long drive to the west coast for the holidays. The staff at Custom Coach scrambled and provided emergency drivers to get the Madden Cruiser to its next port of call, and then cross country to get John home for the holidays. John made sure that the drivers knew he appreciated their efforts.

John finally decided to retire in 2009 following his broadcast on Pittsburgh’s impressive 27-23 win over Arizona in the 2009 Superbowl. Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was quoted as saying, “I am not aware of anyone who has made a more meaningful impact on the National Football League than John Madden, and I know of no one who loved the game more.” From our standpoint, the bus industry was also very appreciative of John’s efforts as an unofficial spokesman for the industry. He let people know that there was an alternative to the automobile, train and plane that was safe, reliable and got you where you needed to be.

MCI says goodbye to Coach Madden

Legendary NFL coach, TV football analyst and video game entrepreneur John Madden, who passed away on December 28, 2021, was also a foremost expert on the flexibility, comfort, and people power of motorcoach travel. After Madden retried as head coach of the Super Bowl-winning Oakland (now Las Vegas) in 1979, a well-publicized aversion to flying would put him in the first of four MCI “Madden Cruisers” starting in 1987. He traveled by the luxury-appointed, satellite-connected MCIs 80,000 miles a year to get to broadcast assignments and many memorable appearances for MCI. It was the only coach Madden would ever use. “I like to be in the best, and for me, that’s MCI,” Madden said in an MCI ad.

“He always made time for us at our customer appreciation events, sharing insights about NFL teams and entertaining stories about life on the road,” said Patricia Ziska, MCI vice president of New Coach Sales, who managed the Madden relationship through his retirement in 2009. “He appreciated our drivers and admired our business owners. He was one of us and a friend to our industry.”

By Larry Plachno

Larry Plachno has spent most of his life working in the bus industry. He purchased his first bus in 1963, worked for bus companies, and owned bus companies including Executive Commuter Coach and Wisconsin Illinois Stages.

He has owned several bus conversions including three by Custom Coach. Since 1977, he has served as the editor of National Bus Trader.

You can contact Larry Plachno at
Reception@BusMag.com
or visit the website: BusMag.com

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