Four-time Pro Bowl tight end Raymond Chester, a Baltimore product who played for John Madden with the Oakland Raiders from 1970-1972 and in 1978, says Madden “was probably one of the greatest communicators of our age” and harkened back to when the Raiders traded for him ahead of the 1978 season as an example of why.
Madden, who passed away unexpectedly at the age of 85 on Dec. 28, was the head coach of the Raiders from 1969-1978. Chester, a graduate of Douglass High and Morgan State in Baltimore, was taken by the Raiders in the first round of the 1970 NFL Draft. He caught 104 passes for 1,574 yards and 22 touchdowns during his first three years in the league before being dealt to his hometown Baltimore Colts.
Chester played for the Colts from 1973-1977, catching 148 passes for 2,122 yards and 11 touchdowns. He was made available for trade just before the 1978 season and got a call from Madden, his former coach. The Raiders wanted tight end depth behind future Pro Football Hall of Famer Dave Casper.
Chester, 73, remembered the conversation he had with Madden just before being dealt back to the Raiders.
“[Madden] said, ‘We like this guy playing at tight end and we don’t want a disturbance to disrupt our team,'” Chester recalled on Glenn Clark Radio Dec. 29. “I said, ‘Coach, I understand what you’re saying. I promise you I will not create a problem. I will compete like hell because you know I will. If it’s the difference between me coming back there or staying here, if I have to, I will make All-Pro on special teams. I’ll play special teams.’ And he said, ‘That’s what I wanted to hear.’ And he said, ‘OK, stand by.’ An hour or so later, the trade was done.”
Chester had started double-digit games at tight end in every year of his career up to that point but took a back seat to Casper in 1978. He was comfortable with it because of the way Madden handled the trade, and a year later Chester’s role had increased again. He posted a career-high 712 yards in 1979.
“How do you get that kind of guy with that type of competitive nature, how do you get him to agree to come back and play second or third string on your team and everybody’s happy about it?” Chester asked, referring to himself. “How do you do that? Because of the way it was communicated.”
Chester said he wouldn’t consider Madden the greatest strategist he ever came across but explained that the late coach’s gift was the ability to get his message across to a locker room full of players. Chester said Madden communicated with humor, candor and emotion and understood that each player needed to be pushed a little differently.
“He was probably one of the greatest communicators of our age,” Chester said. “If you coach, the most important thing that you must be able to do is get what you want done across to your players.”
Chester said those communication skills came through during his 30 years as a legendary color commentator as well, though Madden’s coaching career wasn’t too shabby, either. He posted a 103-32-7 regular-season record as the Raiders’ head coach and won Super Bowl XI in January 1977.
When Chester is asked about how Madden stacks up against all-time great coaches like Vince Lombardi and Bill Belichick, he stresses what a great communicator Madden was.
“The greatest gift that John Madden had was his ability to communicate,” Chester said. “We all got a taste of that. The world got a taste of that when he got into the booth and won all those Emmys communicating.”
Chester was surprised when Madden retired from coaching at the age of 42. Tom Flores took over for Madden with the Raiders and won two Super Bowls, including one with Chester on the team. While Flores was succeeding in Oakland, Madden’s broadcasting career took off.
Even though he knew Madden was a great communicator, Chester was “shocked” that his former coach was interested in working as an analyst and that he was so good at it. In fact, he had another job in mind for Madden.
“John Madden could’ve been a standup comedian,” Chester said. “Ask anybody that knows him. Had he gone out and left football and become a standup comedian or he left football and become a writer for a TV network writing comedy or something like that, I wouldn’t have been surprised. But I don’t think that anybody could say that they had any inkling or expectation that John would become as phenomenally great as he became.”
To hear more from Chester, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the FOX Broadcasting Company