Hall-of-famer Tom Flores looks back on legacy with NFL, Raiders

Retired Raiders coach Tom Flores reflected on what it was like to follow in the footsteps of the late, great John Madden

"He was an excellent coach, a great teacher." 

Madden passed away a week ago at 85 years old on December 28. In 1972, Flores joined the Raiders as a wide receivers coach, calling plays for Madden, the legendary Hall of Famer. 

The Oakland Raiders teams never had a losing season during Madden’s reign. Flores described the key to Madden’s storied coaching career as a relationship built on trust between players and coach. 

He said, "John loved his players and they loved him. They would do anything for him." 

According to Flores, Madden was highly emotional on the sidelines while coaching. But when it came time to make the decisive call to win a football game, he knew exactly what to do. 

Flores would go on to succeed Madden as Raiders head coach.

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In December, we met Tom Flores at his home in the desert, more than one hundred miles from Los Angeles. He was waiting for us at the front door. 

Now 84, the man who earned four Super Bowl rings and a Hall of Fame ring could have boasted about his own accomplishments. But he didn’t. There was a quiet confidence about Flores when he spoke of his life. 

As we walked in the front door, he showed us the newly arrived replica of the bust that was presented at the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 2021. 

He explained his wife and daughter were searching for just the right place to display it. 

Half joking, he said, "My wife says I can’t turn the house into a museum. So instead I get a corner." 

It was an honor that clearly touched his heart. In 2019, Flores thought he might receive that accolade, but it did not happen. The disappointment stung. 

However, last summer Flores’ luck changed. On a Sunday afternoon, there was knock at the door. His wife of 60 years, Barbara, answered it and told her husband "It’s for you." 

He asked, "Who is it?" 

Mrs. Flores – not wanting to reveal the surprise that her husband’s dream was about to come true – replied with tears in her eyes, "Tom, it’s for you." 

The knock at the door meant that Flores was getting inducted into one of the most exclusive clubs in all of the professional sports. Coach Tom Flores would be enshrined into the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

Wearing the golden jacket that day, the usually lowkey Flores spoke with emotion to family and friends about the acknowledgment. 

The distinguished honor made him the first Latino quarterback and coach to be enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. 

Flores said, "It took me a long time. It wasn’t easy to get to Canton. I kept persevering. It was my passion." 

It was a long journey from the agricultural fields of Sanger, California, where Flores grew up, to the rarified air of the powerful NFL. 

Flores described an upbringing where money was hard to come by, but love was plentiful. His parents were immigrants from Mexico. He and his friends had busy lives: they went to school, they picked crops in the fields — and they played football. 

"Mom and dad did the best they could, which was to be good parents, give us good values. We were never hungry," Flores said. "They did a good job, mom and dad."

I asked him how much those early hardscrabble years, shaped him into the success story he lived.

Flores said, "Probably a lot. I would think it had a lot of impact. You live by example."

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