Madison Embraces Mentor Role
By Nick Wagoner
After playing in no less than 12 games in each of his first 11 NFL seasons, it would have been easy for Sam Madison to step away from football in 2008.
Upon suffering a broken ankle just seven games into his third season with the New York Giants, Madison could have simply gone home to Florida. And nobody would have blamed him.
But those who know Madison know better than to assume he would ever do anything that would take him away from the game he loves.
Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo was the Giants defensive coordinator at the time and it was during that season that Spagnuolo saw all the makings of a player who is probably destined to become a coach should he so choose.
“Most guys that are hurt, they get on the sideline and watch the game,” Spagnuolo said. “They become a spectator; they talk with their teammates a little bit. Here’s Sam and he had a steno pad on the sideline. I didn’t even know he was doing it. And he would watch our defense out there and he’d take notes. And when the series was over, he would go over and sit in between the corners and tell them what he was seeing. I walked over to coach the guys and I turned around and walked away. I figure he would do it better than I was so I just let him do it. I have never forgotten that.”
With that memory still as vivid as can be, Spagnuolo recently placed a call to Madison to ask him to come to St. Louis to help the team’s cadre of young cornerbacks.
For the better part of the past decade, Madison carried a reputation as one of the league’s most dominant shutdown cornerbacks.
When coaches like Spagnuolo and general managers like the Rams’ Billy Devaney use the term “scheme fit” to describe a player, it means that player possesses the skills that can best be utilized in a particular offense or defense.
If ever there was a match made in scheme fit heaven, it was Spagnuolo’s press coverage heavy defense and the relentlessly feisty Madison.
“I always knew that he was the kind of guy when he played, he was coaching,” Spagnuolo said. “He helped those young guys. I loved having the guy around, I love his energy, I love what he’s all about. He loves football. I just felt like if he could come up here and kind of mingle in with our secondary, I just felt there was value to that. He fits in anything that has to do with football.”
Miami used a second-round pick on Madison in the 1997 NFL Draft and soon after he became the Dolphins’ top cornerback. In the next nine seasons, Madison, along with bookend corner Patrick Surtain, formed one of the league’s most dynamic cornerback tandems.
Rams cornerback Ron Bartell remembers watching Madison and taking notes of his approach to the game.
“He was so feisty and he was great in bump and run coverage,” Bartell said. “He never gave a receiver a free release. Him and Patrick Surtain in Miami, they were one of the best cornerback duos this league has seen.”
When Madison signed with New York in 2006, Spagnuolo was still working in Philadelphia. After one year with the Giants working in a defense a bit more unfamiliar to him, Spagnuolo was hired as New York’s defensive coordinator.
It was a perfect fit from the first day Spagnuolo installed his defense and philosophy.
“When he came to New York, it was an opportunity for me to do the things I was doing for nine years in Miami and that’s play press technique,” Madison said.
Madison was the driving force in the Giants secondary, coming up with four interceptions (tied for a team high) and a team-leading 15 passes defended.
Madison’s reward for his contributions? A Super Bowl ring that added the final piece to a career puzzle that saw him go to four consecutive Pro Bowls and named first team All Pro twice.
In 2008, Madison suffered the ankle injury that limited him to just seven games. For as long as he could remember, Madison had tried his best to set an example for his younger teammates but it was in that season that he fully embraced the role.
“It kind of played right into my hands and I was able to pick up his scheme very well because it was something that was natural,” Madison said. “Not only was I able to implement his defense, I was able to coach some young guys up on it as well.”
Beyond the Super Bowl ring, Madison had also made a lifelong friend in the form of Spagnuolo. The ankle injury kept Madison out of football last year but it didn’t mean he was completely disconnected.
“He always kept me in mind and I always stayed in touch with him last year,” Madison said. “When he called me, I told him I hoped I could take a little bit of pressure off of him and be able to work with the defensive backs.”
During his year away, Madison wasn’t exactly resting on his laurels. He began a training facility in Fort Lauderdale with Surtain, Brian Walker and others to help teach young defensive backs. There, Madison worked with everyone from youngsters to college players.
When he wasn’t helping a young player improve his game, Madison was rehabilitating his ankle injury, an injury he didn’t want to hurry back from for fear that he might hamper his long term health.
When the phone rang again with Spagnuolo on the other end, Madison says there wasn’t much that would keep him from coming to help out the guy he says he loves like a brother.
“Just being around the game and being around the guys, it’s something that I really like and it keeps my head into it,” Madison said. “When Coach Spags asked me to come up and help these guys, I dropped whatever I had to do and got up here to help out as much as I can.”
Madison jumped right into the mix at the first Organized Team Activity on Tuesday. He gave technique pointers on everything from footwork to hand placement and went over film with some of the players.
In his playing career, Madison has long been known for his swagger and approach to the game. And while Madison admits he always has had fun while playing, he says one lesson he tries to get through to young corners is that it’s much easier to play with confidence and swagger when you are secure in your technique.
“The one thing about it is you have to believe in your technique and your teammates,” Madison said. “It wasn’t just Sam Madison going out there and doing everything by himself. If you can play within the scheme of the defense and go out there and make plays and use your technique, that’s fine. After that, it’s all about being feisty and understanding the defense and being in the right place at the right time. You have to have a short memory because you are going to give up some plays but if you can win the majority of the plays, you will be a very successful corner in this league.”
There’s no doubting Madison’s theory considering that he’s got the resume of a very successful NFL corner.
In his 12 NFL seasons, the 36-year old Madison has racked up 433 tackles, 38 interceptions, 145 passes defended, nine forced fumbles and six fumble recoveries.
That extensive knowledge of the game has already made Madison a hit amongst the Rams’ impressionable corners.
“It’s great just to have a guy who is a four time Pro Bowler who has played in this system and who has done a lot of things and just be able to pick his brain,” Bartell said. “I know it’s just been great for me, personally.”
As for a future in coaching, it’s not necessarily at the front of Madison’s mind even as he embarks on what amounts to a glorified coaching internship with the Rams. He will return to St. Louis in a couple of weeks for the more OTAs and the team’s final minicamp if for no other reason than to get his hands on some homemade desserts courtesy of Maria Spagnuolo.
“That’s one of the things I was trying to get in but she went away for the weekend so I’ll have to come back to get some,” Madison said, laughing.
In the meantime, Madison has made it a point to exchange cell phone numbers with some of the players so that he can remain in touch until he returns.
Madison says he’d like to continue playing and says he’s back to 100 percent healthy for the first time since the ankle injury.
If that doesn’t work out, Madison has plenty to keep him busy back in Florida with wife Saskia, son Kellen, daughter Kennedy and another child due in September.
Still, for a player with the competitive drive and spirit that Madison has, it’s going to be nearly impossible to keep him away from the game he loves, one way or another.
“Coaching is something I like doing,” Madison said. “Who knows? Anything can happen. If you keep your mind on it and keep working into that area, it might eventually come to it but for right now I am just going to let my options fall where they may however that happens. Giving knowledge and helping the younger guys, that’s the thing I like to do. If that means getting myself into coaching then I guess that’s what I am working toward. I don’t know what the future holds but I’m just happy I am in the situation I’m in now.”
Re: Madison Embraces Mentor Role
So he is just helping out our CB's?
Are we hiring him to be the position coach?
Re: Madison Embraces Mentor Role
I believe he is just in for OTA's and a bit of training camp. Kind of floating around it seems. Came in as a favor to Spags from the article.