- The Washington Times - Friday, August 2, 2002

If they were going to cryogenically freeze anybody in sports history, they should have put George Allen on ice. Now there's a guy deserving of further study. Some football coaches are brilliant and some are creative and some are tough as nose tackles, but how many are flat-out fascinating like Allen was?
George was a control freak, the kind of person who was as concerned about the positioning of the crackers on the cafeteria line as he was about the positioning of his tackles on the defensive line. And yet he once ran a play suggested by President Richard Nixon in the '71 playoffs against the 49ers (and it backfired so badly it probably cost the Redskins the game).
Figure that one out, Dr. Freud.
And such a stickler for details. It's no coincidence that Allen was the first to hire a special teams coach in the NFL (Dick Vermeil with the Rams in 1969). Had he stuck around a little longer, he probably would have been the first to hire a long-snappers coach, too. And yet he once lost a crucial late-season game in L.A. when the officials shorted his offense a down and neither he nor any of his staff noticed.
Then there were the times with both the Redskins and the Rams that he traded the same draft pick twice. How could George, who never missed anything, overlook something like that? (Unless, of course, he chose to.)
Such an interesting character, this George Herbert Allen, such a bundle of contradictions. He goes into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this weekend with a higher winning percentage (.681) than Don Shula, Tom Landry, Paul Brown or even his mentor, George Halas. And yet he never won the proverbial Big One, never won an NFL championship. In fact, only one of his teams won so much as a game in the playoffs (the '72 Redskins, who won two en route to the Super Bowl).
Wonder how George would have handled that in his induction speech, were he still alive. Halls of Fame, after all, tend to be shrines to champions. The only other coach in Canton who didn't win an NFL or AFL title was you're not gonna believe this Marv Levy, a former Allen assistant, who was 0-4 in Super Bowls with the Bills. How's that for irony?
But that's George for you. Every place he walked into, he changed. Forever. In Los Angeles where the greatest teams, the Bob Waterfield-Norm Van Brocklin juggernauts in the '50s, set records for offense Allen turned the fans on to defense. And the same thing happened in Washington, which had grown accustomed to Sammy Baugh's and Sonny Jurgensen's weekly heroics. George may have left the Redskins after the '77 season, but Jack Pardee and Richie Petitbon, his former proteges, carried on his tradition.
And has any NFL coach before or since been at the center of more controversy, generated more headlines? I'm not talking about Jerry Glanville- or Buddy Ryan-type buffoonery. I'm talking about the Bears actually taking Allen to court in 1966 to prevent him from becoming the Rams' coach. (He was still under contract to Chicago as the defensive coordinator.) It was big news at the time. Halas eventually let George go to Los Angeles, but only after winning the case and proving his point.
Once in L.A., Allen became the only coach in pro football history to be fired and then unfired. That was pretty big news, too. Owner Dan Reeves canned him after a 10-3-1 season in '68, claiming irreconcilable differences, but players and fans rebelled and Reeves reconsidered. Temporarily, anyway.
After moving to the Redskins, Allen made the front pages again by putting together a deal with his old team involving a record-tying 15 players and draft picks. The Rams got the draft picks, and he got the players (e.g. Diron Talbert, Maxie Baughn, Myron Pottios, John Wilbur and Pardee, who formed the core of his Over the Hill Gang). George was quite the operator and not one to let the Astroturf grow under his feet. "The future is now," his credo went. If not sooner.
Coaches have always appreciated veteran expertise, but Allen's attitude almost bordered on necrophilia. He had little use for rookies and traded most of his draft picks for "bald heads." "To George," Charley Casserly once said, "a draft pick was a piece of paper."
In '72, the Redskins didn't pick until late in the eighth round (and then selected a running back named Moses Denson, who made the team). Building through the draft? That was for chumps.
Allen made another big splash in '76, when a court ruling granted free agency to a handful of NFL stars. With the help of Jack Kent Cooke's checkbook, he quickly signed John Riggins and former Cowboys Calvin Hill and Jean Fugett. It didn't win him a championship, but it sure provoked lot of discussion.
"George is a player's coach," was how Merlin Olsen described him. "He makes it feel like he's doing it for you. His strength is in organizing and unifying a team in its defensive strategy. He works hard to establish trust between himself and the players. Then after awhile you find out that George just doesn't tell the straight story. He's always got some gimmick. After awhile you get so you just sigh and say, 'Well, George wants us to get up for another game.' The man will pay any price to win. But after a while a team gets to where it just wears out."
There's ample evidence of Allen's teams wearing out late in the season sapped, perhaps, by his almost supernatural intensity. His '68 club, for example, started 10-1-1 and missed the playoffs. His '69 club started 11-0 and lost its last four. His first Redskins club, in '71, started 5-0 and finished 9-5-1 (including the postseason). If the Super Bowl were played in October, George probably would have won enough rings to wear one in his ear.
Did his preference for veteran players contribute to his disappointing playoff record (2-7)? Possibly. Thirtysomething-year-old legs usually aren't as spry in Week 14. Then again, if he hadn't surrounded himself with older guys, he wouldn't have been able to put in 53 different audible calls for the defensive end and tackle alone.
Allen's post-Washington years weren't nearly as eventful except for when the Rams, with whom he re-upped in '78, fired him before he'd even coached a regular-season game. (The players complained they weren't getting enough water breaks in training camp, or something like that.) He re-surfaced in the USFL, led the Arizona Wranglers to the title game in '84, then disappeared again until his swan song at Long Beach State in '89. George Allen at Long Beach State. All these years later, it still seems unbelievable: The coach who's allergic to rookies takes a job tutoring college kids.
George did all right, too. Alas, just six weeks after finishing a 6-5 season a major accomplishment at that down-and-out school he died of a heart condition at 72. A year later, the Long Beach football program also died (forcing Terrell Davis and Jay Walker, among others, to complete their careers elsewhere).
Think about it: If you were having a dinner party and could invite any 10 people from pro football history, wouldn't you have to make room at the table for George Allen? This is a man who learned the game at the feet of George Halas and Clark Shaughnessy, inventors of the modern T-formation. The two Georges couldn't have been more compatible; both would steal your playbook to win. Shaughnessy was more the absent-minded professor type, but what a brain for Allen to pick.
Oh, to have sat in on one of their skull sessions. So much history, so much imagination, so much energy in that one room. (Not to mention piss and vinegar.)
Since Allen had to pound on the door of the Hall for a number of years before he was admitted, it's clear some voters aren't convinced he belongs. To me, though, it's a no-brainer. Never mind his 12 winning seasons in 12 tries (14 if you count the USFL); this is the coach who gave us the Redskins-Cowboys rivalry, who brought special teams play out of the shadows, who developed (with Shaughnessy) the nickel defense, who revivified the Washington franchise. This is the coach who actually said, on camera, "Every time you lose, you die a little bit. You die inside, a portion of you. Not all of your organs. Maybe just your liver. And every time you win, you're reborn."
You're not gonna put a coach like that in the Hall of Fame?
And here's the clincher: He could win today. After all, the future in the NFL has never been more now than now. George would love full-blown free agency, love the recent ascendancy of defensive football, love that the game has gotten so big. About the only thing he wouldn't love is that he'd have only six draft picks to trade. But he'd manage somehow. Even if he had to trade some of them twice.

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