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Archive for Tuesday, July 30, 2002

Eccentric Allen never won title

Super Bowl elusive for man who never had losing season in 12 years

July 30, 2002

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— Over the last decade, stories of George Allen's eccentricities nearly overwhelmed one powerful underlying fact: He was one of the most innovative coaches ever.

Allen's posthumous induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday revives all the tales the good, bad and strange of a man who reversed the fortunes of the Los Angeles Rams and Washington Redskins.

"He was a great coach," said quarterback Billy Kilmer, who played for Allen in Washington from 1971-77.

"The only blip in his whole career is that he never won a Super Bowl."

Allen revolutionized special teams, giving it more attention than any previous coach. He invented the "nickel" pass defense and it's been commonplace for three decades since. He stoked the fires of the Cowboys-Redskins rivalry, making it one of the best in sports.

He was the first to conduct offseason minicamps, and it was his idea to build Redskin Park, the league's first year-round practice facility.

"That alone sets him apart that he would have the vision to have an operation that would stand by itself," said longtime Redskins trainer Bubba Tyer, who now works in the team's front office. "We came out here in the country in 1971. He wanted to build a facility away from town, where there were no interruptions.

"He was innovative. The things we're doing today, we're still doing because of George Allen."

Allen never had a losing season in 12 years as an NFL head coach, a remarkable achievement considering he took over two struggling franchises.

The Rams had endured seven straight losing seasons before he went to Los Angeles in 1966, and the Redskins had just one winning season in 15 years before he went to Washington in 1971.

Allen was coach of the year in 1967 and 1971, and his career regular season regular was 116-47-5. But he was just 2-7 in the postseason, with his best playoff run ending when the Redskins lost to Miami in the Super Bowl following the 1972 season.

Allen's methods were part genius, part madness. He traded nearly every draft pick available to stockpile veterans and create Washington's "Over the Hill Gang." He justified it with a simple mantra: "The future is now."

The only thing missing was an offense.

"He didn't care if we scored points," offensive tackle George Starke said. "As long as we didn't give any away."

Allen's obsession with football had no end. It was the only topic he would discuss at dinner. He held staff meetings on Saturdays in February when the rest of the league was on vacation.

Former equipment manager Jay Brunetti remembers Allen associating victories with the oddest things such as the time the coach got on his knees to wrestle a 6-inch dandelion.

"If I pull this out, root system and all, we're going to beat the Cowboys twice next year," Brunetti recalled Allen saying.

Allen tried, failed and gave the broken root to Brunetti.

"He hands it to me and says, 'We just beat the Giants once.' And he walks away," Brunetti said.

Allen would stretch the rules for emotional and tactical advantages. He once had the public address announcer introduce the special teams unit instead of the offense or defense to start a game, drawing a reprimand from league officials.

Allen even once had his son, Bruce Allen, stand well down the sideline to steal signals from the opposing quarterback. When an official asked who the boy was, the coach said he didn't know.

Allen's often abrasive style led to conflicts that cut short his NFL coaching career. He left Washington in 1977 and returned to Los Angeles, but he lasted just two exhibition games before he was fired in a power struggle.

He later coached in the USFL and made an amazing final stand when he led perennial loser Long Beach State to a winning season in 1990. He died of pneumonia on Dec. 31 of that year at age 72.

"He was single-minded," Tyer said. "He demanded a lot of your time, but he was good."

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