Bruce Allen returns to Washington, ready to build on experience

Bruce Allen got his first test of managing the salary cap and working with a strong-willed owner when he joined Al Davis and the Raiders.
Bruce Allen got his first test of managing the salary cap and working with a strong-willed owner when he joined Al Davis and the Raiders. (George Nikitin/associated Press)
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By Barry Svrluga and Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, December 20, 2009

The most romantic of notions were easily conjured over the past few days, ever since Bruce Allen, who could hardly stop himself from smiling, strode to a lectern at Redskins Park wearing, naturally, a burgundy and gold tie. Since Thursday afternoon, when Allen was introduced as the new general manager of the Washington Redskins, there have been the following reactions from those who remember the heady days of the 1970s, when Allen's father George coached the team, when Allen himself hung around and learned:

"I think he's a perfect hire," said Richie Petitbon, a Redskins safety in 1970-71, the head coach in 1993.

"It feels really right," said Bruce's sister, Jennifer.

"This is a dream deal, to come back to all the history we had there," said Tommy McVean, the Redskins' equipment manager under the elder Allen.

"It's just a perfect fit," said Bruce's brother, George, a former governor of Virginia who later served in the U.S. Senate.

For so many people, this is the time, before Bruce Allen even begins to reshape his father's franchise, to reflect on his own ties to the Redskins, and how the position he just took over -- replacing Vinny Cerrato, who resigned under pressure -- is in so many ways his dream job. But Allen comes to his new position with a diverse and, at times, controversial résumé, a lifetime in football that includes stints as a punter, a coach, a general manager and an agent.

Allen's father may have coached the Redskins from 1971 to '77, leading them to a Super Bowl. But as Allen began his job last week -- watching as the coach he inherited, Jim Zorn, tried to prepare a 4-9 team for Monday night's game against the New York Giants -- what mattered more than his time as a teenage ball boy were his stints with the Oakland Raiders and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and even with a couple of teams in the old United States Football League.

"Bruce comes there with his own credentials," said Brig Owens, who played defensive back for the Redskins under George Allen. "He's got a commitment to excellence, a commitment to winning. Hours won't mean anything to him. He comes there with his own expertise, regardless of who his father was, and he's going to be successful."

A team spokesman said Allen was not available to be interviewed for this story. But at his introductory news conference Thursday, the man who has spent almost all of his 53 years in football described his philosophy thusly:

"It's getting as many good football players and great leadership and coaching. It's a real simple formula."

Father, son and the USFL

That, though, doesn't begin to address his complex mix of experiences. The portion of Allen's job history that seems most like an afterthought comes from those days in the USFL. In the 1970s, renowned Arizona heart physician Ted Diethrich gave a few lectures to NFL teams about the dangers of heart disease. He met and befriended George Allen, and bought the Chicago franchise in the USFL, the Blitz, which began play as a charter member of the league in 1983. Diethrich hired George Allen as the coach. George Allen hired his son, Bruce -- fresh off stints as an assistant coach at Arizona State and the head coach at Division III Occidental College in Los Angeles -- to be the general manager.

"The way all that worked out perfectly for Bruce and really, my father, too," Bruce's brother George said. "The USFL was created and it was something they went into together."

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