George Allen, who turned the Washington Redskins into perennial winners and coached them to their first Super Bowl following the 1972 season, died yesterday in California. He was 72. Greg Allen, the coach's son, said that his father died of "natural causes" at his Palos Verdes Estates home. But few details about the cause of death were available.
Allen was discovered dead in the kitchen of his home by his wife Etty after she returned in early afternoon, according to Mike Tracy of the Palos Verdes Estates Police Department. She had last seen Allen two hours earlier. A spokesman for the family, Tony Capozzola, said Allen collapsed in the house.
"He wasn't exercising at the time," Capozzola said. "He was in good health, other than maybe a minor cold. But nothing serious. We just don't know right now until the examination is complete." Allen told the Associated Press in an interview last Thursday that he hadn't been completely healthy since players at Long Beach State, where he coached this season, drenched him with ice water to celebrate a season-ending victory on Nov. 17.
Allen, who holds the third-best winning percentage in National Football League history, was the Redskins coach and general manager from 1971 through 1977, compiling a 67-30-1 record. Adopting the slogan "The Future Is Now," Allen built quick success by trading draft choices for proven veterans who formed the core of his "Over-the-Hill Gang." Several imports came from the team Allen coached previously, the Los Angles Rams, and were known as "Ramskins."
He was known for strong defensive units and motivational gimmicks to inspire his teams, and major innovations that other teams copied.
Allen, who long had a reputation for jogging and keeping physically fit, was named chairman of the President's Council on Physical Fitness in 1981 and served in that capacity during the Reagan administration.
But his first love was coaching football, and after a 34-year absence from college coaching returned this season to direct downtrodden Long Beach State to a 6-5 record -- which he called "the most rewarding experience I've ever had in all the years of coaching."
Allen is credited with persuading the Redskins' ownership to build Redskin Park, a training complex that became the envy of other teams, which subsequently constructed their own. Allen was the first head coach to employ a special teams coach and was one of the first coaches to emphasize nickel defenses and situation substitutions on defense.
Allen was NFL coach of the year in four of his 12 seasons with the Redskins and Rams, and never had a losing record in 14 pro seasons that included two with the defunct United States Football League.
He claimed the record for most trades in NFL history, with 133, and 14 of his assistant coaches went on to become NFL head coaches.
Several times he has been a finalist in voting for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
"George Allen was a great football man and will leave his mark on all levels of coaching," current Redskins coach Joe Gibbs said yesterday.
"He was a great motivator and helped establish the tradition of winning here with the Redskins."
Allen often equated defeat with death and once told a reporter, "I want to win so bad, I'd give a year off my life." As a coach, he was detail-oriented in his unceasing drive to win not some of the games but all of the games. He calculated the course of the sun above the Los Angeles Coliseum before Super Bowl VII so that Redskins players might avoid having it shine in their eyes.
Unconventional to say the least, Allen mixed a Puritanical work ethic with what critics saw as an unabashed "end-justifies-the-means" philosophy. He sometimes was criticized by other teams for trying to trade draft choices he had already traded, but he attributed the matters to oversights. Because of his manipulations, he was fined the then league maximum $5,000 by former commissioner Pete Rozelle for what he termed conduct detrimental to the NFL.
One of Allen's countless mottoes was "Is what I am doing, or about to do, getting us closer to our objective -- winning?" Often, he would work almost 24-hour days and his diet featured ice cream because he said it took little time to chew.
"He was a Trojan for work and for winning," said Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke. "He was one of the indestructibles."
When he was named to his dual capacity with the Redskins on Jan. 6, 1971, Allen achieved his ultimate objective: a job with a professional team that had unlimited authority. Soon, he forged a reputation for spending large amounts of money. The late Edward Bennett Williams, who as president of the Redskins hired Allen, remarked shortly after Allen's arrival: "When Coach Allen came to Washington, we agreed he had an unlimited budget. He's already exceeded it."
In Washington, Allen promptly demonstrated his knack for making winners out of losing teams. He was named coach of the year in 1971, appearing on the cover of Newsweek magazine en route to the Redskins' first playoff appearance since 1945. The closest he came to winning an NFL title was the 1972 season, when the Redskins went 11-3 in the regular season and in postseason beat Green Bay and Dallas for the National Football Conference title. But using an Allen-prescribed ultra-conservative offense, the Redskins bowed, 14-7, to Miami in Super Bowl VII.
Allen's friends included President Nixon, and Allen used a play Nixon had suggested for the 1971 playoff game against San Francisco. It was a reverse to wide receiver Roy Jefferson that lost 13 yards. So much for presidential prerogative, but that play which was much utilized by political cartoonists indicated the level and intensity of interest Allen had created in the Redskins in Washington.
"Players loved him," said Richie Petitbon, one of Allen's defensive proteges and former "Ramskin" who is now assistant head coach with the Redskins. "He was a great guy to play for. He was a great competitor who loved to coach and I think that was the reason he was successful.
"His basic philosophy was, it's us against them, and we'll make enemies of everybody -- the press, the opposition, whoever came along. Everyone was against us, and it was really very effective. He was a great motivator."
After leaving Washington, Allen signed on again with the Rams, whom he had directed to a 49-17-4 record in five winning seasons starting in 1966, turning around a team that had had seven straight losing years. In 1967 he achieved his best single-season record, 11-1-2. But his second go-round as head coach with the Rams was marked with controversy that often surrounded him, and he was fired after two exhibition games in 1978 in a dispute with the late Carroll Rosenbloom, then owner of the Rams.
Allen's coaching career touched six decades. It began in 1948 at Morningside College in Iowa (his three-year record was 15-12-1), and moved to Whittier College in California in the '50s (32-22-5 in six years). As defensive coach for George Halas's Chicago Bears, he came to national attention in 1963 when he was presented the game ball after the Bears' 14-10 title-game victory over the New York Giants.
After that, Allen tried to leave the Bears to take the head coaching job with the Rams but Halas took him to court, proved his point that he had a valid contract to keep Allen, then released him. Even his winning years with the Rams were marked by controversy; in 1968 he was fired because of a "personality conflict" with the late Rams president Dan Reeves only to be rehired two weeks later.
In 1983, Allen got back into coaching in the USFL with the Chicago Blitz. The next season he coached the Arizona Wranglers. His records those seasons were 12-6 and 10-8.
The only son of Earl and Loretta Allen, George Allen was born in the Grosse Point Woods district of Detroit.
At Lake Shore High School, he had a perfect attendance record and earned letters in football, basketball and track.
As an officer trainee in the United States Navy's wartime V-12 program, he attended Alma (Mich.) College and Marquette University and played end on the football team of both schools.
After completing his training he served as athletic adjutant at the Navy base in Farragut, Idaho.
Following his discharge from the Navy, in 1946, he completed his undergraduate work at the University of Michigan in 1947 and went on to take a master of science degree in phsycial education with a thessis titled, "A Study of Outstanding Football Coaches' Attitudes and Practices in Scouting."
He was an admirier of hard-working former pro coach Sid Gillman, and moved from Whittier to become offensive end coach with the Rams.
Because of a staff shakeup, Allen found himself out of a job and operating a car wash in the San Fernando Valley for a year, until Halas asked him to Chicago where his defense propelled the Bears to the NFL title.
Allen is survived by his wife, Etty, and three sons.
Staff writer Richard Justice contributed to this report.