George Allen has been out of coaching for two seasons, but seldom has he been out of the news. During the last two weeks, he has been linked to a syndicate that attempted to purchase the Baltimore Colts, he has been mentioned as a possible coach of the University of Kentucky and he has been appointed to the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. Allen was profiled in a recent issue of Inside Sports; excerpts from that article follow.
The coach awakes in darkness. He dresses in red shorts, white socks, running shoes, a T-shirt with his name on it and a headband to keep his hair out of his business. It is 5 a.m. He moves to his desk in the den, four stacks of film climbing halfway to the ceiling behind him. He scribbles notes to himself, assigning each a number, then slides his reading glasses halfway down his nose and begins to work the telephone.
The calls go first to the East Coast, where even the losers are awake, and trace the sun's sweep west. There is no pause. While the coach speaks on the line, the other line rings. Shreds of conversation carry through the quiet of the house.
"The Redskins could beat either one of them. Vermeil and Landry both know it . . ."
"Tell him I've got the tax information he was looking for concerning players' salaries . . ."
"If Jack (Kent Cooke) makes a wrong decision now, it could set back the program for years. Well, you call me if anything comes up . . ."
Twenty-five calls come in and 20 go out by midafternoon. The coach congratulates Al Davis' secretary for making the Super Bowl, calls Cowboy personnel whiz Gil Brandt to run down the country's top seniors. He writes a syndicated column for the Los Angeles Times between rings. He finally eats breakfast. It is 3:45 p.m.
George Allen is a coach in exile, laying plans for a team he does not have from atop a mountain that nuzzles the Pacific. Like Napoleon at Elba, all else is ready. Allen still studies game films. He still grades players. He still scratches Xs and Os on scraps of paper everywhere. His friends still call him "Coach." His Redskin coach-GM nameplate waits on a shelf behind his desk, and his Redskin name tags still hand from his luggage.
He still weaves a web of contacts around the NFL with the tenacity of a spider. He could make three trades, sign four free agents and hire five assistants a half-hour after a team asked him to coach. No team has asked. Three filled positions in January without considering him. Fifteen head coaching jobs have opened and shut since the day the Rams spit him out in August 1978. And still the man the record books call the fourth-greatest coach in the history of professional football sits waiting for the call.
In his first year out of coaching, every jangle launched George Allen from his seat. Now he is casual enough to job. When it comes, if it comes, it will likely find a busy signal. Allen has six phones, two numbers and montly bill that runs as high as $1,000. "If I lived there," says his on Bruce, "I'd rip them out."
Sitting behind his desk, with glasses low on his nose and flecks of gray hair above the headband, Allen looks more like a pleasant history professor than a banished NFL coach. "Look at what I have written here," he says, pointing to a notebook. He reads it aloud: "'I realize now I gave away too much of myself for seven years (with the Redskins).'
"Who cares now?" he adds. "Who knows now? Never leaving my desk for lunch. Working morning, noon and night. No vacations. There's no thanks now. But I'd do it the same way next time, because that's me."
He says it with the dull voice of a man who has learned everything about his life, and nothing. At 2:15 he divorces himself from the telephone for his daily 1 1/2-hour workout. The body must be prepared for the return, as well as the mind. He kicks his leg chest high to stretch. "This is in case they ask me to punt," he grins and then he is off on a five-mile jog and lecture with his guest. He winds through his neighborhood, Palos Verdes yestates, where the air is lush with the smell of green, of trees, of grass, of money. He crosses a street to Rolling Hills High School, nodding in respect to the courts where Tracy Austin made herself a machine. "A winnner," George Allen would call her, his ultimate compliment.
No detail escapes Allen, even at an 8 1/2-minute-a-mile clip. "You see this hold in this baseball field?" he asks. "I wouldn't allow this even if I had to get down and fill it myself. You see this paper on the ground? I wouldn't allow it. Even before you came this morning, I was out on the law picking up stuff the dogs made."
Allen does nine laps around the high school track. "One more than I want to do," he confides. On the first lap, a soccer coach sitting on a ball and addressing his team interrupts himself to greet Allen.
"Did you see what that coach was doing?" Allen asks seconds later. "I'd never let my team see me sitting down. That shows you're tired."
He stops after the ninth lap, tucks his feet under a wire fence and does 111 sit-ups. "One more than I want." Then 31 leg lifts. "One more than I want to."
On the way back, on a uphill climb, Allen sunddenly takes the lead. The Sundays of Shula and Landry are gone, but he makes do. He pulls an abrupt right, pushes open the door to the Pacific Unitarian Church and jogs through. A lady watering the plants looks down from a ladder, eyes no less wide than if the devel had trotted in. Allen waves and bangs through the opposite door without a hitch in stride. On the other side is a view of the valley that would make an atheist look to the sky.
"I come here each day to say a prayer," Allen says. "I usually get on my knees. We have so gosh-darn much to be thankful for."
He jogs bake through the church and heads home, sprinting the last 200 yards. He opens the garage door and begins a half-hour workout on his Universal gym and punching bag.
Next to the weights is a blackboard with a list: 1, Do something to improve every day. 2, Make progress on long-range goals. 3, Write another book, radio show, TV show. 4, Write at least one letter every day or make one important phone call. 5, Do something for family every day.
Nos. 6 through 10 are in Bruce's scrawl, not George's: 6, Pet Dixie or Wahoo (two of George's dogs). 7, RELAX!! 8, Call Dan Reeves. 9, Enjoy what you have and make the best of the situation. 10, Write down and number what you should do.
And in the margin, one last reminder: Be Narrow and Unhappy. Allen isn't reading it. Each arm is pumping a dumbbell. The four furrows in his forehead are bunched, and his eyes are two slits. Through clenched teeth he says, "I'm pretending I'm getting ready to play Dallas."
Allen has beaten Dallas 10 times, more than any other coach in history. His professional head-coaching record is 120-54-5. His .680 winning percentage ranks him fourth, behind Vince lombardi, John Madden and Don Shula, among the NFL's all-time winningest coaches. Better than George Halas, Tom Landry, Bud Grant, Paul Brown. He has never had a losing season in the pros. He has likced his left thumb and turned four losers -- Morningside College, Whittier College, the Rams and the Redskins -- into four winners. He has never known a slump. In 11 of his 12 pro years, he never lost more than two straight games.
He was always a beat ahead of his game. He introduced the nickel defense and dime defense. He was the first to have a special practice facility built, and the first to hire a special-teams coach (Dick Vermeil) and an administrative coach (Joe Sullivan). He coined the phrase "special teams" and taught the league how to steal games with them. Eleven of his assistants became head coaches: Vermeil, Jack Pardee, Ted Marchibroda, Marion Campbell, Howard Schnellenberger, Pete McCulley, Charley Winner, Mike McCormack, Jack Patera, Marv Levy, and Ray Malavasi.
Some men would be content to lean back and admire such a footprint. George Allen wants to lay down another. He has to. At 59, he is a victim of his own harsh standards. Losing is like dying, he always said, winning like being reborn. When a man has juggled birth and death every seventh day for 31 years, what does he do when they are snatched from him?
"I try to tell him he doesn't need to go back into that pit again," says his wife Etty. "He says, 'You don't understand.' Why get into a situation where he could wreck his record? He says, 'I will not wreck my record.'" She hardens her face, clenches her fist and drops her voice to her husband's octave. "'You got to be involved. You got to suffer.' His life is like a steady course now. Before it was all ups and downs. He's like a gambler. He misses that. He felt he was accomplishing something then. He's got to be accomplishing something. I don't get up until 8 or dress until 11, on principle. I think you can accomplish by doing nothing, sit back and watch it all. He says, "That's the talk of a loser.'"
Etty is brunette and brash and still riding a 57-year infatuation with life. She is of French extraction, born in Tunisia, and met Allen while visiting a mutual friend when he was coaching at Morningside in Iowa. George wrote a letter to her father saying he admired Etty because she was "attractive, conventional and athletic." He is still so serious it makes her giggle. "We went to Las Vegas and there were all these beautiful, sexy showgirls in skimpy costumes, she remembers. "They even overwhelmed me. I said, 'George, aren't they beautiful and sexy?' He just sits there nodding his head with his arms folded, and says, 'I wonder how they get in such good shape?'"
She is Allen's periscope to the world. He is just beginning to notice fragments of it, flashing by. "He ate his first piece of pizza two months ago," reports Bruce, a 24-year-old executive for a home-improvement firm. "He even eats Chinese food now. He just went to Japan with my mom and both had a great time. This sounds weird, but we used to go to Hawaii and he'd have a bad time. He'd be on the phone and doodling Xs and Os the first six days. I think, if anything, he would be a better coach now because he's opened up a little and could relate better to today's players."
The Allen house would tap a soft, lazy spot in any man but its owner. It was designed by Etty in Spanish style and is worth over $1 million. The backyard tumbles into unobstructed park land and the view of the Pacific is so spectacular one can almost hear the surf hiss as it bellies out on Redondo Beach. The vision is framed by eucalyptus and wild berry trees, and the cries of Allen's pet peacocks ride in on the wind.
The interior is a collision of George and Etty. Eighteenth Century literature rubs against "Winning Football" on the bookshelves, busts against game balls. The bottom floor is an Allen museum: pictures, plagues, framed newspaper articles and messages from Richard Nixon hiding the walls, piled ceiling-high in the closets and even decorating the bathroom. A man closing on 60 could ask for no better place to gaze and reflect. To Allen, the words are obscenities.
"I thrive under pressure," he says. "I like risks. I thrive on competition. When we were jogging uphill, I didn't want you to get ahead of me. Nothing compares to a good victory. How can you evaluate yourself if you don't have competition? If you fail? I won't fail? I won't allow it. My schedule is more hectic now. But I don't have the total agony and the total high you get from coaching. I guess this is the biggest setback I've had. I feel I'm being tested. I fell the next plateau will be even more exciting.
"Why don't I have a coaching job? If you're totally committed and dedicated, you're going to rub people wrong and be controversial. They're afraid of me. Losing coaches don't have any enemies. When someone comes in and rattles things, there's insecurity. The NFL is a closed corporation. Once you're out of it. . . .
"I feel I could coach until my late 60s. Everywhere I go, people ask: 'Why aren't you coaching? The league needs you.' But it has to be in the right situation. Whether I coach again or not is not that important. But I won't be the loser. I'm very fortunate. I can do what I want to do. What's that? Well, uh, do things for my family, travel. I don't have to coach."
He must remind himself of that daily. He prowls the house at dawn, searching for projects to satisfy his enormous appetite for work. The job as CBS analyst, the charity work, the speaking engagements and radio shows are not enough.
One of the first things he did upon arriving in Philadelphia for the NFC championship game in January was run the route Sylvester Stallone ran in the movie "Rocky." In his mid-20s, George hammered on Albert Einstein's door and challenged him to checkers. Einstein told Allen it wasn't his game. Allen was an expert at checkers, but was irritated by the 12th piece. He wanted to deploy 11.
He still sees everything through the opposite end of the binoculars. When he traveled to Rome last summer, he visited the Colosseum twice, broke off a chunk of marble outside and brought it home. "The Christians and lions were the closest thing there was to football," he point out.
Civilian life often annoys him. It lacks the cadence and regimentation of a seven-on seven drill. "There's a big lack of discipline in this country since I've been out of football," he says. "A lack of discipline in companies, in department stores, in the airlines, in service stations. Nobody's supervising anybody. You see people sitting down, laughing and joking. Everyone is looking for an easier way. Don't rock the boat. Please the employes. Remain popular. It takes a lot of guys to go in a direction no one else is going in. I used to conduct an experiment when I was coaching. We used to open our switchboard at 8:30. I'd call around the league and the losers' switchboards never opened until 9:01 or 9:02. If you wanted to get ahold of them, you'd better call before five. People who go to lunch early or on time bother me."
Three owners fired him a total of four times as a head coach and a fourth owner sued him for breach of contract. George Halas, the Chicago owner, established in court that Allen had a binding contract with the Bears as personnel director and defensive coordinator when he left to be the Ram head coach in 1966. Then Halas dropped the suit. Allen was fired by late Ram owner Dan Reeves after the 1968 season and reinstated when the players rebelled. He was fired again after the 1970 season and says he had offers from five teams. He was fired by Redskin President Edward Bennett Williams after the 1977 season, or quit, depending on who tells the story. And he was fired after just two preseason games in 1978 by late Ram owner Carroll Rosenbloom.
The swiftness of the last ax may have doomed Allen. "People said: 'My God, he don't even make it into the season,'" says Joe Sullivan, Cardinal vice president of operations and a former Allen assistant.
"It was unprecedented, one of the most brutal firings in history, an atrocity to sports," says NFL scout Ed Buckley.
There are three predominant theories as to why Allen does not have a coaching job. Boiled to one word each: money, power, philosphy.
MONEY: "I knew he was a dedicated and super coach, but he was a profligate spender," Edward Bennett Williams says. 'He made some signings I thought were outrageous and I told him so. That reputation has probably been the single most difficult obstacle for him to overcome."
In his own defense, Allen points out that the net worth of the Redskins jumped dramatically in his seven years as coach.
POWER: "He has to have an owner who is totally occupied with other things and willing to turn over the franchise to him," Williams says. "I don't think anyone is willing to do that. He had a unique situation here. At the time (owner) Jack Kent Cooke and I were both busy with other things."
Allen denies that he must hold all the cards to return. "But I won't be a puppet for anyone," he vows.
PHILOSOPHY: George Allen is probably the quickest fix in football history. Some say his fear of losing, even for one season, is why he could never lay the necessary foundation for a Super Bowel winner. What happens after Allen's initial success is wildly argued. Many claim he raped the Redskins, trading their draft choices for big-play veterans and then skipping town when the old men started to creak. "If I'd have been there the last three years, we'd have been in the playoffs all three," bristles Allen. "We wouldn't be losing to teams like Dallas. Behind every older player I had a younger player."
Allen is the only coach who has ever thumbed his nose at the draft and won big. The success of the Steelers and Cowboys has since made the draft sacred. Allen claims he could go either way and win, according to the personnel he would inherit. But some now wonder if a coach who campaigns for 7-3 football games, off-tackle plunges and Ronald Reagan can flourish in a league that has let down its hair.
For now, there is the job as CBS analyst, which gives the coach a perfect costume to study films and light up the league's switchboards. Media criticism of his work has focused on his delivery, repetitiveness and use of obscure jargon. George the perfectionist is taking elocution lessons.
The plane has found a comfortable altitude and is blitzing over the checkerboard of mid-America. George Allen is to deliver a motivational speech to a Chicago convention of the country's top kitchenware salesmen that night. He has just emptied his plate, two glasses of milk and a bowl of ice cream and is making small talk with nearly every airline employe who walks by, asking about their jobs, their homes, their families.
He turns suddenly. "See what I mean by details?" he says after a steward has cleared his tray. "That young man had a buttom missing from his vest. When he leans down, the vest could go down on the food, like an accordion. Details are aggravating. But successful people look after them."
George Allen's daily contest with sunrise is beginning to tell. It seems as if he might be too tired to whip a roomful of well-fed salesmen to their feet. His weariness does not damage his perspective. When his limousine passes the Water Tower, a white building in Chicago that resembles a medieval castle, Allen says: "That building reminds me of my old Redskins team. It has stability, character. Every brick is like one of my players. See that sign that says 'Superior Street'? That reminds me of two things. Winning football games, and Lake Superior."
His speech this night is littered with cliches but surprisingly energetic. "It's nice to be with a group of winners," he begins. "I'll talk to you like I'm talking to my ball club."
The salesmen leave in a glow that bodes well for the spatula industry. And Allen marches off like a man who has been plugged into a socket. "Did you see the ones in the back who stood up (to clap)?" he asked. "Did you?"
A young salesman approaches, eyes shiny from the cocktails, and says he is from Washington. He rhapsodizes about the magic George Allen worked for a team and a community, and then his voice goes low. "Those are just memories," the saleman says. "I know it can never be done again."
The smile runs from George Allen's lips. The voice has a missionary ring. "It can be done again," he says. "It can! With different characters, on a different stage, in a different time."
The coach is looking somewhere over the man's left shoulder, at a vista only he can see. He sweeps his right arm, and nearly touches it.