George Allen: The One of a Kind Character and Football Innovator

Posted by Alex Kirby on

Today I wanted to share a story of a guy who is one of the most underrated coaches in NFL History, but who was both a unique character and someone who changed the game permanently.

If you love football history, you'll love George Allen. 

Allen was a coach who was obsessed with football down to the tiniest detail, but still managed to connect with his players on a deep level everywhere he went.

On at least one occasion, one of Allen's assistant coaches used the bathroom after him, only to find plays he had diagrammed on the toilet paper roll.

In another famous story, during a family vacation to the Bahamas, his family found him with a group of locals timing them in the 40 yard dash.

He even had one man flown back to the United States for an official tryout.

Before "Spygate", there was George Allen

The reason many people believed Allen was so paranoid about opponents spying on him, is because he had people on the payroll spying on everyone else.

Frank Luksa wrote about this in a great 2007 article for ESPN:

"Washington Week in Dallas became a lockdown from every angle. For example, the top floors of a motel located behind the north end zone overlooked the Dallas practice field during the early 1970s. To prevent an Allen confederate from peeping, the Cowboys rented every room with a view and kept them vacant for a week in advance of Allen's coming to town."

Allen was known for keeping extremely long hours, and that was the way he wanted it.

In LA and Washington, he always made sure to leave one of his cars at the team facility overnight, and left his office light on at all times in case other teams were spying on him.

Allen joins the Rams

In 1957, Allen joined the LA Rams under Sid Gillman, but was let go after just one season when he and Gillman couldn't get along.

(This would become a recurring theme between Allen and his bosses in the NFL)

The following year Allen was hired as an assistant in Chicago by George Halas, and in 1963, with George Allen coordinating the defense, the Bears allowed just 144 points all season and won the NFL Championship.

In 1966, Allen left Chicago to become the head coach of the LA Rams.

The Rams had only had one winning season in the past decade, and had finished 4-10 the season before.

In his first season, Allen went 8-6, then 11-1-2 in 1967, winning Coach of the Year.

Allen was beloved by his players, but he never seemed to be able to get along with management.

In 1968, when the Rams finished 2nd in their division at 10-3-1, it gave owner Dan Reeves the excuse he needed to fire him.

George Allen LA Rams

What happened next caught everyone by surprise...

38 of the 40 players on the Rams roster announced that they'd either retire or demand a trade if Allen was not immediately brought back.

The owner relented and Allen was brought back on a 2-year contract.

The Rams made it all the way to the NFC Championship the next season.

Allen moves to the East Coast

After another two seasons in LA and no championships, Allen's contract was not renewed after the 1970 season and he was hired as the new head coach of the Redskins.

He immediately traded for 7 of his former Ram players and started to remake the roster the way he wanted.

In his first season as Redskins coach, he took the franchise to the postseason for the first time since 1945.

During that season, Washington knocked out Allen's former Rams team from playoff contention and clinched a playoff birth for the Redskins.

In his second season, Allen took Washington all the way to the Super Bowl, only to run into one of the all-time great NFL teams, the undefeated 1972 Dolphins.

Despite his skill in the draft, Allen preferred to work with veterans and often traded away most of his team's draft picks for proven pros.

From 1971 to 1977, the Redskins only picked twice before the 6th round of the draft, and never in the first round.

A Great Scout & Football Innovator

Allen was a great judge of talent. 

During his time with the Bears, he was put in charge of the college draft, and was responsible for drafting Mike Ditka, Gale Sayers, and Dick Butkus.

George Allen George Halas

Rams Hall of Fame defensive end Deacon Jones credited Allen with a large part of his success. 

Jones said that Allen didn't weigh him down with a lot of useless information, and instead just let him go play and use his natural talent to let loose on opponents.

Allen was known as an innovator, especially when it came to substitutions and situational football. 

He was one of the first coaches to regularly use nickel and dime personnel, as well as double tight end formations.

Allen was also one of the earliest coaches to place a huge emphasis on special teams, becoming only the second coach to hire a full-time special teams coordinator.

(The name of that special teams coordinator? Dick Vermeil)

On one occasion, Allen brought back one of his retired players for a game against Dallas, just to block a punt.

Bill Malinchak had been working as a stockbroker for 2 years, but came back to play for just one game, and actually did block a punt in a win over Dallas.

The Two Most Popular Men in Washington

During his time in D.C., Allen struck up a friendship with Richard Nixon, who had a big love for football.

Observers joked at the time that the two were very alike, including in the way they dealt with the media.

On more than one occasion, Nixon would come to watch practice.

Nixon once suggested a play call in a playoff game against San Francisco. It was a reverse that lost 35 yards, and Washington lost the game.

George Allen Richard Nixon

Nixon also offered to host a White House dinner in honor of Allen, but Allen declined because it was in the middle of the football season.

In 1977 after a 9-5 season, Allen was unable to come to an agreement with the team on a new contract. 

Allen says goodbye to the NFL

He was hired by the new Rams owner, Carroll Rosenbloom, to come back to LA. 

However after a rough early pre-season, Allen was fired after just two exhibition games.

Allen would never be an NFL head coach again, believing (with some justification) that he had been unfairly blackballed by league owners.

He spent two seasons in the USFL, one with Chicago, the other with Arizona (both times having double-digit win seasons).

George Allen's Final Season

Allen never could stay retired, and in 1990, he coached one final season, this time at Cal State University, Long Beach.

The team started 0-3 and was thought to be a lost cause, but Allen rallied the team to a 6-5 finish after going 11-24 the last 3 seasons.

Allen retired shortly after the season for a final time. 

He passed away on New Years Eve of 1990, watching a college bowl game in his home.

Allen was inducted posthumously into Canton in 2002.

He never finished with a losing record at any team, college, NFL, or USFL.

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