George Allen has the third-highest winning percentage of any coach in NFL history, behind only John Madden and Vince Lombardi.
A superb motivator and defensive innovator, Allen was obsessed with winning football games – at the exclusion of all else. “Anytime you lose, you die a little. When you win, you’re reborn.” Allen didn’t drink, smoke, or cuss. His favorite beverage was milk and his favorite film was The Sound of Music. A two-time NFL Coach of the Year, Allen compiled a record of 116-47-5. His .712 winning percentage is better than that of Bill Belichick, Don Shula, Bill Parcells, or Tom Landry. Allen won more regular season games than Lombardi, Bill Walsh or Jimmy Johnson, who have a combined seven Super Bowl wins between them.
Allen, who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2002, never had a losing record in a dozen NFL seasons. In 1966, he took over the Los Angeles Rams, who had finished last in the Western Conference the previous year. Two seasons later, he was named NFL Coach of the Year after the Rams tied for the best record in the NFL and won the Coastal Division. Allen led the Rams to two division titles in five seasons, going 49-17-7 while amassing a .729 winning percentage.
King George landed in Washington, where he was named head coach and general manager of the Redskins. He inherited a downtrodden organization, as Washington had enjoyed only one winning season since 1955 – going 7-5-2 in 1969, Lombardi’s one and only year as head coach. Allen took the ‘Skins to the playoffs in his first season at the helm. In his second, he won the NFC Championship and took Washington to the first Super Bowl in franchise history, where they lost to Miami to cap off the Dolphins’ perfect 1972 season.
An early adopter of sophisticated play books, the detail-oriented Allen specialized in well-orchestrated drafts. While an assistant to George Halas in Chicago, Allen drafted future Bears Hall of Famers Mike Ditka, Gale Sayers and Dick Butkus. One of the first to recognize the importance of special teams play, Allen hired Dick Vermeil as the first full-time special teams coach in the NFL.
Allen possessed boundless energy and enthusiasm. He brought a rah-rah college mentality to pro football, bounding into the locker room after a victory to lead his team in “Three Cheers for the Redskins.” Allen would admonish his players, “A loser is dead and doesn’t even know it.” He preferred veterans over younger players. Preaching “the future is now,” Allen made 81 trades during his seven years in Washington. He brought several vets with him from L.A. leading the Washington football team to be known as the Ramskins.
Born April 29, 1918, in Nelson County, Virginia, George Herbert Allen grew up outside Detroit. After earning a master’s degree in physical education from Michigan in 1947, he got his first head coaching job at Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa. Following three seasons at there, Allen landed at Whittier College in southern California – alma mater of former U.S. President Richard Nixon. In 1957, after going 53-38-7 in ten college seasons, future Hall of Fame coach Sid Gilman lured Allen to assist him with the Los Angeles Rams. The 39-year-old Allen was dismissed after one season.
In 1958, Halas invited Allen to join the Bears. The driven young coach’s thoroughness and attention to detail so impressed Halas that Papa Bear promoted him to defensive coordinator three years later. Led by a defense that allowed the fewest points in the league, the Bears captured the 1963 NFL title. Allen became heir-apparent to succeed Papa Bear as Chicago’s head coach. After Halas was named NFL Coach of the Year in 1965, Allen became impatient, and looked elsewhere to fulfill his head-coaching ambitions.
Allen signed with the Rams to replace Harland Svare. This angered Halas, who claimed Allen’s deal was a breach of his Bears contract. Halas won in court, but immediately allowed Allen to leave, saying he only wanted to make a point about the validity of a contract.
The single-minded Allen, who popularized the coaching trend of 16-hour [or longer] work days, wore out his welcome everywhere he went. His intensity was intolerable. After going 10-3-1 with the Rams in 1968, Rams owner Dan Reeves fired Allen. Fans and players were outraged, and 38 members of the Rams 40-man roster, including standouts Deacon Jones, Merlin Olsen and Roman Gabriel, told the press they would seek a trade or retire if Allen were not reinstated. Reeves acquiesced, and signed Allen to a two-year contract. The Rams went 20-7-1 in the next two seasons, yet Reeves fired Allen for a second time following the 1970 campaign.
Allen was greeted warmly in D.C, where Redskin fans were hopeful King George could revitalize the lowly Redskins. He assembled a group of veterans, dubbed The Over the Hill Gang, telling them, “Forty men together cannot lose.” The fiery coach sparked the Cowboys – Redskins rivalry, one of the best in pro football history. Under Allen, Washington bettered Dallas to win the NFC East in 1972, and finished second to the Cowboys five times in eight years. Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke, who had famously said he’d given the coach “an unlimited budget and he exceeded it,” fired Allen in 1977, after failing to reach the playoffs for the second time in three seasons.
Following a five-year stint in the CBS broadcast booth, Allen became part owner, chairman, head coach and general manager of the upstart Chicago Blitz of the fledgling United States Football League in 1983. The Blitz became the Arizona Wranglers before folding midway through the league’s second season. A fitness fanatic, Allen also served as Chairman of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports under Ronald Reagan from 1981 to 1988.
George Allen returned to college coaching in 1990, accepting a one-year offer to coach at Long Beach State. With a small budget and little tradition, the 49ers had gone 11-24 in the three years prior to Allen’s arrival. Preaching discipline and fundamentals, the man who had a knack for making winners out of losing teams led the Niners to a 6-5 record. Following a season-ending victory over UNLV on November 11, LBSU players dumped a Gatorade bucket filled with ice water on their coach. With temperatures in the low 50s with a biting wind, Allen stayed on the field talking with reporters after the game. He remained in his drenched clothing for the four-hour bus ride back to Long Beach. Allen did not feel well after, and died of heart arrhythmia six weeks later at his home in Palos Verdes, California. He was 72.
On this date in 1971, George Allen brought his undefeated Washington Redskins into Municipal Stadium in Kansas City in a Week 6 matchup against the Chiefs. It was Allen’s first year in Washington. The Redskins entered the fourth quarter leading 20-13, until Chiefs quarterback Len Dawson calmly dissected the Over the Hill Gang defense. Lenny the Cool found Elmo Wright and Otis Taylor with TD strikes to give Kansas City a 27-20 come-from-behind victory. Washington would finish 9-4-1, its second winning season since 1955, before falling to the San Francisco 49ers in the Divisional Playoffs. Allen was named 1971 Coach of the Year.