A Football Life
by Michael Richman
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Pub Date 01 Nov 2023 | Archive Date 31 Oct 2023
In George Allen: A Football Life, Mike Richman captures the life and accomplishments of one of the most successful NFL coaches of all time and one of the greatest innovators in the game. A player’s coach, Allen was a tremendous motivator and game strategist, as well as a defensive mastermind, and is credited with making special teams a critical focus in an era in which they were an afterthought. He had a keen eye for talent and pulled off masterful trades, often for veteran players who were viewed to be past their prime, who then had great seasons and made his teams much better.
In addition to his coaching feats, Allen had an idiosyncratic and controversial personality. His life revolved around football 24-7. One of his quirks was to minimize chewing time by consuming soft foods, giving himself more time to prepare for games and study opponents. He lived and breathed football; he compared losing to death. Allen had contentious relationships with the owners of the two NFL teams for which he was the head coach, the Washington Redskins and Los Angeles Rams. Richman explores why he was fired by those teams and whether he was blackballed from coaching again in the NFL.
Based on detailed research and interviews with family, former players, and coaches, George Allen is the definitive biography of the football coach who lived to win, loved a good challenge, and left a lasting legacy on pro football history.
“Every chapter reveals intriguing, motivational stories about the spirit of the innovative maverick George Allen. Mike Richman provides fresh, inspirational perspectives giving readers meaningful life lessons and understanding of why for indefatigably driven George Allen—the future is always now!”—George Felix Allen, son of coach George Allen and former governor of Virginia and U.S. senator
“In his exhaustive biography, Mike Richman captures the life of the ultimate Cold War coach from football’s golden age, George Allen. This is the story of a man both consumed and capable, a big winner who could only be defeated by his own flaws.”—Jack Gilden, author of Collision of Wills: Johnny Unitas, Don Shula, and the Rise of the Modern NFL
“We set out to do a thirty-minute documentary on George Allen. We realized thirty minutes wasn’t enough, so we expanded it to an hour. But you need a book to tell Allen’s story. Mike Richman has written a great one.”—Ray Didinger, senior producer, NFL Films
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For a while in the late 1960s and early 1970s, George Allen might have been the most interesting man in the National Football League.
The story about why that's true probably is justification for Mike Richmond to write this full-fledged, detailed biography, naturally called "George Allen."
Our subject had a great run in the football spotlight. Allen first became known as the brains behind the Chicago Bears' defense on their 1963 NFL championship team. After a couple of more years in that role, he was offered the job of head coach of the Los Angeles Rams - and Bears' owner/coach George Halas wouldn't let him out of his contract to advance professionally. That wouldn't happen today, but Halas won the lawsuit ... and promptly released him from the deal. Allen wound up in Los Angeles after all, although the relationship between the two men was never the same.
The Rams quickly turned around their fortunes under Allen, becoming a very good team throughout the rest of the 1960s. They were 32-7-3 in the final three years of the decade. But he never did get the Rams into the Super Bowl, and he was an odd mix with Los Angeles owner Dan Reeves. They finally parted company after the 1970 season.
Then Allen immediately landed with another team had enjoyed little recent success, the Washington Redskins. It was there where he established his reputation as an unusual operator - one who was unafraid to do what ever it took to win, even if meant trading the same draft choice twice or spending the owners' money freely. Allen traded draft choices for veterans as fast as he could to win immediately, and it worked. The Redskins reached the Super Bowl in second year in Washington. It's indicative of how good people thought Washington was that season that the team was favored in the Super Bowl against Miami, which had won all of its games in 1972-73. The Dolphins made it a perfect season by beating the Redskins, who might have run out of gas after two emotional playoff wins.
Allen stayed in Washington through 1977, but by the end he was butting heads with ownership frequently by then. He jumped back to Los Angeles to coach the Rams in 1978, but didn't even last the preseason there. Somewhat surprisingly, George never coached in the NFL again. Allen never had a losing season in 12 tries in the NFL, and is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Richmond highlights those years, of course, but the origins and endings are interesting too. Allen worked his way up the coaching ladder in the usual way, taking small steps forward and then moving to the next job before reaching the top of his profession. On the downside, he did some of that in reverse, coaching a USFL team and then a bottom-feeder of a Division I college football team at Long Beach State (he even had a winning record there).
The Allen family seems to have fully cooperated with this book's research, supplying some helpful details of Allen's life - particularly off the field. A number of other people chime in with quotes from fresh interviews or old stories. It's all done rather nicely.
The resulting book is on the massive side. Including notes at the end of the book, this checks in at more than 600 pages. Without the notes, it still approaches 500. That's a lot of material about someone who hasn't been around for more than 30 years. Certainly the reader will find himself wondering if some of those pages could have been edited out.
Those who are old enough to remember and follow the veteran coach certainly will find plenty to enjoy in "George Allen." The guess here, though, is that this may be a little slow-going for the rest of the football audience.