George Allen, the new football coach at Cal State Long Beach, stood at the dais in a conference room of the Long Beach Airport Marriott Hotel, a brown school cap covering shocks of black hair, a 49er jersey in his hand.
He grinned at the media and waved to friends and former players who had come Tuesday to wish him well in a job that he called "the toughest in America"--rebuilding a university football program that was on the verge of extinction three years ago.
But University President Curtis McCray and Athletic Director Corey Johnson made it clear that they were hiring the highly successful former National Football League coach to do more than win games. They also expect the 71-year-old physical fitness fanatic to give the university a significant financial boost.
"This wasn't purely a football hire," McCray said later during an interview. "Football is the focus, but I expect (Allen) to do more."
As part of his three-year, $100,000-a-year deal, Allen has pledged help in raising funds for the school's athletic foundation, which will pay $34,000 of his salary.
"He has close contacts," McCray said. "We think he can draw the attention and resources we need."
By using his prestige and personal charisma to encourage major donors to contribute "private endowments" to the university, McCray said, Allen should be able to raise at least $1 million by the end of his second football season. "I expect that he and I will be on the road together," McCray said.
Allen's hiring seemed to be in line with McCray's goal--announced when he took office two years ago--of making non-academic campus programs financially self-sustaining.
Of course, Allen's reputation as a winner also was a factor in the decision. The 49ers were 11-24 in the past three years, which prompted the resignation of Coach Larry Reisbig in November. The team was beaten 52-0 by Big West Conference champion Fresno State, 63-10 by Hawaii and 52-10 by Oregon.
In 12 seasons in the NFL as coach of the Los Angeles Rams and the Washington Redskins, Allen had a record of 120-47-5, the third best winning percentage in league history. He rebuilt both teams quickly. The Ram franchise was 51-87-5 before him, 49-17-4 in five seasons with him. He was voted NFL Coach of the Year four times. He led the 1972 Redskins to the Super Bowl.
Allen, wearing his NFC championship ring from that Super Bowl team, admitted Tuesday that he will need all of those skills to help the 49ers. He said he took the job because it was a challenge and because it was close to his Palos Verdes Estates home. He said he would help raise money to build an on-campus football stadium, solicit more support from alumni and get students on campus more enthused about football.
Long Beach shares antiquated Veterans Stadium in northeast Long Beach with Long Beach City College and local high schools, which have preference on dates and times for its use.
Johnson said he intends to raise the budget of the campus sports information director to handle the increased media attention the school expects to receive with Allen as its coach.
The university's football program has held a tenuous spot in the community since 1986 when former University President Stephen Horn incurred the wrath of boosters by attempting to dismantle it. After drawing severe criticism, Horn changed his mind and challenged the residents of Long Beach to raise $300,000 or lose a football team. A fund-raising drive was successful. The money was raised. Since then, Horn has consistently described himself as a strong supporter of athletic programs.
The money was raised, but the program's morale sank. Game attendance dwindled to an average of 2,650 fans for four home games this season.
Horn, who is now a member of the faculty, praised Allen's selection. "I'm simply delighted," he said. "Anyone with (Allen's) background and personality will have a good leg up on funding. A vibrant athletic program obviously helps the university and the community.
"I think it's an excellent move. (Allen's) reputation and credibility will provide the excitement that people want to see."
Allen's hiring comes at a time when McCray has made cuts elsewhere on campus, particularly at campus radio station KLON and in the arts. That didn't, however, seem to rankle Rick Lewis, KLON's general manager, who expressed support for Allen's hiring on the grounds that it will help make football self-sustaining and thus help everyone on campus.
"I suspect it will make more people attend," said Lewis, whose radio station suffered a 9% cut in its budget last year. "There's no jealousy. In general I think it's good to make a program as good as you can make it."
Allen left many of the details of his contract to others and, by his own admission, did not research the position as thoroughly as he would have liked to. For instance: