Though he wore no chauffeur's cap, Ben Randolph sat behind the wheel of a black Mercury sedan last Friday morning and headed toward Palos Verdes Estates to pick up the Cal State Long Beach football coach.
Driving George Allen is one of Randolph's duties as a graduate assistant.
Randolph, 36, who wore a gray 49er T-shirt, talked about Allen as he crossed a bridge near Terminal Island. "He's a celebrity, but he's still down to earth. He talks about football, life, everything. It's like driving your father around."
An amiable, thick-necked man who played defensive back for Cal State Long Beach in the mid-1970s, Randolph is Allen's right-hand man. He makes the 30- to 45-minute drive to Palos Verdes Estates twice a day, runs errands, takes telephone calls, helps with letters and makes sure the coach has his cap and whistle when he goes out to the practice field.
"It's a lot of hours, and a lot of times I'm tired, but it's all worth it," said Randolph, who lives near the campus. "How many people get to work with a legend?"
For most of the 1980s, Randolph was an assistant coach at Rubidoux High School in Riverside. He returned to Long Beach a year ago, intent on acquiring a master's degree and becoming a college coach. This season, Allen persuaded Randolph to be an administrative assistant.
"I like the job and I've learned a lot from him," said Randolph, who gets his schooling free (he takes 12 units) and is paid about $100 a month. "As long as it's dealing with football, I'm happy."
As he drove on, Randolph said that Allen, when he gets into the car at night, will holler about what went wrong during a long day of rebuilding the football program. But, he said, the coach's ire is rarely directed at him.
"When I do something wrong, he lectures me, but I don't take it personally because I know he's trying to make me a better person," Randolph said. "The times you'd think he'd yell at you, he doesn't."
One of those times occurred last week when Randolph ran out of gasoline on the 405 Freeway in Carson about 9:30 p.m. "Ben, this never happened to me in my life," Allen told his driver as they coasted down an off-ramp. Allen got out and flagged down a teen-ager who took Randolph to a gas station.
When Randolph returned with a dollar's worth he had bought with money the coach had given him, Allen asked, "Cripe's sake, are we going to be able to get started on that?"
"Well, coach," Randolph replied, "he charged me $4 for the can and I only had $5."
At 8 a.m. last Friday, when Randolph pulled up to Allen's house--in a neighborhood of spectacular coastline views--Allen was out jogging. Fifteen minutes later, the coach returned with flowers for his wife, Etty. "I'll be right out," he said.
As pool men came and went, Randolph sat in the car and waited. He would have preferred to take a nap, but instead worked on what might eventually be part of his master's thesis--the pros and cons of being a graduate assistant.
"I don't (always) have time to go to class," he said. "You're constantly doing something for him all day. He can think of 10,000 things to do. But it's my job."
A little past 8:30, Allen came out. Etty, in her robe, followed and kissed him goodby. He got in the front seat and, as Randolph headed toward the 405, began leafing through his scouting report for the next day's game against Boise State.
"I don't like to drive, I like to work," Allen said. "I'm not very good at directions, I get lost when I'm driving."
Allen has long been accustomed to the smoothness of luxury sedans--he has had a driver since 1966, his first season as coach of the Rams. A car and driver were part of his contract when he coached the Washington Redskins, and at Cal State Long Beach, money for his commuting expenses are provided by the university foundation.
"It isn't being luxurious, it's not a status thing," Allen said, dialing his office number on the car phone. "It's a way to help us win."
Allen looked over at Randolph and said, "I've helped so many guys like this. I call 'em interns. If he works hard and is dedicated, he has a future in administration."
And, Allen added as Randolph pulled into the campus, with plenty of gasoline to spare, "He's a safe driver."
Poly High Game Comes Home
Wally Johnson, 53, an exuberant backer of Poly High School who naturally was dressed in gold, ushered a visitor last Friday afternoon to the campus stadium, where Poly would play a football game for the first time since the late 1940s.
"This is great for the school, the community and the kids," Johnson said as the Jackrabbits and Verbum Dei warmed up. "We really need this."