The Rams were never quite sure what to make of George Allen. They weren't alone in that department, but the Rams were different from most in that they actually decided to hire him.
Four hirings, four firings. The Rams got pretty good at it, pretty creative. They hired him to fire him--once as an assistant, three times as a head coach, twice by Dan Reeves, once by Carroll Rosenbloom, twice after winning seasons, once after two exhibition games.
The Rams fired Allen after going to court to get him. Allen was a prized assistant for George Halas' Chicago Bears in the mid-1960s, and when the Rams came calling for a replacement for Harland Svare in 1966, Halas refused to release Allen from his contract. So the Rams and the Bears played this one out in the trenches--attorney warfare--and in the end, L.A. Law prevailed.
From that point on, it was a classic case of We've Got Him . . . What Have We Done? Reeves, for one, loved the results, but couldn't stand the methodology. What price victory? The Rams went from 4-10 in Svare's last season to 8-6 in Allen's first to 11-1-2 and a Coastal Division championship the next. They also wound up a bunch of old men without any draft choices, led with lawless abandon by this quirky Captain Queeg who regarded anything that stood in the way of winning the enemy--rules, regulations, budgets, the ownership.
The Future Is Now will stand as Allen's epitaph, but with the Rams, and later the Redskins, the subtitle was always, The Future Is For Someone Else To Clean Up. Draft choices were Allen's play money and by swapping these pieces of paper--these promissory notes that promised nothing, really--for real-life flesh-and-blood veterans of NFL battle, Allen figured he was hoodwinking the system. Rookies make rookie mistakes, Allen sneered. Let someone else pay for their education, we'll trade for them later.
Allen's Ram teams were composed of old friends, and the older they became, the friendlier they got. No wonder. Allen prolonged their careers and made them feel useful long after rebuilding teams had cast them aside.
Allen's players loved Allen and when Reeves tried to fire the coach after a 10-3-1 season in 1968, the players revolted. Two weeks later, Reeves recanted and Allen was rehired. The truce lasted two more years--the Rams went 11-3 and 9-4-1--before Reeves decided Lombardi was wrong, winning wasn't everything, and fired Allen again, this time making it stick.
Allen's record under Reeves was 49-17-4. Reeves didn't apologize. He said losing with Svare was more fun than winning with Allen. Seven years later, another Ram owner, Rosenbloom, would justify the dismissal of another coach by saying winning with Chuck Knox was more boring than losing with almost anybody else.
Ram owners, they just want to have fun.
Curiously, Rosenbloom chose Allen to succeed Knox after the 1977 season.
Even more curiously, Rosenbloom fired Allen two games into the 1978 preseason. The future didn't even make it to now.
Rosenbloom fired Allen amid reports of bizarre behavior that, had he known better, was nothing more than customary George Allen behavior. Allen, for instance, chewed out players for failing to properly clap chalkboard erasers and could be distracted from a blocking drill by the sight of crumpled paper cups strewn across the practice field.
Cleanliness was next to godliness, or at least the NFC championship game, Allen believed. If everything has its place and everyone does his job, everyone wins. Allen once reprimanded a waiter who brought him only half of his breakfast order--oatmeal without raisins. "We're out of raisins," the waiter explained. "Well, then," Allen grumbled, "you need a new raisin man."
With Rosenbloom, however, cleanliness was next to the loony bin. He quickly jettisoned Allen in favor of one of his assistants, Ray Malavasi, a plodding thinker who could understand the concept of plain oatmeal.
So, since 1977, three men have served as head coach of the Rams--Allen, Malavasi and John Robinson. Today, only Robinson is still with us. What that says about the job, I'm not sure we want to know.
Allen's tenure will be remembered for some of the highest lights the Rams have ever seen.
Tony Guillory's blocked punt against the Packers in 1967.
The Fearsome Foursome.
The 14 consecutive victories over 1967 and 1968, then a league record.
The 11 consecutive victories that opened 1969.
Dick Bass, Jack Snow, Jack Pardee, Eddie Meador.
Roman Gabriel's MVP season.
It also had its dark side, which only had to figure. Allen's 1969 Rams closed out the season with four consecutive defeats, including a 23-20 playoff loss in Minnesota that set in motion the two decades of Ram postseason despair that were to follow.