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49ers Ponder Life Without George Allen : Football: Coach's death stuns university and supporters, but officials promise a continued commitment to the program.

January 03, 1991|DICK WAGNER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A few hours after the death Monday of 72-year-old Cal State Long Beach football Coach George Allen, university President Curtis L. McCray said the school plans "to keep the winning tradition that the coach had begun to establish."

That may not be easy.

"The future is now," Allen had said throughout his brief Long Beach tenure, but now it is hard to tell where the future lies.

"What do we do, see if Tom Landry's interested?" said Long Beach realtor and ex-Cal State Long Beach player Jeff Severson, referring half-jokingly to the former Dallas Cowboys coach.

"Where can we find a guy with the magnetism and networking (Allen) had? We need a guy with George's enthusiasm and guts to battle the red tape of the state college system and overcome it. It will have to be a dynamic person who's not afraid of the problems."

Allen overcame a myriad of problems and worries to lead the 49ers to a winning season last fall, its first in four years. In his cap with LB stitched on it, he kept popping up nationally in magazine and television profiles, bringing the school more publicity than it had dreamed possible.

"It's going to be fascinating around here as long as he stays," attorney Don Dyer, a longtime money raiser for 49er athletics, had said last May at a Spruce Goose dinner that honored Allen and raised more than $100,000 for the football program.

Allen, buoyed by what he called his most gratifying year, had planned to stay.

But Monday, after complaining of not feeling well because of a cold, the man who was devoted to physical fitness died at his Palos Verdes Estates home.

Athletic director Corey Johnson, who hired Allen, said he would not begin considering a successor until next week. But like McCray, he indicated that the commitment to football would remain strong.

"The university has basked in (Allen's) brilliant light, and we will not let that flame die," Johnson said.

Before Allen's surprising arrival a little more than a year ago, football had been languishing at Cal State Long Beach--two winning seasons in seven years. The sport was nearly dropped four years ago because of financial troubles.

Allen, who became famous as an NFL coach with the Rams and the Washington Redskins, made impressive progress in rebuilding the Long Beach program. He raised money, improved facilities, got new uniforms and gave the players so much confidence and inspiration that some of them said they felt like pros.

"He dreamed incredible dreams and believed anything was possible," McCray said.

Allen's mystique was largely responsible for home attendance increasing by about 2,000 fans a game, but the average still was only 4,679.

And overlooked in the euphoria of a 6-5 record was that all six victories were at home against weak or mediocre opponents. In the New York Times computer rankings, Long Beach finished 84th out of 106 Division I-A teams.

"(Allen) would have had some real momentum for next year," Severson said. "Everybody was talking 49er football. Not everybody came to the games, but momentum was growing. I hope Corey Johnson has the foresight to keep the momentum going and fulfill what George was trying to do."

Ken Visser, who was recently named head coach at Whittier College after 12 years as a 49er assistant, said Tuesday that he was not sure what Cal State Long Beach will do in regard to hiring a new coach.

"They needed someone with notoriety to get it (the football program) back on its feet," Visser said, "and they may try to get somebody like that again, although that would be hard to do. Or they might go within the staff or open it up."

Visser said he doesn't expect 49er football to have an overnight relapse.

"It won't be the same as when Coach Allen was there," he said. "But I think there will be some residual effects. People will wonder now how Long Beach State is doing because that's where George Allen coached. It will be on people's minds a little more. And they've got a strong team returning."

Among the players who will be back next season are quarterback Todd Studer and receivers Mark Seay and Jeff Exum, all of whom were productive last fall.

Two members of the current 49er staff would appear to be likely candidates to succeed Allen: Harvey Hyde, who was the head coach at Nevada Las Vegas from 1982-'85, and Pete Kettela, who in 1983 was coach of Edmonton in the Canadian Football League.

"There shouldn't be any discussion on it now; I'm still in shock," Hyde said Tuesday.

Kettela, who had worked with Allen in 1984 with Arizona of the USFL, said: "I was probably as close to him as anyone. I was here to help him do the job."

Public Memorial Service Set Friday

A public memorial service for Cal State Long Beach football Coach George Allen, who died Monday, will be at 2:05 p.m. Friday at Rolling Hills Covenant Church, 2222 Palos Verdes Drive North. The service will start at 2:05 p.m. because NFL games began at five minutes after the hour when Allen was an NFL coach, said Allen's son, Bruce.

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