The Future Is Now: George Allen, Pro Football's Most Controversial Coach
William Gildea & Kenneth Turan (1972)
Redskins owner Edward Bennett Williams hired George Allen in 1971 to resuscitate the Washington franchise, which had not made the postseason since 1945.
Into the sports desert stepped Allen, who vowed to win now by attacking the Redskins' most urgent problem, their porous defense, which ranked last in its conference against the rush the year before and twelfth out of thirteen teams in overall performance.
"I intend to concentrate on defense where I will spend a majority of my time," Allen said in his first meeting with the Washington press. "Our whole thinking is to get the defense riled up. That will be my main goal. If there's the opportunity to get a solid football player, we'll trade." Whatever had to be done - obtaining players, increasing the number of coaches and scouts, buying land and building the training complex - Allen wanted to do it in one swoop and knew how to.
L-R: Edward Bennett Williams, George Allen
"I'm impatient," he reflected, after the 1971 season. "I don't want to have to say we're going to win next year or the next year. Everything we do is designed to help us win now. I believe in the first year you take over a job, whether it's insurance or banking or whatever, you have to make the changes that are necessary. I think if you wait a year and don't make the changes you lose something with your employees in the organization." ...
Holding the traditional NFL theory that a winning team is built painstakingly through the college draft, many Washington fans grew alarmed at Allen's references to trading, charging that he would ruin the long-range future of the team. A few went so far as to sell their season tickets to friends.
Bending enough to concede that Allen's preference for tested players might not be such a radical idea, Oakland's moving force Al Davis allowed, "With twenty-six teams selecting, it may be impossible to build a champion through the draft." But not even such a forward thinker as Davis could feel comfortable with the Allen technique in its purest form, which is not simply trading draft choices but all the draft choices. "I don't think," Davis added, "you have to go as far as he does."
On the draft day shortly after he took over the Redskins, the day Allen proved to Washington he was a shaker and trader the likes of which had not been seen, the Allen philosophy was manifested by his determination to trade more draft choices still. Having already unloaded seven that day, Allen, the story goes, sought desperately to deal the Redskins' second-round pick, which somehow still remained in his possession.
As the club's turn to choose came up in the New York meeting room, Allen frantically worked the phones in the Redskins office trying to make a deal. At the last minute, St. Louis offered a receiver, Dave Williams, but former Cardinal coach Charley Winner, now an Allen aide, talked Allen out of it.
Desperate for guidance with the time allotted to draft a collegian expired, the Redskins representative in New York, unable to raise anyone on the open line to Washington, blurted, "Washington takes Cotton Speyrer." Just then Allen picked up the phone to inquire what had happened. Told that Cotton Speyrer, the receiver from Texas, belonged to the Redskins, a frustrated Allen sputtered, "Look, I don't want Sprayer, Spryer, or whatever his name is."
But Allen had him just the same, a real, live draft choice, and he made the best of it. Midway through training camp, he did what came naturally, trading him to Baltimore in a deal for a veteran receiver, Roy Jefferson.
"The theory that I don't like draft choices is incorrect," Allen explained after his first Washington season. "We like certain draft choices, like firsts. I'm interested in firsts.
"The building procedure can work both ways. When I was an assistant with the Bears and when I was in Los Angeles, both times, we traded for draft choices and had three first-round picks in one year. We got Dick Butkus, Gale Sayers, and Steve DeLong with the Bears and Bob Klein, Larry Smith, and Jim Seymour for the Rams."