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Back when George Allen was head coach and general manager of Washington’s favorite pro football team from 1971-78, he was known among the writers covering his team, present company included, as “Nixon with a whistle.”
Mistrusted the media.
Played by his own rules, including trading draft choices he never had to begin with.
Now fast forward more than 40 years later, and much of the above could also be said for his youngest son, Bruce Allen, who last week was given an extremely unpopular vote of confidence by team owner Daniel Snyder. He’ll remain on as team president, running both the business side and football operations, despite Washington’s dismal record on his watch, not to mention a dwindling and increasingly angry and vocal fan base.
And so, Snyder’s reign of error, which is approaching its 20th anniversary, goes on and on, with no end in sight.
Bruce Allen had been moved to a football-only role last year when Snyder—in what appeared to be one of the best moves he’s made in years—brought in highly-regarded former NFL executive Brian Lafemina to run the business end.
Of course, that became too good to be true when, eight months later, arguably the worst owner in professional sports confirmed that he is worthy of that title when he fired Lafemina the day after Christmas.
Snyder hired Allen in 2009 and the long-time football executive served as general manager under Coach Mike Shanahan’s disastrous tenure. It’s been further downhill ever since. He took over all aspects of the franchise after Shanahan left following the 2013 season. On Allen’s nine-season watch, the ‘Skins have made the playoffs twice, losing both first-round games, and have a 59-84-1 record.
I’ve known Bruce Allen since he was a student at Langley High School and followed his path to his current role over the years. He started off as a player agent, then had stints working in Oakland for the late Raiders owner, Al Davis—perhaps an even more devious football character than George Allen—and at Tampa Bay, where he was the Bucs general manager for five years.
The record there was 38-42, with only two playoff appearances, and when the team lost its last four games in 2008, both he and head coach Jon Gruden were fired.
You might think that resume, Allen would not exactly have been a hot commodity around the NFL. But there was Fan Boy Danny Snyder, who grew up watching those George Allen teams in the ‘70s, signing up his son to replace Vinny Cerrato, a totally ineffective, inept yes-man GM who may have been even more unpopular than Allen is now.
What a difference from the days when the great Bobby Beathard had the job and provided Joe Gibbs most of the players who eventually made four Super Bowl appearances and won three. Beathard, now in the Hall of Fame, was everything Bruce Allen is not—an incredibly astute judge of talent, an affable, totally accessible executive beloved by both his staff, the media, and the fans following his football team.
When Beathard left for San Diego, he was replaced by Charlie Casserly, who had originally been hired by George Allen as an unpaid intern in the early ‘70s. Casserly also was quietly competent, an excellent talent evaluator, and deserves nearly as much credit as Beathard for that last Super Bowl title in 1992.
So what did Snyder do almost immediately? After his first year as owner, he kept Coach Norv Turner, and fired Casserly, though a few years later the owner admitted to Casserly he probably canned the wrong guy.
And now, he’s also retained the wrong guy, Bruce Allen, a man The Washington Post pointed out recently has gone close to 600 days without even holding a news conference to explain all manner of bizarre moves by the Franchise That Still Can’t Shoot Straight.
And speaking of bizarre moves, Bruce Allen’s father had some doozies as well, one of them involving young Bruce, then a fine punter at the University of Richmond. One Friday late in the 1977 season, George Allen announced that for the first time ever, he’d be skipping a Saturday walk-through practice before a Sunday game.
He told reporters he’d never seen Bruce play a college football game, and he planned to travel down to Richmond that Saturday to watch his boy in action.
Instead, a year later I learned that George had taken a red-eye flight that Friday night from Dulles International Airport to Los Angeles, where he secretly met with then Rams owner Carroll Rosenbloom about coaching his team in 1978. He eventually took the job, was fired by Rosenbloom in training camp even before the start of the ’78 regular season, and never coached in the NFL again.
Nixon, without a whistle.
Leonard Shapiro retired in 2011 after 41 years as a sports reporter, editor, and columnist at The Washington Post.
Photo by Keith Allison on Flickr, used under the Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0 license.