Asked recently if he ever got his mind off football for more than a few consecutive minutes, Allen thought for a while and replied without any real conviction, "Yes, when my oldest son and I took a trip to Alaska this spring and flew into an area that only about 12 people a year ever see."
Last season, after the Rams had won their 10th consecutive game by beating Dallas 24-23—a victory that virtually assured them of the Coastal Division title—Allen explained how he was going to celebrate. "I'm going home and have dinner with my family tonight," he said. It turned out he had not done so since July, and this was late November.
Preoccupation with football hardly sets Allen apart from other coaches, however. Preoccupation with detail does. Like most coaches, Allen concludes each practice session with wind sprints. The Rams' sprints are called "striders" because Allen keeps yelling "Don't sprint! Glide! Stride!" He has figured out that the choppy sprinting gait causes pulled muscles. Further, unlike other teams, the Rams run no distances greater than 40 yards. "Football," he explains, "is a 40-yard game. All the big plays are in that range if you count the zigs and zags and other lateral movements. You'd better be able to run more than 20 yards at a burst if you're going to participate in pass offense—or pass defense. On the other hand, you don't have to sustain it 100 yards or even 60. Or take the kicking game. NFL punts average 40 yards, and you'd better be there when they come down. On the kickoff everyone's object is to tackle the runner on his 20-yard line, and that's 40 yards from where we kick. Football is a 40-yard game, so we run 40-yard striders."
A passion for training gadgets is a widespread addiction among coaches, but Allen is so hooked that his practice field has been called Disneyland East. There are nets to throw over and ropes to run under and Exer-Genie pulleys by the dozen and even a pass-rush item called "Joe the Bartender" that looks like an overfed scarecrow. Allen's latest acquisitions are "field weights," stationary versions of the barbell that can be left out on the field without fear of theft. He heard about them from the coach of one of his sons. "I fell in love with them in two minutes," he says. He immediately ordered eight. "No detail is too small. No task is too small—or too big," Allen likes to say.
Although Allen prides himself on his conditioning program, it is only a fraction in his equation for successful football. "The way to win," he insists, "is to get good athletes, get them in shape and have great morale." As for what makes a good athlete, Allen goes on to explain, "The biggest thing is to love the game, play it with enthusiasm and emotion—and to love to hit people."
"Character" is another of Allen's favorite nouns. During a scrimmage at last year's camp, Allen, who regards rookies with a jaundiced eye because they make so many mistakes, spoke admiringly of a rookie back named Pat Curran. "He almost regurgitated at halftime," Allen said, "and it took Gatorade and smelling salts to revive him. He showed me he's got character."
Enthusiasm, emotion and character. Those are Allen's key words. Every now and then during practice, even in the middle of a conversation, he will sit down on the grass and start doing calisthenics. At the end of each practice session he runs around the field several times on his spindly legs, his body bent forward purposefully. Just as he sets seasonal goals for his players (so many interceptions, so many fumbles, so many sackings of the opposing quarterback), Allen sets goals for himself. One this year is to run a 2:30 half-mile; so far he's done a 2:58. Asked why, he says, "Enthusiasm. If the coach doesn't have enthusiasm, no one will. Every day I get more of it."
Yet enthusiasm, emotion, character and conditioning are still not enough, as Allen well knows. He believes that championships are won by leaving as little as possible to chance. "Winning," he has said, "can be defined as the science of being totally prepared. And I define preparation in three words—leave nothing undone."
For instance, there is nothing so wasteful in Allen's eyes as an expanse of wall without a chart on it. His assistants' offices are adorned with charts on every conceivable statistic—not only of their own players but of their opponents as well. When Allen is on the phone to discuss a possible trade, he can usually glance at a chart to assess the record of the man he is talking about. It was thus that he acquired Alvin Haymond from Philadelphia last year, and Haymond helped win several games for the Rams with his punt returns. When Haymond reported for duty in Allen's office, he was surprised to find his statistics on the wall. "You see why I wanted you," Allen told him. "And this year your goal is to improve on those figures."
The walls in each of the three meeting rooms where the Rams' offensive, defensive and special teams meet are hung with charts that specify the goals for these units.