The stadium—an off-campus facility, with bleachers on only one side of the field, that belongs to Long Beach City College—seats about 12,000 spectators. The Beach has 125,000 alums and 2,000 faculty members. The city of Long Beach has a population of 419,000. Last year 369 season tickets were sold. This year it's up to 1,200.
In 1986, Stephen Horn, Long Beach's president at the time, announced that football would be dropped if $300,000 was not raised within a month. Miraculously, it was. Asked why the school continues to field a team, McCray says, "I don't know the mysteries of the human heart. But football has been on college campuses for a longtime."
Athletic director Corey Johnson says the football budget is only $1.4 million, which is why the school offered itself as fodder to Clemson in return for $250,000 cash ($183,000 net, after travel expenses). That's a stiff price for young bodies—and minds—to pay. Says Allen, "Nothing surprises me around here, especially if it doesn't work."
When Allen first arrived, he discovered that the school owned eight footballs. Eight. This is not a typographical error. He promptly bought three dozen more. He went out to take a look at the practice field and people were playing golf on it. Toilet seats were missing. Allen immediately started putting up signs: EVERYTHING HERE IS WAITING FOR YOU TO IMPROVE—GEORGE ALLEN.
When Allen's wife, Etty, saw his office, she wept. He had a nicer office for his first college head-coaching job, at Morning-side College in Sioux City, Iowa, in 1948. Those who pleaded with Allen not to take the Long Beach job included Etty and their four children as well as Bo Schembechler, Hank Stram and Barry Switzer. "That's the thing about advice," says Allen. "Sometimes you end up going against it."
He didn't accept the job for the money, though it pays him $100,000 a year. He had been doing fine speaking and writing since his last coaching job, with the USFL Arizona Wranglers in 1984. His lawyer, Carl (Tony) Capozzola, says, "Number one, George has plenty of money to live the rest of his life if he doesn't take risks. Number two, George will take risks."
Allen was already living the American dream. His $2 million home in Palos Verdes Estates—27 miles from his office—overlooks the Pacific, as far as Malibu to the north and Catalina to the south. The Los Angeles Basin glitters below. Growing on the two-acre property are figs, peaches, apricots, avocados, apples, pomegranates, loquats, kumquats and limes. It doesn't get any more spectacular. Is this reality? Inside are pictures of Allen with presidents Nixon, Ford and Reagan and dozens of other celebs.
So, why did Allen do this to himself?
On one hand, the explanation is easy: No man who has ever coached is entirely happy again unless he is standing on a practice field with a whistle around his neck. But Dr. Bill Husak, head of Long Beach's physical education department, says, "I don't think you can leave out ego."
You cannot. Allen's ego stretches from, well, Malibu to Catalina. For example, many of the new signs around the athletic department contain one constant. See if you can spot it: