It was only fitting that a memorial service be held on a Friday in the fall for the late Fort Mill football coach Gus Allen. It was by any stretch of the means - game day.
For years, Friday was game day for Allen, who strolled up and down the sidelines in South Carolina and Virginia for over four decades coaching football. Allen, 91, passed away Sept. 18 after a lengthy battle with heart related issues. A World War II veteran, he left behind a wife of 64 years, Jeri; three children and multiple grandchildren and great grandchildren.
A native of North Carolina, Allen played football and baseball at the University of South Carolina from 1948-52 as a defensive back and running back for the Gamecocks and was a catcher for the baseball team. There were three things synonymous with Allen – a deep rooted faith in God, a love for his family and an unbridled passion for the game of football.
“There is a couple of words that stick out for me about him,” said his son, Michael Allen, Nation Ford’s head coach. “Conviction is one of them. The way he was with his family life and his professional life. His conviction was so strong in everything he did. He was strong, but he also had a soft touch of love about him. He had a work ethic and he always told me, ‘don’t let anyone out work you. Do something that makes you uncomfortable. Do the work, just do it.’ He somehow was able to balance both (family and professional life). He nailed it.”
Allen was head varsity football coach for Fort Mill for eight years in the 1970s, compiling a 63-34-2 record as head coach. He guided the Jackets to four conference championships in his first five seasons, including three in a row from 1975-77. In his first year at Fort Mill, he took a team who had finished 2-8 the year before and led them to a 10-0 record.
“He was a football genius and came up with things out of nothing,” said former player Chuck Mullinax. “He could be tough, but for your own good. He inspired me in so many ways. I find myself applying the things Coach Allen taught me still today. He prepared us for life. I can say with most football players, there was none like Gus Allen. He did his job right and he expected you to do your job right.”
Allen took Fort Mill to the playoffs on five different occasions and even made it to the Upper State finals in 1975, before falling to Woodruff 21-16. Allen won Conference Coach of the Year five straight years from 1973-77, while at Fort Mill. He left in the early 1980s moving to Virginia to coach up there, where he continued to have success winning the Virginia Central Region championship in 1984. He had 19 players sign to go to college and four of them eventually made it to the NFL.
Allen was inducted into the York County Sports Hall of Fame in 2004, and is a member of the Wall of Fame at Hermitage High School in Richmond, Va., as well as a member of the Batesburg-Leesville High Hall of Fame Class of 2011. He was inducted into the South Carolina Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2013. He also compiled a 251-161-8 record overall for his career while coaching in Virginia and South Carolina.
Allen was more than just a coach.
He molded and influenced the lives of many young men through multiple generations.
“I was so grateful for the life lessons he taught me,” said Danny Funderburk, former player and former Mayor of Fort Mill. “His time in Fort Mill was special to him and he was special to us.”
Allen’s legacy doesn’t end with his players, but carries on in his son, Michael, who leads Nation Ford’s program. From the time he can remember, he said he would sit with his dad and watch film. He believes that has translated into helping make him a better coach today.
“The way I see the game today,” said Michael Allen, “the way I visualize the game today. The way I see the game, I got from him and that isn’t easy to do.”
Michael Allen told a story from a game against Chester when his dad ran the same counter play in a row for 18 consecutive downs and Chester couldn’t stop it. In today’s game that would be unheard of.
“What people don’t realize is how innovative he was,” Allen said.
Allen said he believed that there was some divine intervention regarding the timing of his father’s death- during football season first of all, and during a bye week, so that the team’s preparation for the next game wouldn’t be too disrupted.
Earlier in the season, Allen lost his coaching whistle, one he had for nearly 20 years. To him it was special, so much so that he was just going to go through the season without one, instead of just buying a new one. In sorting through his father’s belongings with his family, Allen stumbled upon an old whistle Gus Allen used when he was coaching.
“It is crazy how special a whistle can be,” he said. “It’s just like the whistle I had.”
Mac Banks: firstname.lastname@example.org, @MacBanksFM