It’s great that it’s happening, but Chuck Allen wishes his coach was around to see it.
“I think he merited an earlier induction,” Allen said. “It would have been great if he’d have been around, to be able to participate.”
Allen’s coach at South Carolina, Jim Carlen, will be inducted into the school’s athletic hall of fame Thursday night. Carlen, who served as coach and athletics director from 1975-81, died in 2012.
The memories live on. Carlen won 45 games as coach, overseeing the emergence of Heisman Trophy winner George Rogers, and left indelible impressions on his players. Carlen’s love for his players was reciprocated tenfold, even through the bitter end of his USC tenure.
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Allen, defensive captain in 1980, owes a lot to Carlen. Not only did Carlen recruit, sign and play Allen for four seasons, but he helped him after his playing days were done. Because he played as a freshman, Allen never took a redshirt and wasn’t quite done with his degree after his senior year. After a free-agent NFL tryout in Washington didn’t work out, Allen was married with a child on the way and didn’t have a diploma, much less a job.
“I explained the situation, and asked him if I could get some help,” Allen said. “Coach Carlen immediately said yes, with one condition – you got to promise me you can get your degree. I had it all worked out, that I just needed two semesters, and he paid for that. I went to enroll and it was paid for.
“I’ve always been grateful and I will forever remain grateful that he did that.”
Allen became an attorney, state legislator and USC Board of Trustees member. Each step was met with a congratulatory phone call from Carlen.
“It thrilled him for me to become a Board member,” Allen said. “I think we talked more from 2008-12 than we had the previous decade.”
Allen remembered being offered a scholarship at Carlen’s house, after Carlen had just come off the tennis court. He committed after the Shrine Bowl and looked at the team that came to USC in the fall of 1977.
“We had a good group. Willie Scott was there, Johnnie Wright was a good running back, Garry Harper was a good quarterback, Chuck Slaughter was in that group,” Allen said. “Then I remember one of the coaches coming back and saying, ‘We got a commitment from a running back right outside of Georgia that will be All-American by his sophomore year and could very well win the Heisman.’ ”
Rogers’ presence in the backfield produced back-to-back bowl trips and the 1980 Heisman, and Allen was able to leave USC on a high note. Yet there were storm clouds gathering – Carlen’s head-butting with the rest of the university had become known.
“There was a public awareness of that,” Allen said. “The differences between coach Carlen and the administration … we were aware of all that.”
That led to Carlen’s firing in 1981, after a 6-6 season. Allen heard it on the radio and was stunned.
Love for his coach never vanished. While Carlen could be a stern taskmaster at practice, he was always there for his players.
“Coach Carlen had a very commanding presence. He was an outstanding coach, a gifted coach,” Allen said. “When he would talk to us sometimes, it was like a five-star general speaking to you. You were supposed to jump up and salute.
“But he also shepherded his freshmen, with no hazing allowed, and was a very progressive coach. And he was a very successful coach. It’s tough that he couldn’t be here to be inducted, but I’m glad he’s getting inducted.”
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