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Big plans (some for USC athletics)

Being a former USC football player does not begin to tell the story of Chuck Allen's rise to being on the school's board of trustees.
Being a former USC football player does not begin to tell the story of Chuck Allen's rise to being on the school's board of trustees.

ANDERSON — Chuck Allen was in a hurry, as usual, on this hot June afternoon. His legal practice keeps him busy, and by 3 p.m., he still had not eaten lunch. He drove to several favorite restaurants, hoping to find a salad, before settling for a fast-food chicken sandwich.

Between bites, he talked about how his life is about to get even busier. On July 1, Allen — former football player at South Carolina, former high school and college coach, former S.C. legislator — will become, at 49, the youngest member of USC’s board of trustees, joining Edgerton Burroughs (of Myrtle Beach development giant Burroughs & Chapin) as the newest additions to that body.

The job, Allen said, is one he has aspired to and thought about a long time. He’s not cowed by the prospect; he has plans ... big plans — though perhaps not the ones you might assume.

“I believe for South Carolina to advance economically, higher education is going to be more important than ever,” he said, then launched into an enthusiastic riff about hydrogen research (“that, in my humble opinion, is critical to this state”), USC’s Innovista project and educational collaboration among USC, Clemson and the Medical University of South Carolina.

A solid five minutes of ideas — and not one reference to athletics.

“Higher education has a responsibility to lead, and we’re doing it,” he said. “I’m really excited about that.”

So in other words, it’s not true he wanted to join the board to get better football tickets?

Allen paused, then laughed. “I didn’t realize you got them until recently,” he said. “Someone told me you have to pay for them, then they told me no, you don’t, so goodness!”

He grinned. “I was excited about the parking space” at Williams-Brice Stadium, he said.

So much for pigeon-holing the former football player as someone interested only in sports — or figuring the “new kid” would be content to stay in the background early on.

Allen is in some ways far removed — and in others, no so far — from the 6-foot-2, 245-pound defensive tackle from T.L. Hanna High who 32 years ago bought into coach Jim Carlen’s recruiting pitch, bucked local Clemson sentiment and went to USC. He did so mostly to play football — academics ranked lower on his list of priorities then — but also because Carlen “knew what buttons to push.

“He knew I cared about community and public service (Allen played in that year’s Shrine Bowl but also was governor of Palmetto Boys State),” he said. “(Carlen) said — I can hear this like it was yesterday — ‘North Carolina is going to get the majority of that (North Carolina Shrine Bowl) team because they’re the state university. Now, South Carolina is YOUR state university.’

“He made it sound like I had a duty (to go to USC).” Allen shook his head. “And it worked!”

And so did Allen, in many ways over the years.

His resume makes him an intriguing prospect to his soon-to-be fellow board members. He is one of 11 lawyers and retains connections at the State House, but he is the only member who shared locker-room space with George Rogers.

“He certainly will be a great addition,” said Eddie Floyd, a former board chairman and one of two other ex-USC athletes (swim team). “With his knowledge of athletics and all, some of the (members) might feel he can make a contribution there. I know he loves the university like I do.”

Incoming chairman Miles Loadholt said he and Allen had lunch the day after his election by the Legislature. “He was knowledgeable and interested in learning how the board works,” Loadholt said. “I think he’s ready to roll up his sleeves and do what’s best for the university.”

Rock Hill’s Sam Foster, a former track athlete, is glad to have a contemporary. The two were friends during their USC days, and for nearly 25 years Foster, 51, has been the youngest (and only black) board member.

“We have a perspective (on athletics) that’s actual; we’ve been there and can share real-life stories” with members, Foster said. “What Chuck mostly brings with him is a desire to win. He wants the Gamecocks to be winners.”

Outgoing chairman Herbert Adams hopes Allen will, indeed, be involved in athletics issues. With a $200 million athletics facilities master plan under way, though, “Buildings and Grounds (committee) is where a lot of the action will be,” rather than the popular Intercollegiate Activities Committee, Adams said.

USC athletics director Eric Hyman also recognizes a kindred spirit. He and Allen met at an Anderson Touchdown Club meeting in 2005, and Hyman said he came away impressed on many levels.

“He has a great knowledge base (and) a grasp (of athletics’ needs) that most people don’t have,” Hyman said. “Not only football, but he can relate to all athletes, and that’s a tremendous advantage.”

Actually, Hyman and Allen go back further. When he coached at Furman in the 1970s, Hyman tried unsuccessfully to recruit the tackle from Hanna. What sort of athlete was he then?

“I thought he was the best I’d ever seen,” Hyman said straight-faced, before surrendering to laughter. “He’s going to be on our board, isn’t he?”

Yes, he is. And those who know Allen best say he will do well because, even as he learns the job, he seldom, if ever, will back down from anything — or anybody.

LESSON LEARNED AT USC

What most USC fans remember about Chuck Allen’s four years (1977-80) is the George Rogers Heisman Trophy era, the Gamecocks’ most successful before the iconic 1984 Black Magic season and the tenures of Lou Holtz and Steve Spurrier.

But Garry Harper, the quarterback who handed off to Rogers, has no problem recalling Allen memories. The two were roommates and friends, though Harper is quick to say he was not responsible for Allen’s nickname: Bodine, as in Jethro.

“(Fellow defensive tackle) Steve Bernish did that,” Allen said, laughing. “That was my thick Upstate accent, plus he was from White Bear Lake, Minnesota”

And Harper — unlike Rogers, who was off-limits during practices — remembers how hard his “buddy” practiced ... and hit.

“During practice, he’d unload on you,” Harper said. “A few times, he about knocked me out. He could be as mean as anyone, rip your head off.”

Rogers said he never saw that. “Chuck didn’t get any good licks on me; if he says he did, he didn’t,” he said, laughing. “But I had some good (linemen) to keep him off me, too.”

Allen chuckled. “I was physical,” he said. “That’s the way I was coached.”

But there was another side, Harper said, that coaches — who bemoaned Allen’s attitude toward classes — didn’t always see.

“Chuck’s always been a deep thinker,” he said. “It didn’t surprise me when he became a lawyer. He was dependable; he didn’t mince words. He had a sense of humor, but those times were separate from when he was serious.”

The highlight of his four years, Allen said, was USC’s 17-14 upset of Michigan in 1980. At 250 pounds, he battled the Wolverines’ 300-pound offensive tackles — one was future San Francisco 49ers player Bubba Parrish; “I don’t remember the other guy’s name, but he had no front teeth,” Allen said — but he caused a fumble that prevented Michigan from taking a 21-3 lead.

He also learned a lesson he would not forget.

“Coach (Larry) New said (Michigan coach) Bo Schembechler was big on intimidation,” he said. “Their players came out for the game on the 50 (-yard line) on the opponents’ side, in the bench area, and ran through and over them, knocked them down.

“(New) said, ‘We’re not going to do that.’ We went down to the 20s so we weren’t there for that.”

USC rallied in the second half to win. Allen said that wouldn’t have happened had his team been awed by the maize-and-blue tradition or 105,000 fans.

“I never played on a football team that was intimidated, because I played for dominant coaches,” he said. “(Hanna’s) Jim Fraser, Jim Carlen, Dan Reeves; they were all dominating presences, and that has an impact on young athletes.

“It did for me. That’s a natural process of teaching leadership. I thank God for it. It impacted my life.”

LOVE OF FOOTBALL HARD TO SHAKE

What Harold Jones, a former Hanna assistant and later the head coach, recalls about Allen was his devotion to working out — and how that got him in trouble once with his coach.

“Chuck loved the weight room; I had to run him out of there,” Jones said. “He’d come to my house on weekends and want the key to the weight room. I’d say, ‘OK, but bring it back to me.’

“One weekend he came back but didn’t ring the (door)bell. I got in my car, went looking for him. He told me, ‘I laid (the key) on the hood of the car.’ I told him, ‘Chuck, there’s no telling where that is now.’”

Jones — who gained national renown for his father-like relationship with James Kennedy, aka Radio, Hanna’s longtime mentally handicapped fan and the subject of the movie by the same name — said little that Allen has done since high school surprises him. Coaching? “He coached for me as a volunteer when his son (Josh) played,” Jones said. “He’d come running to practice in his shirt and tie, pulling his coat off.”

Politics? “He’d call my wife (Linda) all the time, asking her what people thought, would this be better, how to help people” during his term in the S.C. House, Jones said. As a lawyer, Allen “helped me with kids who got in trouble,” once arranging pre-trial intervention for a Hanna player.

In short, Allen “was a leader for us,” Jones said. Carlen, USC’s coach from 1975-81, saw that in the youngster from “humble means” (Allen’s words) — his father, Milton, worked in a textile mill; his mother, Geneva, in the church nursery — who viewed football as a way up.

That climb didn’t always include attention to studies. “I was a very average student, and that’s being generous,” Allen said. “I worked religiously in the offseason — on football.”

But toward the end of his USC career, “the light came on for Chuck,” Carlen said. “He realized there was more to it than playing football.” Allen said he had little choice.

“I married while in school, and then we had a baby on the way. That had a lot to do with it,” he said. Today, he and the former Sharon Jeffcoat of Swansea (her father, Roy, is a prominent Clemson alum) have been married 27 years and have three children.

After USC, Allen was cut his first year out of school by the Washington Redskins. The next season, in Denver, “I hadn’t been released by the second or third preseason game,” he said. Which was a problem: Allen had applied to and been accepted by USC’s law school, and orientation was to begin on a Thursday.

“They made cuts on Monday morning, and ‘The Turk’ (the coach who informs players of their release) was in the dining hall at breakfast,” Allen said. “I walked all around the guy; I almost wanted to be cut so I didn’t have to make a decision.”

When that didn’t happen, Allen approached Broncos coach and fellow USC alum Dan Reeves, looking for guidance. Allen doesn’t go into details — Reeves said he doesn’t recall the meeting — but he walked out of Reeves’ office and told a secretary, “Get me a plane ticket for Columbia, S.C.”

Allen made it through a “brutal” first semester in law school with a 2.5 GPA, a 3.0 the second. But he needed money, and didn’t quite have football out of his system. A nephew was playing at Brookland-Cayce High, whose coach, John Daye, was dating Allen’s sister, so starting his second year of law school, Allen was the team’s defensive line coach.

“He had more advanced techniques than most high school coaches,” Daye said. “He liked to isolate those defensive linemen, five to six of them, during individual (drills). They’d go off and come back ready to play.

“I told Chuck, ‘I guess I shouldn’t ask what you do over there?’ and he said, ‘Yeah, coach, that’s probably a good thing.’ One guy, Carl Carney (who later played at East Carolina), was a pretty good player, but Chuck’s techniques put him over the top.”

After law school, Allen was a clerk for a circuit judge in Greenwood, and again found football hard to shake. When Furman hired former assistant coach Jimmy Satterfield to replace Dick Sheridan, Allen used an afternoon off to drive to Greenville.

“I walked in, no phone call, and said, ‘I’d like to be your defensive line coach,’” he said. Satterfield wanted to improve the Paladins’ pass rush, and Allen knew NFL pass rushes. That weekend, he was hired, and stayed two seasons.

“I worked in 1986-87; they got rid of me the next year and won a national (Division I-AA) championship,” Allen said, laughing.

He moved back to Anderson and hung out his shingle six months later. That, eventually, led him into politics — and more ventures into sports.

FOES BECOME ALLIES

Three times, Allen went to court on behalf of high school football players who wanted to change schools and then play, only to be denied by the S.C. High School League. Twice — Kevin Ford, from Palmetto High to Hanna, and Nick Melton, from Gaffney to Dorman — Allen petitioned for injunctions and won the players’ rights to play.

The case most remember — Xavier Dye, a high-profile receiver who left Greenwood to join powerhouse Byrnes — was different. A judge refused to issue an injunction, but later, the league allowed Dye’s transfer.

“The first two, the High School League fought tooth-and-nail,” Allen said. “(An injunction) had never happened. They told (Ford’s) parents, ‘Get a lawyer, we’ve never lost in court.’ That was the first time, or so I was told. The way they reacted (after losing), I tend to believe it.”

Jerome Singleton, the SCHSL’s executive director, did not go into specifics. “You’ve got to let the numbers answer that,” he said. “If he won, we didn’t agree with the outcome of the judges’ decisions ... but he didn’t win them all.

“I have respect for the man for doing his job, though. An attorney (has to) do what’s best for his client, and he did that for those kids. He never made it personal.”

The same could be said of Allen’s runs for political office. In 1998, he won a seat as a Democrat in the S.C. House, beating Republican Brian White. Two years later, during George W. Bush’s instate victory, “I got unelected,” Allen said.

“He beat me by 534 votes the first time, and I beat him by 536 (in 2000),” said White, who defeated Allen handily in 2002. “He was a very formidable candidate, a good, tough opponent.”

Allen ran for state Senate in 2004, this time — in a locally controversial move — as a Republican, and lost to Kevin Bryant. “You hear about nasty races, but this one was friendly the whole way,” Bryant said. This year, Bryant and White supported Allen’s bid for the USC board.

Allen said he’s proud of his accomplishments on higher education, school safety and early childhood education issues. He thinks the experience will help him at USC — with one distinct difference.

“In the political process, no matter what you’re doing, there’s a substantial number trying to do the opposite,” he said. “It appears to me that with the board of trustees, everyone is on the same team — no pun intended.”

He thought about that for a moment. “I have a friend who went to Presbyterian College, and he raves about the (USC) board,” Allen said. “He said, ‘Man, those are some prestigious people on that board: Eddie Floyd, Darla Moore, Mack Whittle. That’s not just any board you’re getting on.’”

Don’t expect Allen to be intimidated by the company, though. He’s too busy, has too many plans — some of them involving athletics.

Reach senior writer Bob Gillespie at (803) 771-8304.

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