The final year of George Allen's life was much like his glory days in football. After five years away from the game, he returned to coaching.

And he turned a losing team into a winner.Allen, who had the third best winning percentage in the NFL, died of natural causes at his home Monday, his son, Greg said. Allen was 72.

"Every job I ever had was a rebuilding job," Allen said last week in an interview with The Associated Press. "All were successful."

A year ago in December, Allen was approached by officials from Long Beach State who asked him if he would be interested in coaching the university's struggling football program.

He agreed, saying he relished a new challenge.

Taking a team that was 4-8 in 1989, Allen guided Long Beach to a 6-5 record this past season.

As he had done throughout his five earlier decades of coaching on the college or pro level, Allen tended to work 12 hours a day, seven days a week in his job as coach at Long Beach.

"I just knew one way and that was to work hard," Allen said. "We had to work a little harder than the opposition."

His year with the low-budget program at Long Beach was, he said, his most rewarding season "... because there was so much to be done and we may have saved a program.

"We started 0-3 and then went 6-2. There were only two teams in Division I who started 0-3 and wound up with a winning record. And Alabama

has a little more going for it than Long Beach State; just having enough footballs for practice is a big deal for us."

His longtime colleagues in football admired his return to the game.

"Only George could have done that job. His enthusiasm for the game made those young guys successful," said Jack Faulkner, the Los Angeles Rams administrator of football operations and the man who recommended Allen for his first NFL job, as Sid Gillman's assistant with the Rams in 1957.

"I talked to Coach Allen a few weeks ago and he was just so excited about the winning season he had at Long Beach State," said Houston Oilers coach Jack Pardee, who played under Allen as a linebacker with the Washington Redskins.

"Coach Allen always thrived on building something out of very little. And he was very excited about the continuing challenge that he had at Long Beach."

Allen was alone in his home when his wife Etty returned in the early afternoon and discovered him dead.