Bobby Beathard, Hall of Fame Washington football executive, dies at 86

Bobby Beathard, Hall of Fame Washington football executive, dies at 86

Bobby Beathard, an NFL executive who laid the foundation for seven Super Bowl teams during his Hall of Fame career, winning two titles in the 1980s as general manager of Washington’s NFL franchise, is died January 30 at his home in Franklin, Tenn. He was 86 years old.

The cause was complications from Alzheimer’s disease, his son Casey Beathard said.

With his blonde pageboy haircut, skinny marathon runner physique and laid-back California surfer presence, which he had been since childhood, Mr. Beathard did not fit the archetype of a corporate executive. professional team. He refused to don a tie and sports jacket, let alone a suit, and his everyday attire of shorts and jogging shoes or flip-flops gave him a certain racy affability.

But this outward appearance was deceptive. He was widely regarded as a master of sports administration, a shrewd negotiator whose unflappable demeanor masked intense preparation and an unsettling intuition about the promise of many young players.

In a nearly four-decade career in the NFL, his teams — primarily the Miami Dolphins, Washington Chargers and San Diego — won 10 division titles, seven conference championships and four Super Bowls.

As head of the Miami Dolphins scouting operation from 1972 to 1977, he worked with coach Don Shula to build the Dolphins dynasty. In Mr. Beathard’s first season with the team, the Dolphins went undefeated and won the Super Bowl, a feat still unmatched in NFL history.

With Mr. Beathard as talent coordinator, Shula guided the Dolphins to a collective record of 63-21 with two Super Bowl trophies during Mr. Beathard’s six seasons in Miami. The team went 6-1 in the playoffs.

“He’s a guy with a great sense of talent,” Shula later told The Washington Post. “No one has a perfect record, and you’re going to make mistakes. But Bobby made fewer mistakes than most. And he found kids for us, no one else would take a chance. He didn’t never been afraid to take risks.

His years in Washington, from 1978 to 1988, formed the centerpiece of his legacy and one in which he cemented his reputation as an unparalleled talent scout. It was a decade in which he hired little-known NFL assistant Joe Gibbs as head coach and formed one of the league’s dominant franchises, making three trips to the Super Bowl and winning twice. . At the end of his tenure in Washington (with the team now known as the Commanders), Sports Illustrated dubbed Mr. Beathard “the smartest man in the NFL.”

When he arrived in Washington, the same year as new head coach Jack Pardee, the team relied on veteran players, the so-called “Over-the-Hill Gang”, who had been the backbone of the formation under the recently departed leader. trainer, George Allen. Despite the team’s 10-6 record in 1979, Beathard did not consider the practice an effective long-term strategy and advised team owner Jack Kent Cooke, against Pardee’s wishes, to build the team around young players.

Cooke sided with Mr Beathard, telling the Post that he “has decided to endorse Mr Beathard’s program of a winning future”. After a 1980 season with a 6-10 record, the team’s worst in years, Pardee was fired in an acrimonious stalemate conclusion. By then, Washington also hadn’t made the playoffs in four years.

Weeks after Pardee was ousted, Mr. Beathard sought to reinvigorate the franchise by bringing in Gibbs, the San Diego Chargers offensive coordinator who was beginning to make a name for himself with an offense built around a strong offense from passage. Mr. Beathard had to sell the inexperienced Gibbs to a skeptical Cooke.

“There’s a guy, and he’s the right guy. I’m sure, but you’re going to have to believe me,” Mr. Beathard told the Post in 2000. “He said, ‘Who is that?’ I said, ‘Joe Gibbs.’ He said, ‘Who the hell is Joe Gibbs? I never heard of him. I kept saying to him, ‘You’re going to have to trust me,’ and he kept saying, ‘They’re going to crucify us if it’s not the right guy.’ »

When Gibbs started his first season in 1981 with five straight losses, Washington sports fans complained. But Mr. Beathard has never hesitated to support his new coach who has not proven himself. The following season, under Gibbs, the team won the Super Bowl.

In an era before the internet and advanced measurement, Mr. Beathard was hailed for his instinctive talent-spotting skills. “Bobby Beathard changed the way people looked at players,” said longtime NFL writer and columnist Clark Judge in a 2022 interview for this obituary. “It wasn’t just the measurable parameters. He had intuition and he took risks on people that others wouldn’t.”

He built a network of talent scouts across the country who tipped him off to potential college players ready for the NFL, and he shunned first-round picks, trading them to store later-round picks in the draft. He thought there was a surplus of good players that others were missing out on and he identified by hitting the road, usually alone, and seeing them play in person.

During his years in Washington, he only used the team’s first pick three times. The 1983 Super Bowl championship team included 26 free agents signed by Mr. Beathard.

“Bobby could look past a 4.4 time or a 39-inch vertical jump and tell you if the guy was a player,” said former Los Angeles Rams running back and friend Jon Arnett to Sports Illustrated in 1988. “Any scout can time or take a tape and measure a jump, which 90% of them do. We all knew Bobby would find the real guys competitive, because he was himself- although competitive.

In the 1981 draft, Mr. Beathard selected future Pro Bowlers such as guard Russ Grimm, defensive setter Dexter Manley and wide Charlie Brown in later rounds. That same year, he signed undrafted lineman Joe Jacoby, who earned four Pro Bowl selections.

When he used his first-round pick, Beathard found the likes of Hall of Fame wide receiver Art Monk and cornerback Darrell Green, and Pro Bowl offensive tackle Mark May. May, Grimm and Jacoby were key members of the famous “Hogs” offensive line that became one of the best in NFL history.

Asked about his intuition, Mr. Beathard, a former Cal Poly college star, told the Canton (Ohio) Repository: “Even in college, I seemed to have an idea of ​​who the really good players on our team were. Whether it’s liking the game, playing it, watching it. I don’t know what it was.

Mr. Beathard left Washington for San Diego after the 1988 season, but Washington won another Super Bowl in 1992 loaded with Beathard-era players. He built San Diego’s only Super Bowl team (now the Los Angeles Chargers), which lost the 1995 game.

As the third general manager inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2018, Mr Beathard was introduced by Gibbs, who was enshrined in the Hall 22 years before Mr Beathard. “In the NFL, you’re measured by the Super Bowls,” Gibbs said. “At the end of the day, if you hired Bobby Beathard, you got Super Bowls.”

For all his success at spotting football talent, Mr. Beathard made one of the biggest draft mistakes in NFL history in 1998, when he selected quarterback Ryan Leaf for the Chargers. Leaf was out of the league within three years and was later convicted of burglary and drugs. An NFL documentary proclaimed him “the No. 1 draft bust” in NFL history.

“In my career, I’ve never seen a player who had so much talent do so little,” Mr Beathard told ESPN.

Robert King Beathard Jr. was born in Zanesville, Ohio on January 24, 1937. His father ran a tile factory and his mother was a homemaker. At age 4, the family moved to El Segundo, California, near Los Angeles. Their home was half a mile from the Pacific Ocean, where Bobby indulged in surfing and swimming. At 11, he had won a shelf full of swimming medals, but football was his area of ​​excellence.

As a sophomore at El Segundo High, he became the starting one-wing running back and, despite his relatively short stature — 5-foot-9 and 170 pounds — he was awarded a football scholarship to Louisiana State University. Before the start of the season, he was so homesick that he returned to California and enrolled in El Camino Junior College for a year.

At California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, he became the starting quarterback and defensive back for the 1957 and 1958 seasons, in which the team went 9–1 each year. Among his teammates was John Madden, the future NFL Hall of Fame coach and broadcaster.

Mr. Beathard was “one of those tough guys,” Madden told the Post in 1981. “He was small, but he could really kick the football. Lots of guts.

Mr. Beathard’s younger brother, Pete, also became a star college quarterback at the University of Southern California, leading the Trojans to the national title in 1962. He went on to a long career as a professional football player.

Undrafted after graduation, Bobby Beathard signed with Washington as a free agent but didn’t last long. After a brief stint in insurance and chemical sales, he became a part-time scout in 1963 with the Kansas City Chiefs, working in the western states. One of his discoveries for Kansas City was kicker Jan Stenerud, who kicked for the Chiefs 13 of his 19 seasons and is one of four kickers selected for the Hall of Fame.

Beginning in 1968, he signed with the Atlanta Falcons, where he continued to spend weeks at a time on the road. This led to the dissolution of his first marriage, to Larae Rich, with whom he had four children.

In 1978, Mr. Beathard married Christine Van Handel, a flight attendant. In addition to his wife, survivors include four children from his first marriage, Kurt, Jeff, Casey and Jaime; his brother; and 13 grandchildren, including Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback CJ Beathard; and seven great-grandchildren. Another grandson, Clayton Beathard, was murdered outside a Nashville bar in 2019.

An avid body surfer and serious marathon runner whose best time was 2 hours and 30 minutes, Mr. Beathard missed meetings in order to participate in his training runs. But football remained his consuming engine.

His dedication to the game was graphically illustrated when he married Van Handel at a friend’s house in Marina Del Ray, California. The wedding was delayed because Mr. Beathard and his friends were upstairs watching an exhibition game between the Los Angeles Rams and Oakland Raiders.

At halftime, he ran downstairs for his wedding and was back upstairs before the marching band left the field.

“It was the fastest wedding I’ve ever seen,” Ted Grossman, Hollywood stuntman and close friend, told the Los Angeles Times. “I was turning around when Bobby put the ring on Christine’s finger. Next thing I know we’re going back up to watch the game.

“I remember Christine saying, ‘Is this how it’s always going to be?’ Bobby said, ‘I’m afraid so.’ »

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