Bobby Beathard: Mastermind of NFL Dynasties

From a New York Times obit by Ken Belson headlined “Bobby Beathard, Mastermind of NFL Dynasties, Dies at 86”:

Bobby Beathard, a player personnel savant who helped build football dynasties with teams in Miami, Washington and other N.F.L. cities, died at his home at Franklin, Tenn.

An outspoken and out-of-the-box thinker in a league known for buttoned-up team players, Mr. Beathard had an eye for assembling football rosters filled with overlooked players. Elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2018, he was a scout, director of player personnel and general manager for 33 seasons with five N.F.L. teams that went to the postseason a total of 12 times, advancing to seven Super Bowls and winning four of them.

One of those teams, the Miami Dolphins, completed the N.F.L.’s only perfect season in 1972 when they defeated the Washington Redskins, Mr. Beathard’s future employer, in Super Bowl VII.

Throughout his career, Mr. Beathard turned N.F.L. logic on its head. He was among the first general managers to routinely trade first-round picks, which teams considered as valuable as gold trophies, for fistfuls of picks in later rounds of the college draft. He aggressively signed free agents rather than rely on aging and often popular veterans with relatively expensive contracts. Unafraid of courting controversy, he called out player agents for what he considered their questionable tactics and stood firm against players who he felt demanded too much money.

“We did it a little bit different than a lot of people,” the Hall of Fame quoted him as saying. “A lot of people in the league thought I was nuts. Maybe that was true, because I started trading away first-round draft picks, and first-round draft picks were valuable. But we figured if it was a draft that we had evaluated, and it was rich in talent, we could get players in the later rounds.”

In his years with the Kansas City Chiefs, the Atlanta Falcons, the Dolphins, the Redskins and the San Diego Chargers, his teams won 282 games, lost 226 and tied four times.

Mr. Beathard, who lived in San Diego, was an avid surfer and a marathon runner with a mischievous streak. In 1980, before the Redskins played the Dallas Cowboys in Texas, he ran a 15-kilometer road race wearing a shirt that read, “I hate the Cowboys.” After he finished the race, police officers put him in handcuffs at the finish line. He later admitted that the arrest was a stunt.

In the 1980s, he tried to run the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington in late October every year if the Redskins were playing at home that day. However, in 1984, the team was in New Jersey to play the Giants that Sunday, so Mr. Beathard instead ran the New York City Marathon before heading to Giants Stadium for the game.

That was during Washington’s heyday, when Mr. Beathard worked with Coach Joe Gibbs to build one of the most formidable teams of the 1980s. Two years before, they had won their first Super Bowl title with a roster that included 27 free agents Mr. Beathard had signed since his arrival in Washington in 1978. During his 11 years with the team, a tenure that ended in 1988, he made only three first-round picks.

He also fought with some of his biggest stars, including the Washington running back John Riggins, who sat out the entire 1980 season in a contract dispute. Riggins, who was heading into the last year of his contract, left training camp when the team would not negotiate a new deal. The N.F.L. Players Association filed a grievance on his behalf because the team had put him on the “left camp-retired” list.

Washington went 6-10 without Riggins, who returned in 1981, the same year the team hired Gibbs as head coach. Gibbs had been offensive coordinator with the Chargers, where he installed a pass-happy offense that helped reshape the game, long dominated by running backs, into high-scoring affairs filled with longer passes. One of Mr. Beathard’s draft picks, the wide receiver Art Monk, was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, in Canton, Ohio, in 2008.

Of the 22 starters on the Washington team that won the Super Bowl in 1983, 17 were scouted and signed by Mr. Beathard.

“We were a little lucky,” he said. “We had a lot of openings, and many of the players were in the right place at the right time.”

The Redskins played in three Super Bowls during that decade, winning two of them.

Mr. Beathard’s tenure in Washington came on the heels of an impressive run in Miami, where he helped build a roster filled with future Hall of Fame players and experienced veterans under Coach Don Shula. The Dolphins won back-to-back championships in the 1972 and 1973 seasons.

“I think working for Don Shula was probably the thing that really prepared me for my career in the N.F.L.,” Mr. Beathard said.

Robert King Beathard Jr. was born in Zanesville, Ohio.

A few years after Bobby was born, the family moved to El Segundo, Calif., where his brother was born. Bobby played single-wing tailback on his high school football team. He turned down a chance to attend Louisiana State University and instead went to Cal Poly, where he was a quarterback and defensive back on teams that won 18 of their 20 games. One of his teammates was John Madden, the future Hall of Fame coach and television announcer, who blocked for him.

“I loved football,” he later recalled. “I couldn’t get enough of it. John was the same way.”

Bobby Beathard had tryouts with several teams but failed to earn a spot on a roster. In 1963, he became a part-time scout for the Chiefs. He left to scout for the American Football League, then returned to Kansas City full time in 1966. While he was away, in 1964, the Chiefs drafted his brother, a quarterback at Southern California. Peter Beathard was Len Dawson’s backup in Kansas City for parts of four seasons.

In 1968, Bobby was hired as a scout by the struggling Falcons, who had joined the N.F.L. two seasons before. In his last year with the team, 1971, Atlanta finished 7-6-1, their first winning season. The next year, he was hired as the director of player personnel for the Dolphins, who went 17-0, the N.F.L.’s only perfect season.

After a falling-out with Gibbs ended his long run in Washington in 1988, Mr. Beathard returned to California to surf near his home in San Diego. He worked for a year as a television analyst for NBC but found that he missed being around a team.

In January 1990, he was hired as general manager of the Chargers. In his third season with them, the Chargers won their first division title in more than a decade. Two years later, San Diego made its first and only Super Bowl appearance, losing to the San Francisco 49ers, 49-26. (The Chargers are now based in Los Angeles.)

“Bobby not only built winning teams throughout his career, but he also built winning cultures that lasted beyond his years with an organization,” Jim Porter, the president of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, said in a statement on Wednesday. “He combined an eye for talent with a special gift for working with other people. The results speak for themselves. Bobby’s legacy will be forever preserved in Canton.”

Ken Belson covers the N.F.L. He joined the Times Sports section in 2009 after stints in Metro and Business. From 2001 to 2004, he wrote about Japan in the Tokyo bureau.

Also see the Washington Post obit by Glenn Rifkin headlined “Bobby Bethard, Hall of Fame Washington football executive, dies at 86.”

Bobby Beathard, an NFL executive who built the foundation for seven Super Bowl teams during his Hall of Fame career, winning two titles in the 1980s as the general manager of Washington’s NFL franchise, died Jan. 30 at his home at Franklin, Tenn.

With his blond pageboy haircut, marathon runner’s lean physique and laid-back presence of a California surfer, which he had been since childhood, Mr. Beathard did not fit the archetype of a professional team executive. 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 rakish affability.

But that outward appearance was misleading. He was widely regarded as a master of sports administration, a skillful negotiator whose unflappable demeanor masked intense preparation and uncanny intuition about the promise of many young players.

In a career spanning almost four decades in the NFL, his teams — mostly notably the Miami Dolphins, Washington and San Diego Chargers — 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 his talent coordinator, Shula guided the Dolphins to a collective 63-21 record with two Super Bowl trophies during Mr. Beathard’s six seasons in Miami. The team went 6-1 in the postseason.

“He’s a guy with a great eye for talent,” Shula later told The Washington Post. “Nobody has a perfect record, and you’re going to make mistakes. But Bobby made fewer mistakes than most. And he found some kids for us nobody else would take a chance on. He wasn’t ever afraid to take a risk.”

His years in Washington, from 1978 to 1988, formed the centerpiece of his legacy and one in which he cemented his reputation as a nonpareil talent scout. It was a decade in which he hired a little-known NFL assistant, Joe Gibbs, as head coach and formed one of the league’s dominant franchises, taking three trips to the Super Bowl and winning twice. By 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 holdover veteran players, the so-called “Over-the-Hill Gang,” who had been the backbone of the lineup under the recently departed head coach, George Allen. Despite the team’s 10-6 record in 1979, Mr. Beathard did not consider this practice an effective long-term strategy and advised team owner Jack Kent Cooke, against Pardee’s wishes, to build the team around younger players.

Cooke sided with Mr. Beathard, telling The Post he “decided to endorse Mr. Beathard’s program of a winning future.” Following a 1980 season with a 6-10 record, the team’s worst in years, Pardee was fired in an acrimonious conclusion to the standoff. By that time, Washington had also not made the playoffs in four years.

Weeks after Pardee’s ouster, Mr. Beathard sought to reinvigorate the franchise by bringing aboard Gibbs, the San Diego Chargers’ offensive coordinator who was beginning to make a name for himself with an offense built around a strong passing attack. Mr. Beathard had to sell the inexperienced Gibbs to a skeptical Cooke.

“There’s one guy, and he’s the right guy. I’m sure of it, but you’re going to have to believe me,” Mr. Beathard recounted to The Post in 2000. “He said ‘Who is it?’ I said, ‘Joe Gibbs.’ He said, ‘Who in the hell is Joe Gibbs? I’ve never heard of him.’ I kept telling 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, there was loud grumbling among Washington sports fans. But Mr. Beathard never wavered in support of his unproven new coach. The following season, under Gibbs, the team won the Super Bowl.

In an era before the internet and advanced metrics, Mr. Beathard was lauded for his instinctual skills at unearthing talent. “Bobby Beathard changed the way people looked at players,” Clark Judge, a longtime NFL beat writer and columnist, said in a 2022 interview for this obituary. “It wasn’t just the measurables. He had intuition and he would take chances on people others would not.”

He built a network of talent-spotters around the country who tipped him off to potential NFL-ready collegiate players, and he eschewed first-round draft picks, trading them away to stockpile later-round picks in the draft. He believed there was a surplus of good players others missed whom he identified by getting out on the road, usually on his own, and seeing them play in person.

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

“Bobby could look beyond a 4.4 time or a 39-inch vertical jump and tell you if the guy was a player,” former all-pro Los Angeles Rams running back and friend Jon Arnett told Sports Illustrated in 1988. “Any scout can clock or take a tape and measure a jump, which is what 90 percent of them do. All of us knew Bobby would find the real competitive guys, because he was so competitive himself.”

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

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

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

Speak Your Mind