The San Juan Daily Star
Bobby Beathard, mastermind of NFL dynasties, dies at 86
Bobby Beathard in 1975, when he was director of player personnel for the Miami Dolphins. In his years in Miami, he helped build a roster filled with future Hall of Fame players and experienced veterans that won back-to-back championships.
By KEN BELSON
Bobby Beathard, a player personnel savant who helped build football dynasties with teams in Miami, Washington and other NFL cities, died Monday at his home at Franklin, Tennessee, a small city outside Nashville. He was 86.
The cause was complications of Alzheimer’s disease, said his brother, Peter.
An outspoken and out-of-the-box thinker in a league known for buttoned-up team players, 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 NFL 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 NFL’s only perfect season in 1972 when they defeated the Washington Redskins, Beathard’s future employer, in Super Bowl VII.
Throughout his career, Beathard turned NFL 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.
Beathard, who lived in San Diego, was an avid surfer and a marathon runner with a mischievous streak. In 1980, before Washington played the Dallas Cowboys in Texas, he ran a 15K 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 New York Giants that Sunday, so Beathard instead ran the New York City Marathon before heading to Giants Stadium for the game.
That was during Washington’s heyday, when 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 whom 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.
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 NFL,” Beathard said.
Robert King Beathard Jr. was born Jan. 24, 1937, in Zanesville, Ohio, to Robert and Dorothy Falconer Beathard (pronounced BETH-erd). His father managed a tile company.
A few years after Beathard was born, the family moved to El Segundo, California, where his brother was born. Beathard played single-wing tailback on his high school football team. He turned down a chance to attend Louisiana State University and instead went to California Polytechnic State University, where he was a quarterback and defensive back on teams that won 18 of their 20 games. One of his teammates was John Madden, a 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.”
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 team 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 Beathard was hired as a scout by the struggling Falcons, who had joined the NFL 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.
After a falling-out with Gibbs ended his long run in Washington in 1988, 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.)
Beathard’s first marriage, to Larae Rich, ended in divorce. He married Christine Van Handel in 1978. In addition to his brother, his survivors include his wife; a daughter, Jaime, from his first marriage; three sons, also from that marriage, Kurt, Jeff and Casey, a country music songwriter; and many grandchildren, including C.J. Beathard, a backup quarterback on the Jacksonville Jaguars, and Tucker Beathard, a recording artist.