With his blond pageboy haircut, marathon-lean physique and the laid-back presence of a childhood California surfer, Mr. Beathard did not fit the archetype of an executive ‘ professional team. He refused to wear a tie and sports jacket, let alone a suit, and his daily attire of shorts and jogging shoes or flip-flops gave him a certain rakish affability.
But that outward appearance was deceiving. He was widely regarded as a master of sports administration, a skilled negotiator whose unflappable demeanor belied intense preparation and an uncanny intuition about the promise of many young players.
In an NFL career spanning nearly four decades, his teams — most 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 unmatched in NFL history.
With Mr. Beathard as his talent coordinator, Shula led 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 postseason.
“He’s a guy with a great eye for talent,” Shula later told The Washington Post. “No one has a perfect record, and you will make mistakes. But Bobby made fewer mistakes than most. And he found some children for us no one else would have taken a chance on. He was never afraid to take a risk.”
His years in Washington, from 1978 to 1988, formed the culmination of his legacy and one in which he consolidated his reputation as a talent scout nonpareil. 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 were the backbone of the lineup under the head which has lately departed. coach, George Allen. Despite the team’s 10-6 record in 1979, Mr. Beathard did not consider this practice to be an effective long-term strategy and advised team owner Jack Kent Cooke, against the wishes of ‘ Pardee, to build the team around younger players.
Cooke sided with Mr. Beathard, telling The Post that he “decided to endorse Mr. Beathard’s program of a winning future.” After a 6-10 season in 1980, the team’s worst in years, Pardee was fired in an acrimonious conclusion to the trial. By that time, Washington also hadn’t made the playoffs in four years.
Weeks after Pardee’s firing, Mr. Beathard sought to bolster the franchise by bringing on board Gibbs, the San Diego Chargers’ offensive coordinator who was starting to make a name for himself with an offense built around a high-powered attack. passing. Mr Beathard had to sell the inexperienced Gibbs to a skeptical Cooke.
“There is one man, and he is the right man. I’m sure of it, but you’ll have to believe me,” Mr. Beathard told The Post in 2000. “He said ‘Who is it?’ I said, “Joe Gibbs.” He said, ‘Who the hell is Joe Gibbs? I’ve never heard of him.’ I kept telling him, ‘You will have to trust me,’ and he kept saying, ‘He will crucify us if he is not the right man'”.
When Gibbs began his first season in 1981 with five consecutive 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 praised for his instinctive talent spotting skills. “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. “They weren’t just the measurements. He had intuition and he would take a chance on people that others wouldn’t.”
He built a network of talent-spotters around the country that tipped him off to potential NFL-ready collegiate players, and he avoided first-round draft picks, trading them to store picks later in the draft. He believed that there was a surplus of good players that others lacked which he identified by going out on the road, usually alone, and watching 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 past a 4.4 time or a 39-inch vertical jump and tell you if the guy was a player,” former Los Angeles Rams all-pro and friend Jon Arnett told Sports Illustrated in 1988. “Any scout can track. or take a tape measure and measure a jump, which is what 90 percent of them do. We all knew Bobby would find the real competitive guys, because he was so competitive himself.”
In the 1981 draft, Mr. Beathard took such future Pro Bowlers as guard Russ Grimm, defensive pass rusher Dexter Manley and wide receiver Charlie Brown in later rounds. That same year, he signed undrafted lineman Joe Jacoby, who earned four Pro Bowl selections.
Using his first-round pick, Mr. Beathard found 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 famous “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 sense who the really good players were in the our team. Whether it was loving 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 inducted by Gibbs, who was enshrined in the Hall 22 years before Mr. Beathard. “In the NFL, you’re measured by Super Bowls,” Gibbs said. “The bottom line was, if you hired Bobby Beathard, you got Super Bowls.”
For all his success in finding football talent, Mr. Beathard made one of the biggest draft blunders 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 on theft and drug charges. 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 with it,” 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 4, the family moved to El Segundo, California, near Los Angeles. Their home was half a mile from the Pacific Ocean, where Bobby practiced surfing and swimming. By the age of 11, he had earned a shelf full of swimming medals, but football was where he excelled.
As a sophomore at El Segundo High, he became the starting single-wing tailback, and despite his comparatively diminutive stature — 5-foot-9, 170 pounds — he received a football scholarship to the University of the State of Louisiana. Before the season started, he was so homesick that he returned to California and enrolled at El Camino Junior College for a year.
At California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, he became the starting quarterback and defensive end for the 1957 and 1958 seasons, during which the team went 9-1 each year. Among his friends was John Madden, the future NFL Hall of Fame coach and broadcaster.
Mr. Beathard was “one of those real hard-nosed tough guys,” Madden told The Post in 1981. “He was small, but he could really throw 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 pro football career.
Undrafted upon graduation, Bobby Beathard signed with Washington as a free agent but didn’t last long. After a short period selling insurance and chemical supplies, he became a part-time scout in 1963 with the Kansas City Chiefs, working in the Western states. One of his finds for Kansas City was kicker Jan Stenerud, who kicked for the Chiefs for 13 of his 19 seasons and is one of only four kickers selected for the Hall of Fame.
From 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, with 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 CJ Beathard, quarterback for the Jacksonville Jaguars; and seven great-grandchildren. Another nephew, Clayton Beathard, was shot and killed outside a Nashville bar in 2019.
A passionate body surfer and serious marathoner whose best time was an impressive two hours, 30 minutes, Mr Beathard missed meetings to fit in his training runs. But football remained his all-consuming drive.
His devotion to the game was graphically illustrated when he married Van Handel at a friend’s home in Marina Del Ray, Calif. 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 half time, he ran down to his wedding and was back up before the marching band had left the field.
“It was the fastest wedding I’ve ever seen,” Ted Grossman, a Hollywood stuntman and close friend, told the Los Angeles Times. “I was walking around when Bobby was putting the ring on Christine’s finger. The next thing I know, we’re going back over to watch the game.
“I remember Christine saying, ‘Is this the way it’s always going to be?’ Bobby said, ‘I’m afraid so.'”