Sports Illustrated once called former general manager Bobby Beathard “the smartest man in the NFL,” a description the laid-back executive admitted made him uncomfortable.
But you know something? It was true.
Not only was Beathard involved in the building of four Super Bowl teams — Kansas City, Miami, Washington and San Diego — but he was with the Dolphins when they completed an undefeated season, led the Redskins to three Super Bowls in six seasons and put the Chargers in their only Super Bowl.
“To me,” said Hall-of-Fame GM Bill Polian, “Bobby Beathard was the single greatest evaluator I’ve come across.”
And now he’s a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame … as he should be. Beathard had numerous achievements in his pro football career, with the following five among the most notable:
Miami Twice. After serving as a scout for the Atlanta Falcons from 1967-71, Beathard was named Miami’s director of player personnel in 1972. It was a huge leap forward for the former Cal Poly quarterback and defensive back, and Beathard responded. The Dolphins won the next two Super Bowls and went 17-0 in 1972, an unblemished record from start to finish that has not been replicated.
Hail to this Redskin. In 1978, Redskins’ owner Jack Kent Cooke hired the relative unknown to be his general manager, and the rest you know. Beathard transformed the team from one of the oldest in the 1970s to one of the youngest … and most successful … in the 1980s, with the Redskins in three Super Bowls (1982, ’83 and ’87) in six years and winning three Lombardi Trophies within a decade — including Super Bowl XXVI. Though Beathard had left the team by then, it was stocked with players he either drafted or acquired.
The hiring of Joe Gibbs. Some insiders consider this Beathard’s greatest achievement. Instead of looking for someone in 1981 with head-coaching experience, he made the out-of-the-box choice — tapping the former Chargers’ offensive coordinator and putting him in charge of a club that hadn’t won a playoff game in five years. Gibbs lost his first five games that season, and Beathard was summoned into Cooke’s office for an explanation. He told his owner to relax; that his patience would pay off … and it did. The Redskins won eight of their last 11 that season — and a Super Bowl the following year — and Gibbs became so successful he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. “Give him credit for finding Joe Gibbs,” Redskins’ team president Bruce Allen said of Beathard. “Finding a Hall-of-Fame head coach is harder than finding a Hall-of-Fame quarterback.” People always ask who was more responsible for the team’s success, and it’s a little like asking who was more important to the Beatles — Lennon or McCartney? The answer, of course, is that it was both. They were a perfect fit, with Gibbs coaching the players that Beathard hired.
Winning Super Bowl XVII. It’s one thing to reach a Super Bowl. It’s another to win it, and the Redskins did just that with a 27-17 defeat of Miami in a game where the Redskins outscored their opponent 17-0 in the second half — with John Riggins’ 43-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter the decisive play. The victory brought Washington more than its first Lombardi Trophy; it solidified Beathard and Gibbs as the league’s premier partnership — with Washington returning to the Super Bowl the following season and again in 1987.
Getting to Super Bowl XXIX. After leaving the Redskins, Beathard returned to the West Coast as general manager of the San Diego Chargers, and, within three years, had the Bolts in the playoffs for the first time in a decade and within five seasons had them in their first … and only … Super Bowl. OK, so they didn’t win that contest. It happens. But they got there by stunning Pittsburgh — a franchise that dominated the 1970s — in Pittsburgh, no less, when linebacker Dennis Gibson batted down a fourth-down pass in the end zone with just over a minute to play. The Chargers weren’t supposed to win, with the Steelers 9-point favorites and Pittsburgh defensive end Ray Seals predicting that if the Steelers were on their game they’d shut out San Diego. Final score: 17-13 Chargers, the fourth conference championship win for Beathard as a GM. Though the Chargers didn’t win Super Bowl XXIX, what Beathard did with coach Bobby Ross, whom he found at Georgia Tech, was similar to what he accomplished with Joe Gibbs nearly 10 years earlier: The two were in the playoffs in Ross’ first season as a pro head coach and reached the Super Bowl in his third. In short, they returned the Chargers to the pro football map.