Bobby Beathard, Mastermind of N.F.L. 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 on Monday at his home at Franklin, Tenn., a small city outside Nashville. He was 86.

The cause was complications of Alzheimer’s disease, his brother, Peter, said.

An outspoken and out-of-the-box thinker in a league known for buttoned-up team players, Mr. Beathard (pronounced BETH-erd) 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 stood next to his Pro Football Hall of Fame trophy during halftime of a game in Landover, Md., in 2018 between the Washington Redskins and the Houston Texans. He was Washington’s general manager at the time.Credit…Alex Brandon/Associated Press

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 on Jan. 24, 1937, in Zanesville, Ohio, to Robert and Dorothy Falconer Beathard. His father managed a tile company.

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.)

Mr. 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.

“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.”

Alex Traub contributed reporting.

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