When Maryland was introducing its new basketball coach, Lefty Driesell, to alums at a party 12 years ago, a man familiar with the athletic department could be overheard muttering: "50 damn thousand dollars for this guy and he ain't put a ball through the hoop yet."
Redskin fans might offer slight alterations of the theme about Bobby Beathard, who gained enormous power this week after whipping Jack Pardee in a high-stakes game of office politics. What we don't know about Beathard's potential to build a Super Bowl champion is much greater than what we do know.
After three years as general manager, we realize Beathard is a conniver of the first order. One Redskin official, not without prejudice, called Beathard's maneuvers against Pardee "the most deceitful act in pro sports in this town."
Which means that he might be more qualified to head the Redskins than we thought, that he might be bright enough and tough enough to slicker the rest of the league after all. And also his boss, the confirmed meddler, Jack Kent Cooke.
It would have been splendid if Pardee and Beathard had been able to fulfill the dream of Edward Bennett Williams when he hired them: two agreeable men gifted in their respective roles, working together in absolute harmony toward a common goal.
Even in the fantasy world of sports that usually is folly. The history of most NFL teams suggests strong-willed men almost always fight each other for absolute control, or at least for the ear of the owner. Once, it was whispered, Beathard and Pardee shared a mutual distrust of Cooke when he moved here and assumed control of his team.
Cooke is said to be quite good at pitting one executive against another. Whether or not that happened with the Redskins, it is more clear than a blindside block that while Pardee was doing one job Beathard was doing two. Pardee was coaching; Beathard was evaluating talent -- and also reinforcing Cooke's feelings that a man judged coach of the year three times in seven years might not actually be a good coach.
We should not be too naive about all this, as Pardee may have been. Probably, he should have evaulated Beathard and Cooke as intensely as he did Redskin blockers and runners, determined ways to save his job off the field when his players were incapable of doing that on the field.
Next time, Jack, assume nothing.
As Pardee long ago realized, the NFL attracts the most competitive men and can be outwardly cruel beyond belief. Players frequently are praised to the heavens one week, demoted the next and perhaps fired the next -- sometimes without being told why.
Cooke did to Pardee and Beathard what Pardee, during his seven years as a pro coach, had done to players fighting for the same position: made a hard, calculating decision. Ironically, the same people who ripped Pardee for his public relations blunder with Ken Houston are ripping Cooke for dismissing Pardee.
For the first time in an extraordinary career, Houston lost his position.
For the first time in his life, Pardee was fired from a job.
They share a mutual emptiness.
Beathard charges ahead. For years, blue-prints on how to build a superior football team have been forming in his mind. At last, he is getting a chance to execute them. They might be the right ones, for as even Pardee admits, there is more than one way to skin Cowboys and Eagles.
In truth, it is nearly impossible to disagree with many of Beathard's ideas.The one that would have Richie Petitbon as the major defensive mind seems terrific. But they are not all that innovative, and the transition from critic to cornerstone will be carefully scrutinized by more than Cooke.
Beathard knows personnel as well as anyone in football, a skill not as easy to acquire as it might seem. In the last draft, for instance, he thought that an obscure runner named Joe Cribbs and an overweight runner named Jewerl Thomas could be exceptional.He was right.
As director of player personnel for the Dolphins from '74 through '77, Beathard drafted 23 players in the first six rounds who made the roster. With an acknowledged genius (Don Shula) as coach, however, Miami has not won a playoff game since beating the Redskins in the '73 Super Bowl.
Beathard never has hired a coach -- and that is far more hazardous than judging the ability of players. He seems to want an assistant with the Chargers, the offensive wizard Joe Gibbs, who is considered a certain success as a head coach.
Very little is certain in the NFL. After the '72 season, the three assistants thought to have excellent chances to be winners as head coaches were Mike McCormack, Chuck Knox and Walt Michaels. All three of them realized ther goal. Only Knox has been as successful as predicted.
Beathard seems bent on having as large an impact as possible on the Redskins, to the point of publicly telling whomever he hires -- and before he hires him -- that there is no better defensive coordinator than Petitbon. How strong a coach can anyone who might exert such authority attract?
To earn the sort of respect that will enable him to motivate his team properly, a head coach must at least appear to be firmly in control of his territory. Is Beathard searching for the next great NFL coach or an Offensive mind he can control off the field?
Even if he does, with Cooke's approval, choose someone who will submit to his demands, Beathard should not rest easily as Cooke demands. He just might develop a sense of infallibility, begin to believe he could win even more grandly with total control. In the NFL, the only defense that matters is the one played to hold a job.
A former player, Blaine Nye, put the league in precise perspective. It's not who wins or loses that matters, he said, but who gets the blame.