SAN DIEGO -- The natives say a bad day here is when the top on the convertible gets stuck. Surf's up! So what if it's December. There is no snow shoveling in San Diego, only an eternal breeze that blows through the sails of the 100-foot yachts.

This is the place Bobby Beathard now calls home, thousands of miles from Capitol Hill. He is near the beach, near Pacific Coast Highway, near the waves, dude. He figures he'll get his tan body as close to paradise as possible. And in the process, run a few marathons, swim laps in the Pacific Ocean, and build a winning football team with the San Diego Chargers.

Of course you remember Beathard, the man who helped build the Washington Redskins piece by piece, Hog by Hog, along with Coach Joe Gibbs and owner Jack Kent Cooke. Now he is trying to do the same with the Chargers, a team that has not been to the playoffs since 1982 and until his heralded arrival on Jan. 3, 1990, had lost 28 of their past 40 games. Now, at 6-7, they're not yet mathematically out of the AFC wild-card chase even if success is still around the corner.

He was -- and is -- seen as San Diego's football savior. The magic man. If Bobby can't turn things around, nobody can. "It is entirely different with Bobby here," said owner Alex G. Spanos, known for his short temper. "It's taken a lot of pressure off of me."

Beathard is standing in front of Jack Murphy Stadium, still trim and fit and blond. And while others are wearing long pants and jackets on a cool and breezy day, Beathard is in short sleeves and tan shorts. He says it is good to be back in California after 12 years with the Redskins. Home again.

But that is all he will say. Beathard is still unhappy about The Washington Post's coverage of the Redskins during his tenure and declined to be interviewed.

He's a man with a laid-back reputation, but a stubborn streak is also one of Beathard's strengths, according to the people who know him well. It's part of what makes him one of the best talent evaluators in the NFL. Everyone may see A in an athlete, but Beathard sees B and beyond. And that sort of savvy can only help him pull the Chargers' organization out of the laugh column and into the one with a "W" on top.

Beathard is at it again. The formula he and Gibbs used in Washington is being applied here. His ally is Chargers head coach Dan Henning, former Redskins offensive assistant and an eager teacher, master psychologist and certified student of the game.

San Diego H-back Craig McEwen, who used to play for Washington, calls the Chargers "Redskins B." Breakup East, Wakeup West

Beathard left the Redskins for a number of reasons, among them increased friction between him and Gibbs. Privately, Beathard tells other NFL general managers the relationship remains strained.

There was tension, Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke said the other day, but he maintains it was the kind of tension that is normal between general manager and head coach.

"They were differences any husband and wife, brother and sister, father and son would have," Cooke said. "They were spirited differences but not bitter ones. They were disagreements but not serious disagreements. That's the truth.

"I have to say that I miss Bobby. I still keep in touch with him all the time. He is as great a talent evaluator as there is in the game. I'm just glad he trained {current Redskins general manager} Charley Casserly so well."

Beathard has many admirers around the league.

New York Giants General Manager George Young: "He is 53 going on 23. I've never seen anyone with more energy."

Billy Ray Smith, a No. 1 draft pick and eight-year starting linebacker for the Chargers: "Bobby came in here, saw the personnel for a month or two and boom, boom: Guys were here and guys weren't here. I kind of liked that. What he felt were the right moves, he made them."

Junior Seau, a talented rookie linebacker as Beathard's first draft pick with the Chargers: "He's taken control and you know he's here. He and I . . . being in a battle with {contract} negotiations and all, I can honestly say that there are no bitter feelings on my part and I think he did a great job during the negotiations. He stuck it to me. But he was doing his job."

New England Patriots General Manager Patrick Sullivan: "For those who think you need 10,000 number one draft picks to build a team, they should take a look at Bobby Beathard."

What Beathard is building may be Redskins West, yet with the Chargers he has more raw material to work with. The Redskins had only three first-round picks during Beathard's tenure yet got to the Super Bowl three times, winning twice.

In San Diego, Beathard isn't quite starting from ground zero. He had 17 draft picks for 1990 -- a league high -- including the fifth overall, which he used on Seau. With the season winding down, Beathard's draft is considered quite successful.

What Beathard is currently dealing with is the poor drafting of past administrations, particularly from 1983 to 1986. Only four selections are still on the team from those years.

"The franchise did a poor job in the mid-1980s of drafting and trading," Henning said. "The guts of your team should be from those years. And we don't have it."

Blunt and honest, that's Henning, a longtime friend of Beathard. The general manager has surrounded himself with such friends, including loyal scouting assistants Billy Devaney and Dick Daniels, who are Chargers assistant general manager and director of player personnel, respectively. Marty Hurney, who covered the Redskins for the Washington Times during 1983-87, is coordinator of football operations with the Chargers.

Henning learned the ins and outs of the game as a player at William and Mary (where he was an education major) under Lou Holtz and later with the Chargers as a backup quarterback under Coach Sid Gillman. He was an assistant on several NFL staffs and had a head-coaching shot (1983-86) with the Atlanta Falcons, going 7-9, 4-12, 4-12, 7-8-1, between turns on Gibbs's Redskins staff.

"Some coaches will just try to run through a wall," Holtz, now with Notre Dame, once said about Henning. "Dan will go up there, count the bricks, analyze them and make a plan. After you get through running your head through the wall and get to the other side, Dan will already be sitting there."

"We have a plan here," Henning said. "And we're on track with that plan. But it's never easy. You have to understand what you're doing, understand that it takes time, then have the support of the ownership and management to insure it goes on."

With the Chargers, Henning has used much of the Redskins' philosophy. That is especially true on offense: huge offensive linemen (an average of 290 pounds among the starters; the Redskins' starting line Sunday against Chicago averaged 286), the H-back, plenty of motion and shifting formations, plus the big running back. That's 248-pound Marion Butts, a 1989 seventh-round draft pick become 1990 NFL rushing leader with 1,154 yards and eight touchdowns.

"It's a carbon copy," McEwen said of the offense. "We even use a lot of the same terminology the Redskins use."

McEwen should know. He joined the Chargers for the last four games of the 1989 season with 1987-88 experience on the Redskins. He has become a vital part of the Chargers' offense. Against the the New York Jets he had five catches for 50 yards from both H-back and R-back (a Chargers variation).

"We even have our version of the Posse," said the 6-foot McEwen.

"I've been working with Bobby since D.C. and I've never had a problem with him. He knows how to look inside of people and see the desire. I think looking at someone's heart is the hardest thing to do, and he does that well. He goes beyond all the vital statistics.

"Look at me. You don't have to look at a stopwatch twice to read my {40-yard dash time}. And my vertical jump . . . I don't think I can touch the basketball rim. I'm not your Anthony Miller {Chargers wide receiver} or Darrell Green, but I know what I can do."

Another former Redskin, H-back Terry Orr, has also converted to a Chargers uniform. "With the Redskins you had an old and mature team," said Orr. "There is tons of talent here, it's just young."Birds of a Feather

Seau, 21, is the heart of Beathard's first draft as a Charger. The former USC Trojan is a great physical specimen, capable of bench-pressing 440 pounds and sprinting the 40 in a swift 4.61.

The relationship between Seau and Beathard was strained at first because of the soap opera that is contract negotiation. At one point Seau considered sitting out the season. In the end, after an ultimatum from Beathard, he signed a five-year, $4.525 million contract.

Now the emphasis is strictly on football, not money. Seau is having the expected growing pains and difficulties that accompany becoming an NFL player. He has been shifted from inside to outside linebacker and back again, and for now has settled at middle linebacker.

Seau, a native of American Samoa, says he and Beathard have something in common. "We're in the same boat," Seau said. "I'm his first draft pick and this is his first year as general manager. Oh, and there's something else. I think we both like to surf."