The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Bobby Beathard’s keen eye was matched only by his human touch

Bobby Beathard poses with his Hall of Fame bust during halftime of Washington game in 2018. (Alex Brandon/AP)
5 min

It did not take long for Charley Casserly, then a young scout with the 1978 Washington Redskins, to appreciate the rare skills of the man who recently had been hired to become the team’s general manager and his boss, Bobby Beathard.

“Back then, it was traditional for scouts to go out on the road for weeks at a time,” Casserly recalled in a telephone interview from his home near Tampa on Wednesday night. “Bobby was a family man. He had four kids, and he didn’t believe in that. One of the first times he met with us he said he wanted us to come home and be with our families on the weekends. That’s the way he wanted it, and that’s just the way he was.”

An outside-the-box, fun-loving marathon man, champion body surfer and all-world football talent evaluator, Beathard is being remembered fondly coast to coast this week following his death Monday at age 86 at his home in Franklin, Tenn., near Nashville. The cause was complications from Alzheimer’s disease, his son Casey Beathard said.

In the D.C. area, as well as South Florida and Southern California, Beathard is being celebrated as a man who played a critical role in building seven Super Bowl teams, including back-to-back titles for the Miami Dolphins in 1972-73, championships in Washington in 1982 and 1987 and the only Super Bowl appearance in Chargers history following the 1994 season, when the franchise was in San Diego.

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Casserly had a front-row seat for Beathard’s 10-year tenure in Washington. In 1981, Beathard hired an unknown assistant on the Chargers staff named Joe Gibbs to be Washington’s coach — but first he had to convince owner Jack Kent Cooke that Gibbs was the right man for the job.

“'Who in the hell is Joe Gibbs?’ ” Beathard once recalled Cooke asking. “‘ If we hire a guy named Joe Gibbs, they’ll never forgive us. You’re going to be fired.’ I said, ‘No, just stick with it.’ ”

“The truth is, Joe sold himself,” Casserly said. “They had a 3½-hour interview, and when they finished, Joe Gibbs was the coach.”

Many more doubts followed when Washington opened the 1981 season with five straight losses. Then came another meeting, when Cooke summoned both Beathard and Gibbs to his home in Middleburg, Va. Years later, both men said they believed they were going to be fired that day, only to have the often mercurial owner tell them they still had his full support to do whatever it took to turn things around.

Washington finished 8-8 in 1981, and the next season, a strike-shortened campaign, the team beat the Dolphins in Super Bowl XVII with 17 of 22 starters drafted or signed as free agents by Beathard.

Former Buffalo Bills and Indianapolis Colts general manager Bill Polian, voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2015, once described Beathard as “the single-greatest evaluator I ever came across.”

“The guy just had an eye for talent,” Casserly said. “One of his great strengths was his absolute fearlessness. He didn’t care what people thought. And if he made a mistake, he would just move on and forget about it. He also listened. To everybody. Everything was done out front. Our draft room was always open. Anyone in the organization could walk in. He wanted the scouts in there; he wanted the coaches. And we all appreciated the fact that he respected what we thought and gave us a chance to say it. He made the final decision, of course, and we respected that, too.”

Bobby Beathard took a chance on Joe Gibbs. Now the GM will join the coach in the Hall of Fame.

In the final few years of their partnership, Beathard and Gibbs disagreed increasingly on some of those decisions, and Beathard left the organization after the 1988 season. But neither man allowed it to have any long-term negative effect on their relationship. When Beathard was selected as a contributor to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2018, he chose Gibbs as his presenter at the induction ceremony in Canton, Ohio.

Beathard’s first year in Washington also was my last year as The Washington Post’s full-time beat writer on the franchise. Compared with the previous six years covering George Allen, a man we in the media called “Nixon With a Whistle,” Beathard was Barack Obama-like, an absolutely refreshing delight.

In training camp in Carlisle, Pa., that first summer, he convinced me to take up running, offering a beginner’s training routine that eventually led me to a few marathons, including the 1979 Marine Corps event he also ran with his 13-year-old son, Casey.

For Beathard, it was always about family, friends and football. And one of those friends, Chargers owner Dean Spanos, may well have described him best.

“Bobby was who we all aspire to be: a friendly, caring, giving, thoughtful human being who brought people from all walks of life together,” Spanos said in a statement released by the team. “He was the best GM in football, but he was also the guy sitting on the surfboard in the ocean that you caught waves with, jogged trails alongside and chatted up in the checkout line of the local market.”

And insisted his scouts come home on the weekends.