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SMARTEST MAN IN THE NFL

Aug. 29, 1988
Aug. 29, 1988

Table of Contents
Aug. 29, 1988

Zurich Track
Diving
Pro Football 1988
Charles White
Bobby Beathard
Bernie Kosar
Horse Racing
Tennis
Update
Point After

SMARTEST MAN IN THE NFL

WHETHER HE'S BUILDING A TEAM OR RIDING A WAVE, NO GENERAL MANAGER IN THE LEAGUE CAN OUTPERFORM BOBBY BEATHARD OF THE WASHINGTON REDSKINS

Early morning may sunshine streams into Bobby Beathard's office overlooking the practice field at Redskin Park. It is an office that always seems to be bathed in sunshine. California is never far away. On the wall—surrounded by pictures of Beathard's four children and adjoining a photo of his youngest son, Casey, as a six-year-old, snuggling against former Miami Dolphin fullback Larry Csonka—is a photo of a green, curling, eight-foot Pacific wave, the head and shoulders of a body-surfer barely visible in the heart of it. On the floor, under a chair, lies a pair of jogging shoes. On the shelf behind the desk are a banana, a pear, a plastic bag filled with homemade granola, a styrofoam cupful of raisins. Health, vigor, joy—that's the message of the office.

This is an article from the Aug. 29, 1988 issue Original Layout

A visitor thumbs through a book on a table—Summer Is Forever: The Southern California Beach Towns. Under Newport Beach is written: "At the harbor entrance along the north stone jetty where beach is steep, waves having faces of 20 feet plunge suddenly onto shallow water and a sandy bottom. The Wedge attracts only the brave and the best.... In recent years there have been several drownings, some broken necks and backs.... It is definitely a 'rite of manhood.' ...They hoist the danger flag and park an ambulance on the beach."

The picture on Beathard's wall is of the Wedge. The body-surfer is Beathard, general manager of the Redskins. "How old were you then?" asks the visitor.

"Old," he says, pointing to the wave. "See, you tuck here and come across the face, then shoot up. You can come out much faster than you think. There's a skill to getting out of it."

How many NFL general managers bodysurf? Or take 12-mile runs? Or are called Bobby? Not Robert or Mr. Beathard—the latter kills him—or Bob. Just Bobby.

Beathard's great asset is his intuition. Plus his connections. Take Paul Masotti, a free agent from Acadia University in Nova Scotia. Not a bad wideout—fast, has moves. Beathard's Canadian connection, J.I. Albrecht, tipped him on the kid. Then there's Kelvin White, out of football for four years, who was once Oklahoma's top running back recruit. Beathard found him working in a warehouse in Lubbock, Texas. White ran a 9.3 hundred in high school. Maybe, just maybe....

Beathard's energy is infectious. His scouts work their tails off for him, jog with him, eat granola and raisins with him. He goes with them on the road, pounds the pavement, as he has done for 25 years. They were a frenzied band of recruiters in the days before the 1987 players' strike, and their work paid off. Not one Redskin veteran crossed the picket line, but the young replacements went 3-0.

Beathard has put together an organization that has won two Super Bowls in the last six years. In the 10 seasons that he has been in Washington, only Miami has had more victories than the Skins, and Beathard is responsible for part of the Dolphins' success because he ran their scouting operation for six years before going to Washington. He hired the Redskins' Joe Gibbs, who has the best record of any active coach in football. He signs players to contracts. The San Jose Mercury News recently conducted a poll of 12 leading agents to find out, among other things, which general manager was best prepared. Beathard came out on top.

It's hard to picture Beathard talking hard numbers with an agent in a downtown office or timing kids on a practice field at Cal State-Fullerton. First there's the way he dresses—shorts and jogging shoes for everyday, light slacks and open-neck shirt when he's going formal. "Oh my God, the clothes," says his mother, Dorothy. "I'm embarrassed when he comes in from an airplane or when he's on TV. I say, 'Bobby, why don't you wear a coat and tie?' He says, 'I don't want to.' I even talked to the Redskins' owner, Jack Kent Cooke. I said, 'Can't you get him to dress better?' He said, 'That's Bobby.' "

Then there's his puckish smile, pageboy haircut and runner's build. Only the lines on Beathard's face and neck betray his 51 years. "You make a severe mistake when you confuse Bobby's appearance with naivetè," says agent Marvin Demoff, "because he's a very well-prepared and skillful negotiator. He taught me most of what I know. Fair, yes, and scrupulously honest, but nobody's going to put anything over on him, despite his boyish looks."

The May minicamp is in its first day. He has cut down on his running until he can clear up a back injury, a memento of a foolish burst of energy a few years ago, when he competed in three marathons and a half marathon in five weeks. The phone is ringing in his office, and a couple of dozen pink callback slips are on his desk. He carries on a conversation with the caller and a visitor at the same time, a talent his wife, Christine, says often reaches ridiculous extremes.

"This is Bobby," she says. "He's on the phone doing a radio interview, and at the same time he's watching a documentary on TV and skimming through a magazine. Occasionally he'll start a conversation with me. The way you see him in the office is the way he always is."

The phone rings again in Beathard's office. An NFL scout wants to know about a tight end. "The problem is that when he's on the move and has to block, he can't break down because he's so stiff," says Beathard. "He turns his head. Down-field he has to throttle down to make a cut. You have to worry about his hands, and he's not a big-time blocker. He's no better than what you've got."

After hanging up, Beathard says to his visitor, "Yeah, we'll trade information—with the guys who return the favor. Some people, like George Young of the Giants and Dick Steinberg of the Patriots, guys I've known for a long time, well, I'm on the phone with them a lot. Some teams hardly at all. Some teams, like Dallas, never. I don't discourage our scouts from talking to other scouts. I guess some organizations do. You never know who's telling the truth."

Bill Devaney, who at 33 is Beathard's youngest scout, comes in for some granola. Beathard does not take a lunch break. He simply grabs whatever is closest, a banana, a peach, some granola. That's breakfast, too, and sometimes dinner when he's working late. "Christine makes it," says Beathard. "She's a granola genius. Let's see, there's oat flakes, soy flakes, sesame and sunflower seeds, bulgur, almonds, raisins, apples, dried peaches, cloves and cinnamon. Then she bakes it. She's getting her degree in creative writing from George Mason University. She can stay up all night studying and still find time to bake 10 loaves of whole-grain bread."

The phone again. "Hey, Jerry, I'll be happy to, if you send me some of the muffins from Ovens of Brittany." The place is in Madison, Wis. Beathard selects his hotels on the road for their proximity to health-food shops and running trails. In Eugene, Ore., he prefers the Thunderbird ("Near the Prefontaine track by the McKenzie River," he says); in Austin, Texas, the Crest ("You go right out the back door, and you're on a trail you can run on for miles by a lake or a river"); in Columbia, Mo., the Campus Inn ("Terrific old country roads, and hills"). The worst is the Newark Airport Marriott, where the Skins stay when they play the New York Giants at the Meadow-lands. "I just run around the parking lot and down to the North Terminal and back," says Beathard.

A check of the clock. Time to go watch the morning workout. Beathard is spotted by a coterie of TV people with minicams, reporters with notebooks and radio guys with mikes. They know there is no better interview. His candor is sometimes disarming. "Why didn't you pick up that guy when he became available?" someone asks.

Beathard looks the questioner full in the face. "Because he's terrible," he says. Beathard assumes the remark will not be quoted verbatim. He tries to help any writer covering his team, but he assumes the person has the brains to protect him on potentially damaging comments—or at least to ask if the quote can be used. Those are the rules. When they're broken, Beathard ceases being a source.

He stares at the practice field, watching Todd Krumm, a free-agent safety from Michigan State. He has a special interest in Krumm, who was first coveted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Beathard's acquisition of Krumm reminds him of the old AFL-NFL wars, when Beathard broke in as a scout with the Kansas City Chiefs and part of his assignment was to keep talent away from the NFL. Last spring the Buccaneers put Krumm up in a hotel and had the phone shut down to any NFL callers. Beathard assigned one of his scouts, George Saimes, the job of getting through. Saimes made contact, and the Redskins got Krumm.

"Bobby drove me over [to Redskin Park) from the airport," says Krumm. "He had a jogging suit on and a bike in the back seat. He wasn't a general manager, just Bobby. The way he treated me was real positive. There was no pressure to sign. He introduced me to everyone, the scouting staff, the coaching staff, the upper echelons. At Tampa Bay there was constant pressure to sign."

The practice is winding down. A writer shows Beathard a piece in The Washington Times that says All-Pro defensive end Dexter Manley wants to renegotiate his contract. It quotes Manley's agent, Bob Woolf, as saying he tried to reach Beathard but couldn't. "Tried to reach me?" says Beathard, looking hurt. "I never got any message that he tried to reach me."

Upon returning to his office, his first call is to Woolf. He reaches Woolf's associate, Randy Vataha, the former New England Patriot wide receiver. "I know, Randy," says Beathard. "The base is low, but nobody's got an incentive package like he has. He didn't make it all last year because of the strike, but if he goes the way he has, he'll be up over $700,000 this season. Then we'll look at it, O.K.?"

One of Beathard's policies is that he tries to redo a contract before a player enters his option year. Another is that if a player clearly outperforms his contract, then it's rewritten. "If you hold a player to a long-term contract," he says, "or if you start tacking on more years, all you do is create an unhappy player."

The afternoon winds down. Somehow the phone messages get returned and the letters answered. The last call of the day is from Ted Grossman, a Hollywood stuntman and Beathard's best friend. They met on the beach 30 years ago. They look alike, dress alike and have the same remarkable energy level.

Beathard invites Grossman to league meetings. The stuntman shows up at NFL parties, for which "casual dress" usually means a dark suit, in slacks and sandals. Beathard might introduce his friend as a recruiter for the Maccabiah Games. What the hell, Grossman once played volleyball in the games. Or as an international rugby star. After all, Grossman tried professional rugby in Australia, New Zealand and France 35 years ago as a member of a nondescript bunch of U.S. football players (he was a backup quarterback at the College of the Pacific) who billed themselves as the American All-Stars, despite the fact that their rugby knowledge was zilch.

Once at the league meetings, Beathard introduced Grossman to John Madden, then the Oakland Raiders' coach, as a kinesiology expert from Cal Tech who had done a time-and-motion study on quarterbacks setting up. "I think you'd better listen to what he has to say," Beathard told Madden.

"I told him, 'The old crossover method is obsolete. You can cut three-tenths of a second this way,' " says Grossman. "And I get into a semisquat and backpedal in these tiny pitty-pat steps. Madden's taking it all in. I mean, the name Cal Tech is magic. 'Yes, I can see that," he says. Then I say, 'And you distract the defense by doing this,' and I make these big circles with my left hand. Bobby bursts out laughing, and John yells, 'Get the hell out of here!' "

In the early '50s Beathard was a single wing tailback and safety for El Segundo High, and Grossman played for Beverly Hills High. Before that Beathard was a water nut. By the time he was 11, he had a boxful of swimming medals and ribbons. "Pool swimming, rough-water swims in the ocean, I didn't know much else," he says. "We'd go down to La Jolla and swim around the buoy, swim around the pier in Oceanside. We bodysurfed everywhere—the Wedge, shot the pier at Huntington. I board surfed, too, but bodysurfing was always best. You felt like you were part of the wave."

By the 10th grade Beathard was burned out on competitive swimming. He turned to football and, as a 170-pound senior at El Segundo in 1953, made all-league. Beathard says he was "quick rather than fast." He certainly wasn't as fast as his younger brother, Pete, who would quarterback for Southern Cal and various teams in the NFL, AFL and WFL.

An El Segundo assistant got Beathard and a few of his teammates scholarships to LSU. "They brought me in early to get used to the humidity," says Beathard of his brief stay in Baton Rouge. By September, Beathard was longing for California, and he entered El Camino C.C., where he played backup quarterback on an undefeated team. He went to Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo the next fall, redshirted and then started at quarterback and defensive back four games into his sophomore year. With Beathard at quarterback, Cal Poly put together 9-1 seasons in 1957 and '58.

After graduating, he joined the Redskins as a free-agent safety but was released in camp. The next season he tried out with the L.A. Chargers in the AFL, and he lasted six exhibition games. Two years later he tried Norm Van Brocklin's Minnesota Vikings, but during camp he decided to end his playing career for good.

"I never felt disappointed," he says. "I loved being around football. I knew that's how I wanted to make my living; I just didn't know where. Scouting wasn't very developed then. The time I spent in those camps, though, was invaluable."

In 1961 he married Larae Rich. It was time to go to work. He tried coaching for a year as a graduate assistant at Cal Poly. Then came a succession of odd jobs. First he sold insurance. Then he peddled pharmaceuticals ("It was awful," he says) and chemical supplies ("even worse") before starting his own airplane paint-stripping business.

In 1963, Kansas City head scout Don Klosterman hired Beathard as a part-time scout with the Chiefs. When Al Davis had his brief run as AFL commissioner, he hired Beathard as a scout. Three months later Beathard became a full-time scout with the Chiefs.

In 1968 he was back with Van Brocklin as a scout for the Atlanta Falcons, and four years later Don Shula hired him to head the scouting department in Miami. Joining the Dolphins was a tough decision for Beathard. As the West Coast scout for the Falcons, he could spend time at home in Manhattan Beach. Jamie, the youngest of his four children, had been born in 1968. In 1971, Beathard and Larae divorced, but he still saw his kids when he wasn't on the road. Now he would have to move to Miami. The Dolphins offered him $25,000 a year, a big increase over the $18,000 he was making with Atlanta. He told Shula he would take the job only if his travel schedule allowed him to get back to California as often as possible. Shula, a serious family man, agreed.

"One difference between Bobby and the other guys that I've worked for, "says Charley Casserly, an assistant general manager for the Redskins, "is that they would make us go on the road for two to three weeks at a time. One of the first things Bobby told his scouts was, "You'll get home every weekend, whether you're in Virginia or California.' "

The guys who remember Beathard from his beach days were not surprised by his climb up the NFL ladder. "Bobby could look beyond a 4.4 time or a 39-inch vertical jump and tell you if the guy was a player," says Jon Arnett, an old beach buddy and former Pro Bowl halfback for the Los Angles Rams. "Any scout can clock or take a tape and measure a jump, which is what 90 percent of them do. All of us knew Bobby would find the real competitive guys, because he was so competitive himself."

In 1978, six months after he was named general manager of the Redskins, Beathard remarried. He had met Christine Van Handel, who was a flight attendant at the time, on a trip seven years earlier. She remembered their meeting; he didn't. "We started talking," says Christine. "He said, 'Look, I'd like to take you out, but I don't want you to think I'm just a guy who goes around picking up stewardesses. Here's my parents' phone number. They'll tell you I'm all right.' Three weeks after I met him I called my sister. I told her, 'Some day I'm going to marry this person.' "

The wedding took place at a mutual friend's house in Marina del Rey. It was late getting started. The guys were all upstairs in front of the TV. Christine came up to ask when the ceremony would start. "Halftime," they said. They were watching a Raiders-Rams exhibition game. "Fastest wedding ceremony I'd ever seen," says Grossman. "By the time we got back upstairs the band was still on the field."

Beathard came to the Skins with impressive credentials. In his last four years at Miami, 23 of the 28 players he drafted in the first six rounds made the team. But in Washington he found a team that had gone six years without a draft choice in the first three rounds, a legacy of the George Allen era.

Allen's aging veterans had missed the playoffs in 1977. They hadn't won a postseason game since making the Super Bowl after the 1972 season. Beathard echoed the traditional personnel man's cry—new blood—but the coach in 1978, Jack Pardee, had been one of Allen's Over the Hill Gang. And a whole lot of draft choices weren't available anyway because they had been traded—seven in '78 and five in '79.

Beathard's first pick in 1978, Florida halfback Tony Green, in the sixth round, was a bull's-eye. He made the 1979 Pro Bowl as a kick returner. The next year Beathard found two linebackers, Rich Milot and Monte Coleman, in the draft, and a third, Neal Olkewicz, in the free-agent market. All would become regulars. With the only draft choice the Skins had in the first six rounds that year they chose tight end Don Warren, who later started in the three Redskins Super Bowls. The trading that has become Beathard's signature produced an All-Pro cornerback, Lemar Parrish, and Coy Bacon, Washington's leading sacker from 1978 through '81. In 1978, Beathard gave the Cincinnati Bengals a No. 1 draft for the pair. The parade continued. The Skins' first No. 1 pick in 12 years, Art Monk, in 1980, became an All-Pro.

Youngsters were finding their way into the Washington lineup, but not fast enough for Beathard. The Redskins finished 8-8 in 1978, 10-6 in '79 and 6-10 in '80. They were an old team, with 15 members who were 30 or older, including 10 starters. Beathard and Pardee finally locked horns. Beathard felt that the coaching staff was taking the easy way out, going with veteran players and giving his young talent the short look. In 1980, Pardee kept a pair of ancient defensive tackles, Diron Talbert, 36 at the time, and Paul Smith, 35, and cut one of Beathard's free-agent rookie finds, Chris Godfrey, who became a starting guard for the Super Bowl Giants.

In December 1980, Beathard told Christine and the kids, "I can't stay with the Redskins under the present conditions. If Mr. Cooke decides to keep both Jack and me, I'm going to have to look for another job." Faced with the decision, Cooke went with his general manager, whose next move was to recommend that Cooke hire Gibbs.

Beathard's 1981 draft produced three future Pro Bowlers, guard Russ Grimm, Manley and wideout Charlie Brown. In the 12th round he got tight end Clint Didier, who's still a Redskins regular. That same year Beathard visited his old school, Cal Poly, and came back with a free-agent linebacker, Mel Kaufman, who has started for Washington since 1982.

Low-round draft picks, free agents—Beathard loves them. The '83 Super Bowl team had 26 free agents. Eleven more of those Super Bowl Skins were drafted in the fifth round or lower. Beathard reached into the USFL supplemental draft of 1984 and found Gary Clark, who became an All-Pro wideout. Two years ago he gave New England a third-round draft for the rights to USFL wide receiver Ricky Sanders, whose 193 receiving yards against the Denver Broncos set a Super Bowl record last January.

There have been misses, including a succession of dismal No. 2 picks. In 1985 he traded a No. 2 for Los Angeles Raider wideout Malcolm Barnwell, who turned out to be a bust. Says Young of the Giants, "Everyone knows we're in the guessing business. All you're trying to do is keep your percentages good, and Bobby's are excellent."

"He came to practice at our place last fall," says Utah offensive coordinator Jack Reilly. "He looked at one of our tight ends. Craig McEwen, and said. 'That kid can play for us right now.' We hadn't even given him a scholarship, but Bobby took him to camp as a free agent, and he caught seven passes in the strike game against Dallas."

There's more to being a successful general manager than having a hot hand in the personnel game. There's the mesh, the coordination with owner and coach and with your own staff. Beathard is lucky in his owner. Cooke has never closed the purse. Witness the $6 million he spent last spring to acquire Chicago Bears linebacker Wilber Marshall. "All I ever ask Bobby," Cooke says, "is, 'Will the player help us win?' "

When he recommended Gibbs as coach in 1981, Beathard made sure he was a man he could work with. "We're in this together," Gibbs says. "If Bobby can't do it, we're going to sink. Likewise for me. The rules between us are these: I input who we draft, but the final say is his. He inputs who we keep, but the final say is mine. On trades, Bobby decides who we get, I decide who we let go. Sure, we argue sometimes, but it never goes out of the room."

Says Casserly, "We go out on the road together. A lot of clubs don't do this, but it gets us working with one another. Four scouts, minimum, look at any kid who's rated third round or higher. This is a motivation for the scouts, too. They know that they're always going to get a shot at quality players.

"Bobby never feels secure about anything, even now, coming off a Super Bowl win. He works the same way he did seven or eight years ago. He'll still go out on the road after a free agent. He's not afraid to get himself dirty."

"I've had personnel directors tell me," says Beathard, " 'Now that I have the job I don't have to go out anymore.' "

His stare is wide-eyed, disarming. "Isn't that terrible?"

PHOTOBILL BALLENBERGFILM TIME FOR BEATHARD AND STAFFPHOTOBILL BALLENBERGBEATHARD KNOWS HOW TO SIZE UP VETERANS LIKE WILLIAMS (TOP) AND UNKNOWNS LIKE ARNELL JONESPHOTOJERRY WACHTER[See caption above.]PHOTOV.J. LOVERODAD GOT JEFF A SHOT AT THE RAMSPHOTOBILL BALLENBERGCHRISTINE KEEPS BOBBY FILLED WITH HEALTHY VITTLESPHOTOJERRY WACHTERMARSHALL, A $6 MILLION SKINPHOTOAPBOBBY WORKS SUPER WELL WITH GIBBS (LEFT) AND COOKEPHOTOBILL BALLENBERGBOBBY IS STILL A CALIFORNIA BOY AT HEARTCHARTJOHN GRIMWADEILLUSTRATION

HOW LAST SEASON'S SUPER BOWL CHAMPION CAME TOGETHER

DRAFT

ROUND 5-12

DT
Darryl Grant
9TH ROUND '81

RLB
Monte Coleman
11TH ROUND '79

LG
Raleigh McKenzie
11TH ROUND '85

TE
Clint Didier
12TH ROUND '81

DE
Dexter Manley
5TH ROUND '81

RB
Timmy Smith
5TH ROUND '87

Kevin Bryant
7TH ROUND '83

Barry Wilburn
8TH ROUND '83

S
Clarence Vaughn
8TH ROUND '87

ROUNDS 1-4

DE
Charles Mann
3RD ROUND '83

QB
Jay Schroder
3RD ROUND '84

SS
Alvin Walton
3RD ROUND '86

TE
Don Warren
4TH ROUND '79

CB
Vernon Dean
2ND ROUND '81

WR
Gary Clark
2ND ROUND '84

CB
Brian Davis
2ND ROUND '87

C/G
Russ Grimm
3RD ROUND '81

WR
Art Monk
1ST ROUND '80

RT
Mar May
1ST ROUND '81

LCB
Darrell Green
1ST ROUND '83

FREE AGENTS

MLB
Neal Olkewicz
'79

C
Jeff Bostic
'80

LT
Joe Jacoby
'81

LLB
Mel Kaufman
'81

FS
Todd Bowles
'86

K
Ali Haji-Sheikh
'87

TRADES

RB
George Rogers
'85

DT
Dave Butz
'75

RG
R.C. Thielemann
'85

WR
Ricky Sanders
'86

QB
Doug Williams
'86