COSTA MESA, Calif. -- An early proponent of the draft-and-develop philosophy in building a NFL team, Bobby Beathard willingly traded down in the draft if he believed a rich pool of talent left good players available later.
The use of that successful strategy could have him elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame this weekend.
Selected by the Hall of Fame’s contributors committee as a finalist for the Class of 2018, Beathard must receive 80 percent of the vote by the 48-member selection committee this Saturday to make the Hall.
Teams run by Beathard advanced to seven Super Bowls and won four.
“I’d analyze the draft, and if there were a lot of good players in the draft, I would trade my first-round pick away for maybe two thirds or a fourth -- whatever teams were willing to give for the first-round draft pick -- as long as there was a deep draft in talent, I could do that,” Beathard said.
During his time as general manager of the Chargers from 1990 to 2000, Beathard engineered 40 trades -- the biggest of which brought quarterback Stan Humphries from Washington to San Diego. By comparison, current Chargers GM Tom Telesco has pulled the trigger on six trades during his five seasons as head of the team’s personnel department.
From 1994 to 1997, Beathard did not use an original first-round draft pick, choosing instead to trade those picks and other valuable assets for more chances to bring talented players to the team.
It paid off. The Chargers landed key contributors such as running back Natrone Means, defensive end Chris Mims and receiver Shawn Jefferson, and they all were key players for the Chargers on the way to their lone Super Bowl appearance in 1994. The Chargers reached the playoffs three times during Beathard’s tenure.
Beathard brought in a no-nonsense head coach in Bobby Ross and drafted perhaps the best player ever to wear a Chargers uniform in linebacker Junior Seau, with the No. 5 overall selection in the 1990 draft.
For all his good decisions, Beathard also was responsible for one of the NFL’s most colossal failures in draft history when he selected quarterback Ryan Leaf with the No. 2 overall pick in the 1998 draft.
A Southern California native who loved to surf, Beathard said he cherished his time in San Diego. Now retired, the 81-year-old lives just outside Nashville in Franklin, Tennessee, close to where his son Casey Beathard carved out a career as a successful country singer and songwriter.
“On Sunday mornings I’d get up, and I’d like to go down there pretty early,” Beathard said about surfing in San Diego. “It was just a different way people thought about us back then, because I was a surfer and everything.
“I’d get up in the morning if there were big waves and good waves, and some of the guys didn’t understand why I would go to the games when the surf was good. And I was like, ‘Yeah, it’s my job and I like to.’ So if I went into the water, I’d go in about six in the morning, then I would get out and go into work and get to the stadium early. I look back on everything and say, ‘Boy, was I lucky. I got to spend my life doing the things I love to do.’”
A defensive back at Cal Poly, where he was teammates with Hall of Fame coach John Madden, Beathard cut his teeth in the NFL as the director of player personnel from 1972 to 1977 for Don Shula’s Miami Dolphins, where he won two Super Bowls.
“Shula was fantastic,” Beathard said. “He was great. He left me alone.”
After his success with the Dolphins, Beathard moved on to take the general manager position with the Washington Redskins, where he had his most success.
Beathard hired coach Joe Gibbs in 1981 and drafted Hall of Famers Art Monk, Russ Grimm and Darrell Green. He also found some diamonds in the rough in Joe Jacoby, Dexter Manley, Charles Mann and Gary Clark.
During Beathard’s tenure in Washington from 1978 to 1988, the Redskins won two Super Bowls and got to a third. The core of the team stayed together to capture a third title in 1991 after Beathard left.
Beathard said he remains friendly with the Spanos family and roots from the Chargers from afar.
“I wouldn’t have wanted to move up to LA,” Beathard said about the franchise’s relocation north. “I liked San Diego, but you’ve got to go where the stadiums are and the population. There are more people in Los Angeles interested in having an NFL team than San Diego.
“I think they’re in great position as far as the team. I think Philip Rivers is terrific, and I think they’re doing a good job out there. If they can get a couple of players in the draft that can help right away, I think that would push them over the hump. I hope so. I’d love to see them get back in it.”