Beathard rides Chargers' wave SUPER BOWL XXIX

January 24, 1995|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Sun Staff Writer

MIAMI -- They don't teach the Bobby Beathard management style at the Harvard Business School.

To start, there's his name. Not Bob and certainly not Robert. He's celebrating his 58th birthday today and still calls himself Bobby.

He runs marathons and often surfs in search of the perfect wave before going to work in the morning. When he arrives, he sometimes is wearing shorts and athletic shoes.

Bobby Beathard is not your typical corporate chieftain.

Yet the San Diego Chargers general manager can play the boardroom game with the best of them, having won his share of power struggles.

Back in 1981, he persuaded Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke to side with him instead of coach Jack Pardee. Beathard fired Pardee and hired an obscure assistant named Joe Gibbs. When Gibbs finally quit in 1992, he left three Super Bowl trophies behind.

Beathard had become restless long before then. He yearned to return to California, where he had a home overlooking the Pacific Ocean near San Diego.

When his contract expired after the 1989 draft, he resigned as Redskins general manager. After spending that season as an NBC commentator, he was hired by the Chargers in 1990.

Five years later, the Chargers have arrived at Super Bowl XXIX. Right on Beathard's schedule.

After all, the Redskins made it in his fifth year as the team's GM, and Chargers owner Alex Spanos says Beathard told him he would have San Diego in the Super Bowl in five years.

This is Beathard's sixth Super Bowl trip. He made it as the player personnel director with the Miami Dolphins in 1972 and 1973, and then three times with the Redskins.

Still, Beathard sounds embarrassed that Spanos has gone public with that story. In his self-deprecating way, Beathard brushes away the significance of that timetable, although it's another example of how he can play the corporate game.

He says now he doesn't even remember saying it. That's his story and he's sticking to it.

But if he did say it, he says five is a good number to mention.

"If you say more than five, it sounds like a heck of a long time to wait," Beathard said. "If you say three years, that's too soon. People start counting and three's easy to remember. If you say five, a couple of years down the road, people forget what you said."

Beathard, though, had to win one more corporate struggle before he got the Chargers in the Super Bowl.

After four years of working for Spanos, Beathard decided the owner's bottom-line approach wouldn't work.

3 Even Spanos said he wasn't an easy man to work for.

"When I was there, it was a little difficult," he said.

In what Beathard describes as their "little run-in," the GM told Spanos after last season that the owner had to change the way he was operating the club or he was going to quit.

L It was Spanos, with some nudging from his wife, who blinked.

"It took me 10 years to realize you can't run a sports franchise the way you run a business," Spanos said. "I've been a bottom-line man all my life. I knew nothing else. I never dreamed that you don't run a football franchise like you run any business.

"You like to believe you can make a decent profit. You can't do that and win."

His wife of 46 years, Faye, helped convince him Beathard was right.

"My wife has never asked me or interfered with my business once in 46 years," Spanos said. "It's the first time she ever stepped in to make a comment. I had to listen to her, and she was obviously right. She said, 'Alex, things aren't going right. Something's wrong.' "

The result is that Spanos turned the running of the team over to his son, Dean. For the first time, the Chargers didn't have a budget, except for the salary cap.

"I said, 'Deano, whatever you need, whatever it takes, go ahead,' " Spanos said. "I never dreamed they'd get me to the Super Bowl."

Said Beathard: "This owner has really and truly changed. He's been fantastic."

Oddly, one of Beathard's first major decisions in the new regime was not to give a player a big contract.

He decided not to match the four-year, $10.4 million deal the Denver Broncos offered wide receiver Anthony Miller.

"That allowed us to do some other things," he said.

The other things included bringing in free agents Reuben Davis, David Griggs, Dennis Gibson and Dwayne Harper -- all starters. He wound up bringing in 23 new players and has the youngest team in the league. Only two players are left from the pre-Beathard days.

Even though the Chargers are 19-point underdogs against the San Francisco 49ers, it is clearly a team with a solid future.

And Beathard is getting most of the credit for making it happen. Not that he wants to accept it. He still hasn't gotten over once being called the "smartest man in the NFL" by Sports Illustrated.

"It's embarrassing and it's not true," Beathard said. "Bringing in Bobby Ross to be our coach was the catalyst for everything good that's happened to our team. He's the guy who pulled this all together."

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