WASHINGTON — At 52, Bobby Beathard and the Washington Redskins are the same age. This is significant, because the unassuming genius suddenly calling it a career here has had more impact on the Redskins than anyone since the fellow who brought them here.
George Preston Marshall gave the Redskins life in Washington, 20 days after Beathard was born. Sonny Jurgensen gave them style. Vince Lombardi gave them credibility. Sammy Baugh gave them all-around excellence that never has been--and may never be--equaled.
George Allen in 1972 took the Redskins to a plateau, the National Football League title game, unscaled in 27 years. Beathard in the 1980s got them there three times--and to the absolute peak twice.
Joe Gibbs was the coach of those two Super Bowl champs. Beathard hired Gibbs--and provided the players Allen had not left behind after his own hasty departure in 1978.
Although Jack Kent Cooke gave Beathard the thickest wad of money with which to operate in the NFL, he did not hire him. Proving his own brilliance, Cooke trusted Beathard's judgment on Gibbs and lesser matters.
Perhaps if Cooke or Gibbs or a chorus of Redskin fans had whispered that lately, Beathard might have stayed. Confident to the point of being offensive in his area of near-unique expertise, Beathard also seems to need ego-stroking in a way the owner and coach either could not--or would not--do this time.
Lots of us snapped to attention when stories of Beathard's dissatisfaction and possible departure started to surface a few weeks ago. Then we remembered similar flurries when his contract was being negotiated other times during his 11 years with the Redskins.
Smugly, we chuckled: Bobby's crying wolf again. Or Chargers. Why would he jog away from the most free spending and creative owner in the league? And a coach second only to Beathard's previous boss, Don Shula, after Tom Landry was blind-sided off the sidelines.
Most likely, the seesaw of power Beathard and Gibbs supposedly have balanced since 1981 had tilted inexorably the coach's way. Even the strongest general managers usually lose to successful and charismatic coaches.
Conflict between strong-willed general managers and coaches is almost unavoidable. Loyalty is mainly why. Any coach who wins as grandly as Gibbs has over a period of time develops knot-tight ties, to a style of play and to players heroic in ways often obvious only to him.
The general manager must be more restless and daring, for he literally scouts the future. Youth and promise excite him. And when a Beathard sees one of his young and scar-free behemoths losing a roster battle to some graying and stitched geezer, he frequently cries: "You've got to be kidding!"
Beathard very likely never had so much fun, in a pure-scouting sense, as during the player strike two years ago. Seat-of-the-pants football is what it was. Only teams with the smartest management, backed by lots of money, survived.
The replacement team Beathard assembled and Gibbs taught was unbeaten in three games--and helped vault the regular team into the playoffs and that Super Bowl rout.
Maybe Beathard also needs some time to determine priorities, a football sabbatical. After a naturally restless man has put teams together in about every way possible, some recharging may be in order.
If Beathard does stay away a while, this will have been a whopper of a leave-taking time in the NFL. The architects of five Super Bowl winners in the 1980s, Bill Walsh and Beathard, stepping aside; the founders and caretakers of America's Team, Tom and Tex and Gil, cast aside by a grindstone Cowboy. For Pete's sake, even Rozelle is gone.
The good work Beathard and his men do is done mostly alone and is always tiring. They travel thousands of miles, eat dozens of lousy meals and overturn hundreds of fool's-gold players to mine one genuine gem.
Beathard's stage has been a portable podium at Redskin Park on draft day, when he tests his courage and wits and bedazzles lots of the league. Routinely, he will trade a future No. 1 draft choice to select a Russ Grimm in the third round (1981), or fare far better in later rounds than he does in the second.
When George Allen left the Redskins, Washingtonians assumed they would never see such a trade-mad man again. Beathard succeeded him--and proceeded to open an even more bustling swap shop.
Also, Allen prided himself on struggling through a couple of miles after practice on a track he had specially built inside Redskin Park. The much younger Beathard clips off eight to 12 miles daily and competes in marathons.
Beathard won a power struggle with coach Jack Pardee in 1980, then was responsible for building and overseeing a team second only to the 49ers for Super Bowl success the next nine years.