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Beathard Retires, Leaving Chargers in Familiar State

April 26, 2000|T.J. SIMERS

SAN DIEGO — Bobby Beathard saved Alex Spanos, the owner of the Chargers.

Ten years ago, he came to town and bailed out an organization in chaos because of Spanos' blubbering and blundering way of conducting business.

Tuesday, Alex Spanos began the first day of his life without General Manager Bobby Beathard, 63, who announced his retirement, and Spanos immediately reverted to blubbering and blundering form.

The Chargers replaced one of the most instinctive, gutsy and proven judges of football talent in NFL history with an accountant.

The team announced that Ed McGuire, a former account representative for Met Life and a senior manager of labor operations for the NFL's Management Council, will now be the Chargers' vice president of football operations. He will be in charge of everyone but the owner of the team.

In a disappointing sign of the times, McGuire, the guy with the calculator, will be in charge of Billy Devaney, who will pick the football talent so long as it doesn't disrupt the bottom line, and Mike Riley, the guy who will coach the affordable players.

Would Bill Parcells or Jimmy Johnson let a bean counter determine their destiny?

Before Beathard came to San Diego, providing both credibility and stability and removing Spanos from the media spotlight, the Chargers were in disarray.

When Spanos purchased the Chargers in 1984, he began meeting with Al Saunders, an assistant coach, instead of Don Coryell, the head coach, thereby undermining Coryell. After promoting Saunders to assistant head coach eight games into the next season, Spanos fired the popular Coryell and elevated Saunders.

Spanos also sidestepped Chargers' General Manager John Sanders, and began taking advice from Ron Nay, who headed up the team's scouting department. When Nay fell out of favor, Spanos took Raider owner Al Davis' advice and hired Steve Ortmayer as general manager. Later, he wondered out loud why his good friend Al Davis would steer him so wrong.

The Chargers, meanwhile, were losing on the field, and Spanos routinely used the media to blame everyone in the organization except himself. Team officials cringed every time he opened his mouth.

When Beathard arrived, he did so with the understanding that Spanos would be muzzled. Spanos' son, Dean, became acting owner and the buffer between the elder Spanos and Beathard.

After four years, however, Beathard could no longer take it. He submitted his resignation to Dean Spanos because Alex Spanos wouldn't come up with the money to sign better players and would not discuss it without losing his temper.

Eventually, Beathard withdrew his resignation after Dean Spanos had a chat with his father. The Chargers then went on to play in the Super Bowl.

It has not always been the best of times with Beathard in control, but Spanos has remained in the background, knowing that his interference would probably prompt Beathard to walk away. Beathard has talked about retirement the past several years, a not-so-subtle reminder to Alex Spanos to keep his distance.

But now Beathard has decided to leave, and has done so just a few weeks after Alex Spanos infuriated the people of San Diego by demanding a new stadium in the next few years, with the implied threat that if he doesn't get it, he will move his team.

The people of San Diego have become increasingly irritated with the Chargers because of a deal that calls for the city to guarantee a sellout each week or purchase the remaining tickets as a credit against rent paid by the team. That would cost the city millions, because the Chargers haven't been much of a draw while going 17-31 the past three years.

At the same time Spanos has been claiming that other NFL owners are making more money because they have better stadium deals.

Now the Chargers have lost Beathard, who had the credentials to tell Spanos to take a hike, because he was there in Miami when the Dolphins were winning Super Bowls and in Washington when the Redskins were winning Super Bowls.

"There's only one Bobby Beathard," McGuire said. "It's a tough perception right now to overcome, and even if we do well, I'm not sure everyone in the league is going to start turning everything over to the cap guy or the salary guy. But I think it can work here."

The Chargers had a general manager candidate ready to replace Beathard in Devaney, a 17-year faithful companion to Beathard. But they passed, in favor of an accountant.

"What can I say about Bobby and his 37 years (in the game)," said Alex Spanos, before moving on to talk about his 17 years with the Chargers and his delight in making it to the Super Bowl. "This is the first time that I have appeared like this in a long time (before the microphones). Without Bobby . . . "

The blubbering has begun. It will be followed shortly by the blundering.

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