For a lot of former players, after your playing career is done your career takes a new step. For some, they become television or radio analyst. For others, they find their way behind the scenes of an NFL or NCAA team. They become scouts, recruiters, presidents of schools. For a chosen few, they become General Managers. One of those players is Ted Sundquist.
Sundquist graduated in 1984 from the Air Force Academy where he played fullback for the Falcon football team. While on the team, Sundquist had the privilege of winning the 1982 Hall of Fame Bowl and 1983 Independence Bowl. Following graduation, he was stationed in Berlin where he became a member of the 1984-1988 U.S. National Bobsled Team. After returning from Berlin, he became an assistant coach and eventually head coach of the United States Air Force Academy Prep School. Soon after he joined the Denver Broncos.
Sundquist was hired as a scout in 1993. Soon after he was promoted to Director of Scouting till 2002 when he took over the title of General Manager of the Denver Broncos. He was famous for being one of the more active General Managers by acquiring talent through the NFL draft, signing free agents and trades. One of his most famous trades was when he traded away star running back Clinton Portis for Champ Bailey. Sundquist stepped away in 2007, and since then has taken on various titles including expert analyst and editorial commentator for ProFootballTalk.com and author.
Recently, I was able to interview Ted Sundquist about his time at Air Force, being a scout in the NFL and eventually his time as General Manager of the Denver Broncos.
Brett:You played in the Western Athletic Conference with BYU and Utah in the mid-80s. What were your thoughts as a player playing in Provo and Salt Lake City?
Ted: BYU was becoming a national power in the early ‘80’s and it was an experience to go to Provo and take on the entire Cougar Nation. Air Force played in the opening game after LaVell Edwards Stadium had been renovated in 1982 (new press box, end zones closed in). We came in as heavy underdogs and the game was a battle all day. With less than two minutes to go and backed up on our own 1 yard line, Air Force orchestrated its own version of “The Drive” and went 99 yards to score. Then still down by one, head coach Ken Hatfield decided to go for two and we converted 39-38. It’s the quietest I’d ever heard a crowd of 65,000 get. One of the great wins in Air Force history. The year before we had opened the season against Jim McMahon and a strong BYU team that was just too tough to keep up with. It was the only game I played in ’81 as I tore my ACL the following week.
In four years as a player at Air Force we only played Utah once, my senior season at home in 1983. It was a back and forth game, reflective of how the series went for many years. Two very explosive offenses and coming down to the last drive. We won a hard fought contest 33-31 that would be the third win in an eight game streak that ended with Air Force being ranked 13th in the AP & UPI polls.
Brett: When you played BYU, Steve Young was the quarterback for the Cougars. What were your thoughts on playing him, and could you see at that time that he would become the quarterback that he became?
Ted: My senior season the Cougars came to Falcon Stadium after we had defeated them the year before on the last second conversion. One of my teammates had been injured in a severe car wreck the year before and almost killed. The head injury left him partially paralyzed and symptomatic of a “stroke” victim. But he walked on to the field for the coin toss that following season. Steve Young was one of the captains to come out for BYU and there were tears rolling down his face in respect and admiration for our teammate. I have ALWAYS been a Steve Young fan since that moment.
Steve was so inspired that he set a single game consecutive completion record against us and spanked Air Force 46-28. It was the last game we would lose before going on the eight game run, but it kept us from winning the WAC title that year and BYU won the right to go to the Holiday Bowl as WAC Champions.
Brett: A few years after graduation, you found yourself scouting in the NFL for the Denver Broncos and eventually moved up to Director of Scouting in 1995. Broncos fans consider that a turning point for the team because Mike Shanahan became the coach also. You took Terrell Davis in the 6th Round. What were your thoughts on Davis and actually your first draft as Director of Scouting?
Ted: TD hadn’t played much due to injury and backing up Georgia’s primary RB Garrison Hearst. His 40 yard dash hadn’t wowed many people and his college stats were less than inspiring, but he showed excellent vision, good balance and lower body explosion, along with a willingness to contribute in any way he could. That work ethic showed early in camp and excelled in Special Teams opportunities. The rest is really history I suppose. He was the missing ingredient that allowed John Elway to finally achieve a Super Bowl Championship and that was very satisfying when looking back on what that first draft accomplished.
On a side note, it was great to see a former Air Force Falcon catch the eye of our coaches and scouts, and then be selected in the 7th round – LB Steve Russ. I was very proud to be part of that selection as well.
Brett: During your tenure as College Scouting Director, the Broncos won back-to-back Super Bowl titles. What was it like to know that you helped build this team from a draft point of view?
Ted: Winning a Super Bowl Championship is perhaps one of the most difficult things to do in all of professional sports. There was so much disappointment from the preceding season, losing to Jacksonville in the Divisional Playoffs. You often wonder early in your career if the opportunity will ever present itself again. Not only did we return to the playoffs, but we made a remarkable run as a wildcard and defeated the defending champion Green Bay Packers. Then the following season we did what many haven’t been able to do and that was defend our crown against the Atlanta Falcons. To be part of that in any manner is an honor and to see players contribute that you had a direct influence on becoming “Broncos” made it extra special. LB John Mobley was a player I had pushed hard for us to draft in the 1st round of 1996 and John knocked down the final Brett Favre pass in Super Bowl XXXII to secure the win. The feeling for me was surreal.
Brett: In 2002, you became the General Manager of the Denver Broncos. Part of your job was doing some scouting also. What was your view on the talent from the state of Utah, specifically from BYU and the University of Utah?
Ted: You always knew that players coming out of BYU were going to be well coached, smart, and very disciplined. BYU players reminded me a lot of service academy players (Army, Navy, Air Force) in that they rarely made mistakes and would always fight you for 60 minutes. They were quietly confident and just went out and beat you. It was true when we played them at Air Force; it was true when I scouted them for the Denver Broncos.
Utah players were athletic; fast, strong, explosive. These were guys who had every bit of the talent of the players from other conferences, but sometimes would get overlooked because of the perception of the WAC/MWC. We drafted Mike Anderson in 2000 in the 6th round and he reminded a lot of people of the other 6th rounder we’ve already discussed. Mike Anderson quietly went about his job as a 27 year old rookie and then returned again in 2005 to rush for 1000+ yards to lead us to the AFC Championship.
Brett: There seems to be more talent being recruited out of high school coming from Utah, Idaho, Montana, etc. Is this an increase of talent coming from the area or is the advancement of technology helping scouts finds these talents?
Ted: The quality of high school football has increased with the quality of coaching and training methods at all levels of the game. States with rich traditions at the collegiate level will foster interest and participation at the high school and Pop Warner levels. Traditionally warm weather states have had an advantage in offseason training, but states in the Rocky Mountain region have improved in their own “year round” focus. Young players have a great opportunity to see even more football played through various forms of media and expanded participation in football camps, both in and out of state.
It certainly helps scouts and college recruiters to have improvements in technology to manage data and quickly alert athletic departments of possible recruits, but scouts go to where the talent IS and don’t CREATE the talent where they go.
Brett: This past draft, we seen both a BYU player and Utah player taken in the NFL Draft. What are your thoughts on Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah and Star Lotulelei and how they will do in the NFL?
Ted: I felt Ziggy Ansah was a player that showed signs of his potential throughout the 2012 season and then took full advantage of the scouting evaluation process throughout the All-Star games, NFL combine, and then Pro Days. If you take into account all the various aspects of scouting college players and then the need for finding dynamic/athletic pass rushers, it didn’t surprise me that Detroit went as high as they did to secure him.
Star Lotulelei might perhaps have been the BEST player at this position and then again over the entire draft. Had the medical issue not popped up at the Combine, this might have been a player that teams would have been willing to trade up for with the first pick. He is a physically dominant interior defensive lineman and has the ability to play both a one & two gap scheme. His versatility will truly give the Panthers a force up the middle.
Brett: It is common for most students from BYU and some from Utah to go on a 2 year mission for their church. What is your thought from a scout/GM point of view on somebody who does that?
Ted: I think the media tends to make it an issue more than it should be, and coaches/personnel staff sometime formulate opinions off fabricated philosophies. I don’t see two years away from the game as a detriment to production. Heck, we just mentioned Mike Anderson’s rookie year at 27 years of age after being in the Marines. I think a number of very talented young rookies in the NFL have failed not due to their athletic abilities, but rather to their immaturity. I’ll take the “older and wiser” player every time. Just give them the opportunity.
Brett: There is talk within Utah that before Ezekiel Ansah, that Bronco Mendenhall couldn’t get players drafted in the NFL. How much does a scout care about what school or coach a prospect comes from?
Ted: The background of a player plays a part of the overall picture you’re trying to paint. Certainly many feel the best players come from the SEC and that everyone should have a Nick Saban coached prospect. But those are only pieces of an otherwise large puzzle you’re trying to construct to predict whether a player will turn potential into professional production. Playing against the best and being guided by well-respected coaches is a positive, but not the end all as to picking one player over another. Case in point, our LB John Mobley came from Kutztown University and was selected over 27 other LB’s coming from Division IA schools.
Brett: As the NCAA changes in the future to a playoff system and the development of super conferences, what do you see the future landscape of the NCAA looking like? Also do you think an Independent like BYU could survive or do they need to join a conference?
Ted: I’m afraid the move to a playoff system will still be skewed towards the major conferences and not give all FBS or Division IA or whatever we wish to call them an equal shot at a national championship. Whether Boise State, or Ball State, or BYU, all these schools should have the same chance to compete for a title. A 10-6 NY Giants team defeated a 16-0 New England Patriots to win a Super Bowl Championship. Shoot, the Giants couldn’t even win their own division. Whether SEC, PAC-12, MAC, or Conference USA, all member schools deserve the opportunity to compete. I ask fans if University of South Florida, a rich history of college football since 1996, deserves more consideration than Utah State (first season 1892)?
I feel BYU would be better served from all angles by conference participation. I understand the reasons they chose to leave the MWC and go Independent, but ultimately their strength as a national power would grow and shine through conference membership. I feel the same about Notre Dame.
Brett: Thanks for the opportunity to interview you. Before we go, are there any last words you would like to leave with our readers?
Ted: All the things I’ve been able to accomplish have come through participating on great teams, having great teammates, and receiving great coaching. Whether as a member of the Air Force Academy Falcon football team, as an Air Force Intelligence Officer, a member of the US Bobsled team, or the Super Bowl Champion Denver Broncos, there has been parallels throughout all those experiences. I’ve brought together all those experiences and conveyed them through my book Taking Your Team to the Top – How to Build and Manage Great Teams like the Pros. Whether as a leader of a team or a member of a team, there’s something everyone can take away to help achieve success through the power of teamwork.
I want to thank Ted Sundquist for the interview. If any of you are interested in Ted’s book Taking Your Team to the Top – How to Build and Manage Great Teams Like the Pros is available on Amazon. If you are interested, give Ted Sundquist a follow on Twitter
@Ted_Sundquist and he is very reliable about answering questions.