#BillsMafia Exclusive Interview with Ted Sundquist, Former Broncos GM

While we are first and foremost a Buffalo Bills-centric blog, I had the opportunity to interview Ted Sundquist, former general manager of the Denver Broncos. Sundquist spent 16 years working in the National Football League and now writes about football from a front office perspective; a truly unique aspect of the game that fans rarely can hear about.

Ted Sundquist

Sundquist recently published a book, titled Taking Your Team To The Top which discusses everything an aspiring football mind could fathom regarding the managing of a franchise. The book features commentary from

  • DANA PERINO, White House Press Secretary for President George W. Bush
  • DR. TOM OSBORNE, Head Coach of the University of Nebraska football team and U.S. Congressman
  • DR. HARVEY SCHILLER, Commissioner of the SEC and Secretary General of the U.S. Olympic Committee
  • ED ROSKI, one of the Forbes 200 richest people in America
  • JEFF PASH, Executive VP and General Counsel of the NFL
  • CHAD HENNINGS, three-time Super Bowl Champion and defensive tackle for the Dallas Cowboys

Be sure to follow Mr. Sundquist on Twitter (@Ted_Sundquist), as he is always eager to engage in discussion with fans!

You worked your way up from being a scout, to working in the player personnel department, to becoming the director of scouting, and finally General Manager of the Denver Broncos in 2002. Can you explain the process of working to move up in a professional organization?

You have to understand your role within the organization and its operations.  Everyone has a responsibility in getting their part done.  I had a background in football through coaching at the Air Force Academy and having played college football.  I was 30 years old and had already had an Air Force career for almost 9 years, but understood there was still a lot to learn.

I sought out opportunity in any manner I could and worked to understand the entire operation from the bottom up.  I never looked ahead to the next position but did the best I could to be the best in the role I was performing at the time for the organization.  Many people in the game are looking ahead to what their next role might be; national scout, director of scouting, general manager.  They quickly lose sight of what their current responsibilities are.   

I volunteered to be on committees and to do as much as I could both inside and outside the Broncos Personnel Department.  I was heavily involved with the Combine and other League-wide scouting efforts.  I found a mentor within the organization to help guide my efforts and steer me straight along the way. 

I can’t emphasize enough the importance of focusing on the task at hand and not your next title or raise.  In the Air Force you’re a Captain before you become a Major.  You’re a Major before becoming a Lt. Colonel.  No young officer in his right mind would ever be truly qualified for General without having taken the necessary steps of both time & experience to get there. 

I’m seeing this way too much in the NFL at both the coaching and front office levels.

You were one of the most active general managers in the National Football League via free agency and trades. Do you feel that it’s more beneficial to a franchise to make “offseason” moves or build through the draft?

To me it’s the responsibility of the GM to add talent to the roster using any and all means available; free agency, the draft, practice squads, street free agent tryouts, other leagues, etc…  We had a coaching staff in Denver that was more comfortable in dealing with veteran players than developing young talent.  The club was never really in a “rebuilding” mode as sometimes seen in other organizations. 

Ultimately I do believe that drafting young players that fit your vision of a team culture, and can then execute both your offensive & defensive schemes to their fullest is the right route to take.  Clubs that have stability in their front office and coaching staff are more likely able to carry out this plan versus those clubs struggling to create their identity.  The NFL is a “win now” proposition and there’s not a lot of time or patience to always go forward with “draft & develop”.

Obviously the biggest move you made during your tenure with the Broncos was trading Clinton Portis and a draft pick for cornerback Champ Bailey. Can you explain the thought process behind that deal, and do you have any regrets?

Clinton Portis had back to back 1500+ yard seasons and was represented by Drew Rosenhaus.  It was their intention to seek a renegotiation of his rookie deal and the Executive VP of Football Operations wasn’t going to bend to their demands.  Denver had shown an ability to find multiple productive options at the running back position and was confident it would in the future.

Our relationship with agent Jack Reale went back years and was fostered through an earlier contract extension of Broncos placekicker Jason Elam.  Reale represented Champ Bailey and felt Denver would be a great landing place for Champ who had expressed no interest in signing his own extension in Washington.

Reale approached me at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, and we discussed the opportunity of orchestrating a trade through our own efforts with (ironically) Dan Snyder & Mike Shanahan.  Both clubs were in position and at a point where it made sense, and both were motivated to get a deal done.

Portis was an outstanding player and produced at a very high level for the Redskins over a number of years.  Champ has arguably been one of the all-time greats in the Denver Broncos secondary and played/produced under 3 different regimes.  I have no regrets in being part of one of the biggest trades in Bronco history (outside of John Elway).

As this is a Buffalo Bills’ fan site, what are your thoughts on the team’s roster and their additions via the 2013 NFL Draft?

Buffalo seized the opportunity of drafting this season’s best QB (in my opinion) through E.J. Manuel of Florida State.  Manuel shouldn’t be thrown to the wolves right away, and veteran Kevin Kolb was as good a pickup as fans could expect at the position.  The loss of Andy Levitre through free agency will hurt an offensive line that isn’t very pretty but is effective.  I’m a bit concerned about the depth and level of starting talent upfront. 

The Bills drafted the QB and then went and added to the playmakers at WR with Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin.  These two should meld with Stevie Johnson and last year’s T.J. Graham, who hopefully improves over his rookie season.  C.J. Spiller is one of the top young RB’s in the game, but running the ball alone will not allow the Bills to chase the rest of the AFC East in 2013.

Buffalo’s defense will have to carry the load while the offense continues to develop and gel.  The drafting of KiKo Alonso and the free agent signing of Manny Lawson will strengthen the front seven, already one of the stronger pass rushing units in the NFL. The move to Franchise FS Jarius Byrd kept together an excellent secondary that feeds off the rush of the defensive front.  There wasn’t a need to tinker too much with an already effective defensive unit.

The Bills must find a way to SCORE more, with 8 games under 21 points in 2012.  To do so will require a quick response by everyone on offense to a new signal caller (Kolb or Manuel) and improvement on the O-Line.

What are some of your hobbies now that you’re away from football?

I enjoy being in the mountains of Colorado and spending time at our home near Beaver Creek. I’ve got 4 Siberian Huskies that love to go for early morning walks out here in Parker, CO. They require a lot of attention and deserve to get it. I regularly attend kick boxing classes in the evenings but steer clear of any actual sparring! I’ve got a Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200 that I enjoy riding on the back roads of Denver.  I’m still active with Air Force Academy athletics, especially the football program.

Your website TheFootballEducator.com is one of the most interesting, informative sources for information on the internet. What got you into writing?

There’s a lot of content out there on the internet for fans to view.  I felt it was an opportunity to offer the fans a different perspective of football leadership and NFL front office management from a person that served as a Director of College Scouting and General Manager.  I was instrumental and very active on numerous committees involved with personnel and scouting as it related to professional football; National Football Scouting’s Executive Board, The NFL’s Underclass Advisory Committee, The NFL Combine’s Selection Committee.

I felt my background would bring all NFL fans a fresh look at some otherwise stale stories.  Many at the major networks are just regurgitating the information without any actual experience, understanding, or sense of what each and every decision a coach or general manager makes has on an organization reaching its goals.  I felt I would try to do exactly what the name states – Educate.  I’m by no means always right in my personal opinions or how I might see a particular situation, but I don’t try to be.  It’s more about having been in a similar position as those engrained in the stories and trying to convey to the fans what they might be thinking as they build and manage their teams.

You also work with a company called “Eye Scout.” Can you explain what this is?

Eye-Scout was born of a vision from Steve Burckett, a former U.S. defense contractor that wanted to take the technologies & skills used to analyze military problems and transform them to the decision making principles used inside the NFL’s War Rooms.  Burckett approached me for my own knowledge of the problems that faced NFL Scouting Departments and what tools were already available in making complex personnel decisions based on a myriad of scouting data.

The result of our combined efforts was Eye-Scout.  It gives the same power to coaches & GM’s “on the field” that is utilized by military commanders “in the field” – The force multiplier of advanced technology! 

The success of any organization hinges on finding the most talented team members to execute your game plan.  There can be no exception to selecting the “best and brightest”, the “strongest and fastest”.  With a “user friendly” operating environment, Eye-Scout allows for customization of a team’s personnel requirements; critical factors, position specifics, physical parameters, and academic standards. 

The user knows their team, they set the criteria, but Eye-Scout sifts through the data.  It’s unique PATENT PENDING proprietary algorithmic process cuts through the fog and makes decisions crystal clear.  Based upon pre-determined needs, Eye-Scout analyzes data input, sorts via stated requirements, filters using weighted standards, and ranks the available talent using a revolutionary process.  No more individual bias or confusing ambiguity.

What is the best advice you would give an aspiring scout/ general manager?

Network, network, network.  You can study players, write your own blog, watch NFL games, play Fantasy Football, or even get an advanced degree in Sports Management.  But if you don’t have a tie into the NFL through established or built in relationships, it’s very difficult to ever get noticed and/or gain an opportunity to show your knowledge and passion for the game by just knocking on the door or sending in your resume. 

Be willing to reach out and ask questions via any and all forums.  Many fans might be a bit surprised to know that the best coaches and scouts don’t necessarily work in the NFL, but they are the best connected.  Ever notice how much “recycling” is done in the NFL via coaching staffs and scouting departments?  It’s because front office executives want to build with people around them that they know they can trust. 

That’s why I’ve made myself available on Twitter @Ted_Sundquist and TheFootballEducator.com, to give those aspiring to work in the NFL that connection that they might not have otherwise.