Friday was one of the rare autumn days where the Broncos were not the football story in the Centennial state. But the retirement of Air Force head coach Fisher DeBerry after 23 mostly glorious seasons at the Academy shook the ground all the way north up Interstate 25 to Dove Valley, where one of the long-time coach’s most successful protégés went about his work.
You see, DeBerry is more than just a coach to general manager Ted Sundquist. He’s a motivator, a mentor, a teacher and a friend. From being on the Falcons staff while Sundquist matriculated to opening the door that started Sundquist’s football career after his post-graduate service commitment was complete, the two football men forged a bond.
Now, Sundquist sits at his profession’s pinnacle, in a coveted job with a perennial contender. DeBerry has never been far from his working thoughts; the two chat “at least once a month,” Sundquist said, even though they haven’t worked together in nearly a decade and a half.
All that Sundquist has done in the sport — coaching on Air Force’s staff, working his way up the scouting ranks, supervising the Broncos’ scouting and player acquisition — might not have happened were it not for DeBerry opening a door to a 20-something former college tailback looking to work in the game he loved.
“He gave me the opportunity to get back into football after I’d entered into the military service, which certainly, in one way or another, was the beginning of the timeline that led to this job,” Sundquist said. “Above all — and I don’t mean this to be corny — he’s a friend. He’s a very, very good friend.”
DeBerry may be retiring, but there are plenty of people in the sport who carry on his legacy — and quite a few are tied to the Broncos. Houston Texans offensive coordinator and former Broncos assistant Troy Calhoun. Georgia Tech head coach and former Broncos offensive coordinator Chan Gailey. Broncos scouting director Jim Goodman. Broncos offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger. Broncos scout Cal McCombs. All either coached under DeBerry, or alongside him under Ken Hatfield in the early 1980s.
Outside of the Academy itself, Dove Valley is probably the one place on the football map where DeBerry’s influence is most palpable; his teachings stuck with Sundquist and remain a part of how the veteran of 15 Broncos seasons goes about his job on a daily basis.
“There isn’t anybody more detailed than (DeBerry),” Sundquist said. “He’ll go over every aspect of everything that he’s doing — once, twice, three times. He’s certainly a very detailed, plan-oriented guy.”
Just like his current boss.
“They’re very, very similar guys, believe it or not,” said Sundquist as he compared Head Coach Mike Shanahan with DeBerry. “One has a Midwestern accent, the other has got a (Southern) accent, but they’re very similar. They’re driven by the same things. They’re extremely competitive. I understand what they represent. They’re player-oriented coaches; players like to play for both of those guys.
“That’s one of the reasons why I’ve been able to have some success here, because Mike is so similar to Fisher in a lot of ways, and you kind of handle the situations you have in Denver a lot like we did in Colorado Springs.”
And if the Academy calls upon Sundquist for assistance in the coaching search, he said he’d be “more than willing” to help. But he wouldn’t want the job.
“My coaching days are over,” Sundquist said.
Tags: Ted Sundquist