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From Helmets to Headsets

Posted Jul 11, 2012

DenverBroncos.com takes a closer look at some interesting connections between members of the coaching staff.


 

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Broncos Assistant Special Teams Coordinator Keith Burns was once one of the premier special teams players in the NFL.

He played 13 years in the league and 11 with the Broncos, leading the team in special teams tackles in seven of those 11 seasons.
 
Now, as a member of the Broncos coaching staff, Burns is working next to the man who showed him the ropes as a rookie back in 1994. He is now colleagues with former Broncos special teams coach and current linebackers coach, Richard Smith.
 
Smith coached Burns in Denver through his first three seasons in the league. Sixteen years later, they've come in full circle.
 
"It was ironic for my first special teams coach to be back, now coaching for the Denver Broncos," said Burns, who totaled 186 special teams stops in 166 career games. "It's funny, but he taught me a lot. I learned a lot from him. I can always lean back on him if I have any questions. Between (Special Teams Coordinator Jeff Rodgers) and I, if we don't feel comfortable or have a good idea of it, he's always another guy on the staff that we can lean on because he has been in our shoes."
 
Burns, now in his sixth season as an NFL coach, said he stayed in touch with Smith throughout his playing career, even after 1996 when they no longer shared the same logo.
 
Now, Smith is glad his former pupil his back on his side. 
 
"I think he's going to be great," Smith said. "He was a really good football player and his personality was very contagious. I watch him coach on the field. He coaches hard and the players respect him. I'm just glad that he's here with the Denver Broncos and I think he has a bright coaching career ahead of him."

Burns and Smith aren't the only former player-coach duo that has reconvened back in Denver.

Assistant Secondary Coach Sam Garnes played safety for the New York Giants from 1997-2001. His defensive coordinator? Current Broncos Head Coach John Fox. Also on that coaching staff for a time was Broncos Running Backs Coach Eric Studesville.
 
While playing on Fox's defense, Garnes knew he wanted to coach after his career was over with.
 
"When I played, I always felt like I was a leader," Garnes said. "It was easy for me to separate myself from other players. I always felt like the next step for me was to go into coaching. Stay in football, something I loved."
 
Much to Garnes' delight, he's back on Fox's sideline. 
 
"(Fox is) honest and he wants to win," Garnes continued. "He's good with the players but that doesn't mean he's just nice all the time - he wants to win and he's going to help put the coaches in position to do whatever they need to do to allow the players to be successful. That's what I love about playing and coaching with him."
 
Garnes spent five years playing for a defensive coordinator he respected, all the while knowing he planned on becoming a coach. So it's not surprising to learn that pieces of his coaching persona have been borrowed from Fox. But what truly defines him as a coach, Garnes said, is learning from the mistakes his former coaches made - not just what they did right.
 
"When I played I just had several things that occurred that stick out in my mind," he said. "Coaches have that effect on players. When you have something good, you remember it, and something bad, you remember it. I use both to my advantage. I try not to do things I didn't like as a player, and I do all the different things I've witnessed playing with certain coaches, like Coach Fox."
 
Though their paths were different, Burns and Garnes are now putting on a headset with the same men for whom they once strapped on a helmet.
 
For Burns, it's great to be working side-by-side with the man who helped jumpstart his playing career. But what's even greater, he said, is that the two of them are right back where it all began. 
 
"The way this organization is run is second to none," Burns said. "That's one of the reasons why I'm back here. For me, there is no other organization."