Orchard Park, NY—Legendary NFL Special Teams coach Bruce DeHaven passed away this evening after a courageous battle against cancer.

DeHaven, who started his coaching career in the 1970’s in Kansas high schools, coached special teams in the National Football League for three decades with the Buffalo Bills, San Francisco 49ers, Dallas Cowboys, Seattle Seahawks and most recently, the Carolina Panthers.

DeHaven’s NFL accolades included:

-His Buffalo Bills special teams units being named best by the Dallas Morning News in 1996.

-Bills’ punt coverage unit led the NFL with fewest yards allowed, a then-record of only 53 yards.

-Bills kickoff coverage unit tops in the NFL for four consecutive seasons (1987-90).

-Special teams contributed to Bills four consecutive Super Bowl trips, winning 6 AFC East titles and appearing in 21 playoff games.

-Steve Tasker became a seven-time Pro Bowler. Kicker Steve Christie set team records in 1998 with 140 points and 33 made field goals while becoming the franchise’s all-time leading scorer.

-Special teams onside kick contributed to Bills win over Houston Oilers in NFL’s greatest comeback game.

-Cowboy punter Mat McBriar ranked first in the NFL with a 48.2-yard gross average in 2006. Cowboys’ kickoff coverage unit was best in the league in 2004 by holding opponents to a 17.5 yards per return average.

-Carolina punter Brad Nortman set team records with a gross average of 47.8 yards and a net average of 41.6 yards.

-Special teams contributed to Panthers’ Super Bowl trip.

Despite all of his remarkable coaching achievements, DeHaven’s greatest source of pride centered around his wife Kathy and two children, Tobin Scott and AnnieMaude.

Outside of his love of family, DeHaven’s passions were his beloved St. Louis Cardinals, his love for music and reading and the Kansas farm where he was raised.

Marv Levy on Bruce DeHaven

Comments: Bruce DeHaven was not only one of the premier special teams coaches the history of the NFL, he was also a premier SPECIAL PERSON.  His work ethic, his love for and his dedication to the game, his caring about those players from whom he was able to bring forth their maximum talents and who revere him are all signature features which distinguished him.  Beyond that, he was a wonderful husband and father possessed of a happy and upbeat nature.  What a privilege it was for me and for all the members of our coaching staff to have been colleagues and friends of Bruce DeHaven.

Steve Tasker on Bruce DeHaven

Comments: I was a better football player because Bruce DeHaven was my coach, but I was a better man because Bruce DeHaven was my friend. I will miss him very, very much.

Steve Christie on Bruce DeHaven

Comments: I just stopped by the other day and had a really, really nice visit with him and reminisced about our days together with the Bills and also when he was with the Cowboys and I was with the Giants. We had a Christie-DeHaven reunion near the Dallas star in the middle of the field and my special teams coach at the time, Mike Sweatman of the Giants came over and said, “Hate to interrupt this reunion,” and I basically said, “Well you are and we’re still going to have it.” Bruce DeHaven and I were still pretty good friends even though we’re competing against each other because we were together for eight years in Buffalo. He becomes a lot more than a boss to you over the years. Since I was sick, he called me to let me know when he was so we’ve been sort of checking in on each other with how we’re doing. Obviously we’ve been trying to help him with what he’s been going through but I had a very emotional meeting with him. I really do respect him. I think he’s one of the best special teams coaches in the league, which is why when the Bills let him go he signed quickly with other clubs. He was just that good and in demand. He was really, really good with myself and Chris Mohr and Ethan Albright and Adam Lingner and so many other special teams guys. He really looked after us and he pushed us like any coach would and for me personally, if I got into a rut or something, he was really good at helping us get out of it. He was just a great guy to play for.

Mark Pike on Bruce DeHaven

Comments: Well I mean I had gone to see Bruce, I had seen him a couple of times in the last few months, I saw him in the middle of September and we had a really good visit. We were in town for a game and my wife and I went over and actually Rusty Jones and his wife were there, so we had a really good time and we he looked pretty good. He had just kind of been back home for not too long from Carolina, he was starting his chemo. So we had a great visit and he looked good and we laughed and we told lots of stories and then I saw him probably a week Friday in Buffalo, we were in town for the Browns game, and it was tough to see him because he’s a good friend. It was a tough, emotional time.

I guess Bruce and I have always had a really strong connection. We’ve been very, very close when I played for him on the Bills and he coached me as our special teams coach. Really, we’ve just had a great friendship for all the years since I retired. We’ve always kind of kept in contact and to be perfectly honest, Bruce was a guy, in combination with Coach Levy, special teams was such an important thing. He really gave me a chance to play and I’m sure Steve Tasker would probably say the same thing. He really opened up doors and opportunities for us to have a great career in the NFL and I owe a lot of that to Bruce and I’ve told him that many times. I told him just last week that I owe so much of my life to him and what he did to help provide a nice career and my family. Much of what I am today, I owe to Bruce DeHaven.

When I visited him last week, he wasn’t able to talk a lot but I guess it was the one chance I really got to talk to him. It was hard to hold back tears. I brought my sons in the house with us and Cathy (his wife) brought us in to see him. It was really, really tough. He didn’t say a lot but I just wanted to tell him what he meant to me personally from not only my football career but just really in life because I owe a lot to him. I think he taught me a lot about just how to go about life and how to work hard and Bruce was always that guy that just kind of didn’t need attention, he didn’t need the fanfare. He just went about his business at coaching and coaching special teams and he worked really, really hard at his craft and I think that really trickled down. I learned a lot of my habits from Bruce because he was a film-studier so in terms of football, he was a film-studier and I became a film-studier and it really helped me perfect my craft of playing special teams because I really learned to study and analyze film and it’s because of Bruce and the hard work he did as a coach. It just kind of trickled down to a lot of other things in my life and how I run my business and how hard I work every day. We’ve just been really, really close. My wife Karen and his wife Cathy have always been really good friends and him and his wife Cathy always made it a point to be close to the players. It was more than just player-coach, and that was one of the great things about the Bills. It’s probably different today. The guys don’t stay around as long as they did back when I played and I’m sure Tasker and Chris Mohr and (Steve) Christie and some of those guys would say the same thing. We had a relationship on the field, in the locker room and off the field with our coaches and their wives and their families. It was unique and it was neat to be able to—we raised our kids, we got married and raised our families. The coaches and Bruce were kind of a big part of our lives as we grew up in a town that we weren’t familiar with. It wasn’t our home but he was a part of helping make that a home for us.

I can probably go on and on, but I feel like I’ve made my peace. I told Bruce what I wanted to say to him last week. I told him that I loved him and I owe so much to him and that’s just the kind of guy he was. One of the things Bruce always did for years—we’ve had some records that our group still holds and one of them was we gave up the fewest amount of yards in one season on punt returns. I think it’s still a record, but Bruce used to call me and Steve every year when that record was safe and I think for the entire year we only gave up 64 or 65 return yards. He would call us every year and he was coaching for other teams, but whenever that record was safe, he would call me and Steve and tell us. He always called my ole 94 so he would call ole 94 up and say, “The record’s safe for another year.” I’ll always remember that. Chris Mohr had a lot to do with that, the way he would punt it high and the cover guys, he would always call a lot of those guys and just remind us of that.

He was a special guy and he will always be. When you play sports, that’s one of the great things that you get from sports, the coach= relationship that you hope you have years after you’re done playing. Whether it be high school or professional, you always want to look back and have that coach in your life that meant a whole lot to you and that you cared a lot about and they cared a lot about you on the field and off the field. Like I said, I owe a lot to not just Bruce, a lot others as well. Coach Levy and all those guys. One of the great things about Marv was he recognized the value of Coach DeHaven and what he brought to the table and what he brought to the table was he was able to take a bunch of guys and transform a unit of guys into one of, in our time during our run, there truly was three equal components to our team; and that was offense, defense and special teams. Coach Levy allowed Bruce to really just be that third pivotal component of our team and keep the guys on the team he wanted and obviously I was one of those guys. I tell Bruce this all the time, I might have not played very long had I not found my niche playing special teams. Steve would probably say the same thing. Coach Levy allowed Bruce to really call the shots in terms of special teams, in terms of who he felt he needed to be successful, so I’m thankful for that.

He was a really, really important part of the success of our Super Bowl teams and the great success we had as a team and I’m sure other guys would probably tell you a lot of the same things. He was a special guy to a lot of people, a lot of players.

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