He was known as one of the most successful special teams coaches in the NFL during Buffalo’s rise to prominence in the 1990’s. Bruce DeHaven spent 30 years coaching in the National Football League, but the veteran coach succumbed after a lengthy battle with cancer Dec. 27th. Funeral services are being held today.
One of the foremost special teams coaches in the NFL over the last three decades has DeHaven made a name for himself in his first coaching stint in Buffalo under Hall of Fame coach Marv Levy and his successor Wade Phillips.
“Bruce DeHaven was not only one of the premier special teams coaches the history of the NFL, he was also a premier special person,” said Levy. “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.”
In 1996 his Buffalo unit ranked first in the league by the renowned annual Dallas Morning News special teams rankings. His kickoff coverage unit ranked first in the NFL for four straight seasons from 1987-1990.
In the 1991 season his punt coverage unit set a league record for the fewest punt return yards allowed in a season with a total of 53.
Two of his most respected regulars were Steve Tasker, a seven-time Pro Bowl special teams selection, and Mark Pike, who is believed to be among the all-time leading tacklers on special teams.
“Bruce was a guy, in combination with Coach Levy, special teams was such an important thing,” said Pike. “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.”
DeHaven’s first coaching stint with the Bills lasted 13 seasons (1987-1999) as his special teams units played a significant role in Buffalo’s four consecutive AFC titles in the early ‘90s.
“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,” Pike said. “He was a special guy to a lot of people, a lot of players.”
DeHaven returned to coach the Bills special teams units under Chan Gailey from 2010-2012.
In 2012, DeHaven's special teams units set franchise records with an NFL-leading 17.1-yard punt return average and 27.0-yard kickoff return average, which ranked fourth in the league. In 2011, the Bills led the NFL in kickoff coverage, limiting opponents to 20.4 yards per return, and finished third in the league with a 12.7-yard punt return average.
In between his Buffalo coaching stints, DeHaven coached for the 49ers (2000-02), Cowboys (2003-06) and Seahawks (2007-09). And after his second go round with the Bills, DeHaven served as assistant special teams coordinator (2013), special teams coordinator (2014) before transitioning to a role as senior advisor to special teams when he had to take a leave of absence to battle prostate cancer.
He returned in 2015 and coached the Panthers special teams units all the way to the NFC title game. But this past summer in training camp, DeHaven had to again take a leave of absence to resume his cancer fight. After battling for three years DeHaven’s courageous battle came to a close. He was 68.