For most Bills fans the first 13 years of Bruce DeHaven's NFL coaching career are very familiar. Obviously, it's because those years were spent on the Buffalo sideline under Hall of Fame head coach Marv Levy for 11 years and Wade Phillips for two more. DeHaven's coaching journey after that however, is likely more fuzzy to some, but it afforded him the chance to work under some of the other most noteworthy head coaches of the modern era.
Following his abrupt departure from Buffalo following the 1999 season, DeHaven landed in San Francisco as special teams coach of the 49ers. And though his head coach was Steve Mariucci, there was a three-time Super Bowl champion head coach watching from above on Sundays and making decisions on the club's personnel.
"Bill Walsh at the time was the GM," said DeHaven. "I got to see how a Hall of Famer did things."
DeHaven and the rest of the staff working under Mariucci helped San Francisco make a pair of playoff appearances in the special team coach's three seasons with the club.
An opportunity in Dallas would quickly follow in 2003.
"I went to Dallas and worked for Bill Parcells," DeHaven said. "Things were significantly different under Bill. Coach Parcells was really hard on the players and wanted to keep the pressure on them every minute, every time. We probably practiced a little harder and a little more physical in Dallas. In San Francisco after the first couple of games we were never in pads the rest of the year."
The Cowboys also made a pair of appearances in DeHaven's four-year stint in Dallas. Hired by Seattle head coach Mike Holmgren in 2007, the veteran special teams coordinator only worked under the Super Bowl winning coach for two seasons before the head coaching job was passed to Jim Mora Jr. in 2009.
DeHaven says he picked up coaching nuances and strategies from each of the big name coaches, much like he did from Levy in his 11 years under the Bills former sideline boss.
After 13 years with Buffalo, DeHaven spent the next decade with three other teams, but he believes what he acquired from the Hall of Fame caliber coaches he worked for or under in that time cannot be measured.
"Experience," said DeHaven when asked what's different about him as a coach as he begins his second go round with Buffalo. "I've got another 10 years under my belt having to make decisions on the sideline working with players. Players don't change a whole lot, but you have to approach this generation of players a little different. They're a lot more into video, and the media when you talk to them that's different."
He admits Buffalo is different from what it was 10 years ago, but for DeHaven, returning to Western New York trumps all his other NFL coaching stops.
"In this league when you move some place you might know a couple of the coaches on the staff, but you don't know what to expect," he said. "If you've only been some place three years you don't get your roots near as deep as being somewhere for 13 years. It does feel like home to me."
And what DeHaven brings back with him are the lessons learned under some of the best head coaches in the game.
"I've had the chance to work under Marv Levy, Bill Walsh, Bill Parcells and Mike Holmgren. Two of them are in the Hall of Fame and the other two probably will be some day," he said. "They're different in personality and some of what they do, but their approach is awfully the same. Coach Levy, Bill Walsh and Bill Parcells are a lot more alike than they are different. But there are few guys that have been luckier than me."