Bruce DeHaven, longtime special-teams coach, dies of cancer at 68

ByDavid Newton ESPN logo
Wednesday, December 28, 2016

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Longtime NFL special-teams coach Bruce DeHaven, best known for his time with the Buffalo Bills when they lost four consecutive Super Bowls, died Tuesday night after a battle with prostate cancer.

He was 68.

DeHaven stepped aside as the special-teams coordinator for the Carolina Panthers during training camp in August to return to Buffalo for chemotherapy treatment.

He also stepped aside following the 2014 season, when initially diagnosed with the cancer. He was told at the time he had anywhere from a few months to five years to live.

But DeHaven returned during a June 2015 minicamp and stayed with the team through Super Bowl 50.

"Based on what I heard going out of the doctor's office down here, I wasn't sure I ever was going to be back,'' DeHaven said at the time. "I'm so thankful. I look at life a whole lot different.''

Carolina coach Ron Rivera and kicker Graham Ganotook to Twitter after learning of DeHaven's passing.

DeHaven coached special teams in the NFL for three decades with the Bills,San Francisco 49ers, Dallas Cowboys, Seattle Seahawks and the Panthers.

His units were among the best in the NFL, particularly at Buffalo during a time when the Bills won six AFC East titles and appeared in 21 playoff games.

He orchestrated the onside kick that contributed to Buffalo overcoming a 32-point deficit in a 1993 playoff game against the Houston Oilers for a 41-38 victory. It remains the largest comeback in NFL history.

He was responsible for Steve Tasker becoming a seven-time Pro Bowl player.

"I was a better football player because Bruce DeHaven was my coach, but I was a better man because Bruce DeHaven was my friend,'' Tasker said. "I will miss him very, very much.''

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

But DeHaven's career is defined by his two stints with Buffalo, from 1987 to 1999 and 2010 to 2012.

"Bruce DeHaven was not only one of the premier special-teams coaches the history of the NFL, he was also a premier special person,'' former Buffalo coach Marv Levy said. "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.''

DeHaven is survived by his wife, Kathy, and two children, Toby Scott and AnnieMaude.