Bruce DeHaven, one of the best special teams coaches in NFL history, passed away Tuesday night after a 19-month fight with prostate cancer. He was 68.
DeHaven, who came to Carolina in 2013, didn't miss a day at work during last season's Super Bowl run despite going back and forth between Charlotte and Buffalo, where he was receiving treatments. But this summer, he moved into an advisory role with the Panthers while assistant Thomas McGaughey took over as special teams coordinator.
As evidenced by the immediate reactions to DeHaven's passing, he'll be remembered more for who he was as a person than as a coach. And he was one heck of a good coach.
DeHaven, who grew up on a farm in Kansas, began his professional life as a high school teacher and coach. He eventually worked his way to the NFL via The University of Kansas and a stint with Donald Trump's New Jersey Generals in the USFL.
DeHaven spent the first 13 seasons of his NFL career in Buffalo, where he helped the Bills make four straight Super Bowls. In 1999, he was scapegoated for the "Music City Miracle."
DeHaven then stopped in San Francisco (2000-02), Dallas (2003-06) and Seattle (2008-09) before he returned to Buffalo for three seasons. He was hired by the Panthers in 2013 and was promoted to special teams coordinator shortly before the 2015 combine. But on the plane to Indianapolis that February, he wanted to talk about anything other than football.
By chance — and a snowstorm in the Midwest that made a mess of travel schedules — DeHaven and I ended up sitting next to each other on our rescheduled flight from Charlotte to Indy. And while the plane was only in the air for a little over an hour, that was enough time to understand why so many liked being around DeHaven, who lived life with infectious energy.
He loved his family, of course, and he was incredibly appreciative that Kathy, his wife, and their two children, Toby and Annie, were OK with him coaching in Charlotte while they lived in Buffalo.
DeHaven also loved music, a passion he shared during the bulk of that flight to Indy.
I can't quite recall if it was his iPhone or iPod, but when he went to show me just how deep his obsession with music ran, I remember being astonished at the number of songs he had loaded. And the artists ran the gamut from Bruce Springsteen, who DeHaven saw in concert numerous time, to rappers to folk singers to dozens of folks I'd never heard of.
Back in coaching mode two days later, he said of his promotion:
"For some reason, it’s not as you get older, but as you get more experienced, the league starts to think that you can’t do this job anymore. So you don’t know if you’re ever going to get that shot to be the guy in charge."
He was diagnosed three months later.
But that leads to my favorite memory.
After doctors had told DeHaven he had just a few years, and maybe just a few months, to live, he made sure he was back in Charlotte for the start of 2015's minicamp. And per usual, he was the first one on the field.
You know the phrase "choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life"?
DeHaven's third love was where he worked:
What will your dash say? A lot of times you don't know the impact you have on people's lives until you're gone. I'm blessed, honored, and extremely grateful to have had you as a coach. More importantly I can call you a friend. You have run your race and lived with so much purpose. May God's peace cover your family and friends. May we reunite some day in heaven Dehaven.... we love you
I'll never cover somebody who's more fascinated by journalism than Bruce DeHaven. He read everything and loved discussing it. I'll miss him.
— Tim Graham (@ByTimGraham) December 28, 2016