Kansan Bruce DeHaven, who for decades was one of the top special-teams coaches in the NFL, died Tuesday night from complications from prostate cancer. The Buffalo Bills, one of the teams DeHaven coached for, announced the death in a statement.
DeHaven was 68. A Bills spokesman told the Associated Press that DeHaven died in Orchard Park, N.Y., with his family by his side.
DeHaven was born in Trousdale, a small town northwest of Pratt. He played football at Southwestern College in Winfield, then began an odyssey of coaching jobs that took him to Oxford and Wichita Southeast high schools. He later was an assistant at Kansas in 1979, then became a professional assistant for Donald Trump’s New Jersey Generals in 1983.
Over three decades, DeHaven coached special teams for five NFL teams, reaching the Super Bowl five times — four with Buffalo and last February’s 50th Super Bowl with the Carolina Panthers. DeHaven’s teams were 0-5 in the Super Bowl.
In August, the Panthers announced that DeHaven decided to step down from his position and move into an advisory role with the team while continuing his battle with prostate cancer. Mr. DeHaven returned to Buffalo to receive cancer treatments.
DeHaven’s special teams coverage units in Buffalo were the best in the league for four consecutive seasons from 1987-90. He helped the Bills win six AFC East titles and appear in 21 playoff games.
Under DeHaven, Steve Tasker of Leoti became a seven-time Pro Bowler and kicker Steve Christie set team records in 1998 with 140 points and 33 made field goals while becoming the franchise’s career leading scorer.
“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.”
DeHaven is survived by his wife, Kathy, and their two children, Tobin Scott and Annie Maude. Outside of his love of family, DeHaven’s passions were watching the St. Louis Cardinals, listening to music, reading and the Trousdale farm where he was raised.
“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 former Bills coach Marv 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. 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.”
Panthers coach Ron Rivera tweeted: “#RIP Coach Bruce DeHaven. Our time together was short but I’m proud to say I coached on the same sideline as you.”