Bruce DeHaven, the Buffalo Bills' special teams coach during the team's Super Bowl era, died Tuesday at the age of 68 after a battle with cancer.
DeHaven, who coached with the Bills for two different stints, from 1987-99 and again from 2010-12, was diagnosed in the spring of 2015 with prostate cancer. He took a leave of absence from his job as special teams coordinator with the Carolina Panthers, but eventually returned to the team and coached through their Super Bowl appearance.
This season, DeHaven worked as a special teams adviser for the Panthers as he received treatment here in Buffalo, where he maintained a home.
During an NFL career that spanned 30 seasons, DeHaven also worked for the San Francisco 49ers, Dallas Cowboys and Seattle Seahawks, in addition to his time with the Bills and Panthers.
"Bruce DeHaven was not only one of the premier special teams coaches in the history of the NFL, he was also a premier SPECIAL PERSON," former Bills coach Marv Levy said in a press release provided by the team. "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."
During DeHaven's time with the Bills, the team was named the best special teams unit in the NFL by the Dallas Morning News in 1996. Buffalo also led the NFL in kickoff coverage for four straight seasons, from 1987-90.
Wide receiver Steve Tasker became one of the greatest special-teams players in NFL history, making the Pro Bowl seven times.
"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 Bills kicker Steve Christie set team records in 1998 with 140 points and 33 field goals on his way to becoming the franchise's all-time leading scorer under DeHaven's coaching.
"I just stopped by the other day and had a really, really nice visit with him and reminisced about our days together with the Bills and also when he was with the Cowboys and I was with the Giants," Christie said. "We had a Christie-DeHaven reunion near the Dallas star in the middle of the field and my special teams coach at the time, Mike Sweatman of the Giants, came over and said, 'Hate to interrupt this reunion,' and I basically said, 'Well you are and we’re still going to have it.'
"Bruce DeHaven and I were still pretty good friends even though we’re competing against each other because we were together for eight years in Buffalo. He becomes a lot more than a boss to you over the years."
Christie, who successfully battled rectal cancer in 2014, said he and DeHaven supported each other during their respective illnesses.
"I really do respect him," Christie said. "I think he’s one of the best special teams coaches in the league, which is why when the Bills let him go he signed quickly with other clubs. He was just that good and in demand. He was really, really good with myself and Chris Mohr and Ethan Albright and Adam Lingner and so many other special teams guys. He really looked after us and he pushed us like any coach would and for me personally, if I got into a rut or something, he was really good at helping us get out of it. He was just a great guy to play for."
DeHaven was a passionate fan of the St. Louis Cardinals and had a love for music and reading. He is survived by his wife, Kathy, and two children, Tobin Scott and Annie Maude.