Bruce DeHaven, who spent the final four of his 30 seasons as a special teams coach with the Panthers, died late Tuesday following a nearly two-year battle with cancer. DeHaven was 68.
DeHaven, an accomplished and beloved coach, spent the majority of his career with the Buffalo Bills and spent most of his final days in the Buffalo area. During training camp, DeHaven transitioned from special teams coordinator to senior advisor in order to concentrate on treatment.
DeHaven was special teams coordinator for five teams that reached the Super Bowl, helping the Panthers reach the game last season and leading one of the league's elite special teams units into four consecutive Super Bowls with the Bills in the early 1990s.
He joined the Panthers in 2013 as special teams assistant and took over as special teams coordinator following the 2014 season. Months later, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer and took a leave of absence, with veteran special teams coach Russ Purnell coming out of retirement to lead DeHaven's units during his absence. DeHaven, however, made his way back in time for the 2015 season, and he and Purnell worked together to help Carolina reach the Super Bowl.
The Panthers hired Thomas McGaughey as assistant special teams coach shortly after the Super Bowl, and during training camp he was promoted to coordinator when DeHaven transitioned to senior advisor.
Between the pros, college and high school, DeHaven was a coach for 45 seasons. He is survived by his wife, Kathy, and their children, Toby and Annie.
Bruce DeHaven brought three decades of NFL coaching experience to his position as senior advisor to special teams for the Panthers. He spent his first two years with Carolina as assistant special teams coach before being elevated to special teams coordinator in 2015 and transitioning to his current position in 2016.
In 2015, DeHaven presided over a special teams unit that featured a record-setting performance by kicker Graham Gano, who set a franchise record with a career-high 146 points. Gano converted 30 field goals, including two game-winners, and was named NFC Special Teams Player of the Month for November. In the return game, Ted Ginn, Jr. ranked second in the NFC and fifth in the NFL with a 10.3-yard punt return average.
In his first season with Carolina in 2013, DeHaven worked with a group that rose to 13th in The Dallas Morning News special teams rankings one year after ranking last. The special teams featured outstanding efforts from Gano, punter Brad Nortman and Ginn, while long snapper J.J. Jansen made the Pro Bowl.
DeHaven helped Nortman set team records with a gross average of 47.8 yards, which ranked fourth in the NFL, and a net average of 41.6 yards, which ranked fifth in the NFL. DeHaven aided Gano in setting a franchise record with an NFL-leading six field goals of 50 yards or more and topping the league with a 79.7 touchback percentage on kickoffs - the best mark in the league since 1992. Ginn set a franchise record and ranked sixth in the NFL with a 12.2-yard punt return average.
DeHaven came to Carolina from the Buffalo Bills, where he served as special teams coordinator from 2010-12, his second stint with the team. He also coached special teams for the Bills from 1987-99.
In 2012, DeHaven's special teams units set franchise records with an NFL-leading 17.1-yard punt return average and 27.0-yard kickoff return average, which ranked fourth in the league. In 2011, the Bills led the NFL in kickoff coverage, limiting opponents to 20.4 yards per return, and finished third in the league with a 12.7-yard punt return average.
Before rejoining the Bills, DeHaven was special teams coach with the Seattle Seahawks from 2007-09, Dallas Cowboys from 2003-06 and San Francisco 49ers from 2000-02.
Under DeHaven's guidance, the Seahawks finished second in the NFL with a 25.3-yard kickoff return average in 2008 as Josh Wilson set team records with 69 kickoff returns and 1,753 kickoff return yards. In his first year with Seattle, DeHaven's return schemes aided Nate Burleson to touchdown returns on both a punt and kickoff. He also helped kicker Josh Brown set career highs with 28 field goals made, 127 points scored and 13 touchbacks.
While DeHaven was with the Cowboys, punter Mat McBriar ranked first in the NFL with a 48.2-yard gross average in 2006 and fourth with a 38.6-yard net average. In 2004, Dallas' kickoff coverage unit paced the league, holding opponents to an average of 17.5 yards per return.
During DeHaven's time with the 49ers, returner Jimmy Williams compiled an NFL-leading 16.8-yard punt return average in 2002, and punter Jason Baker earned all-rookie honors in 2001.
For 13 seasons with the Bills from 1987-99, DeHaven consistently produced outstanding special teams units and developed elite special teams players. Special teams play contributed to Buffalo reaching four consecutive Super Bowls, winning six AFC East championships and appearing in 21 playoff games over this period. Steve Tasker made seven Pro Bowls as the AFC's special teams player, and kicker Steve Christie set team records in 1998 with 140 points and 33 made field goals and became the franchise's all-time leading scorer.
A 1996 ranking by The Dallas Morning News named DeHaven's units the best in the NFL. In 1991, the Bills' punt coverage unit led the league in fewest punt return yards allowed with a then-NFL record 53. DeHaven also directed Buffalo's kickoff coverage unit to the top of the NFL four consecutive years from 1987-90.
Prior to the NFL, DeHaven worked three years in the USFL. He was the running backs and special teams coach for the Orlando Renegades in 1985, offensive line and special teams coach for the Pittsburgh Maulers in 1984 and assistant offensive line coach and special teams coach for the New Jersey Generals in 1983.
Previously, DeHaven gained 12 years of coaching experience on the college and high school levels. He oversaw the offensive line and was the recruiting coordinator at New Mexico State in 1982 after handling defensive backs, offensive line and recruiting at Kansas from 1979-81. DeHaven began his career as a high school head coach and assistant coach in Kansas.
PLAYING AND PERSONAL
DeHaven played basketball at Southwestern College and led the team in scoring two consecutive years, once scoring 37 points in a game. He also participated in track and field and is a member of the school's athletic and business halls of fame. DeHaven graduated with a degree in history and political science.
College coach: Kansas 1979-81, New Mexico State 1982. Pro coach: New Jersey Generals (USFL) 1983, Pittsburgh Maulers (USFL) 1984, Orlando Renegades (USFL) 1985, Buffalo Bills 1987-99, 2010-12, San Francisco 49ers 2000-02, Dallas Cowboys 2003-06, Seattle Seahawks 2007-09, joined Panthers in 2013.