INDIANAPOLIS – New special teams coordinator Bruce DeHaven spoke at the NFL Scouting Combine with the energy you'd expect from a coach getting his first chance to lead a unit. But this isn't unchartered territory for the seasoned coaching veteran. It's just territory that seemed out of reach. "I'm just so excited to get the chance to do this again," DeHaven said.
Despite boasting 28 years of NFL coaching experience, DeHaven couldn't help but think his days as the leader of a special teams unit were over.
"As you get more experienced, the league starts to think that you can't do this job anymore," said DeHaven, who came to Carolina as special teams assistant coach in 2013. "So you don't know if you are ever going to get a chance to get that shot to be the guy in charge."
But when head coach Ron Rivera decided Richard Rodgers – the Panthers' special teams coordinator since 2012 – was a better fit as a defensive coach, he called on DeHaven, who previously coordinated the special teams for four other NFL franchises.
DeHaven was on board but only after speaking first with Rodgers.
"If he hadn't been alright with it, I don't think I would have taken the job," DeHaven said.
The job is one DeHaven is very familiar with. And the players he'll be coaching are already accustomed to him.
"Most of the time if you go into a new job as a coordinator you're going to have to learn something about the players and institute your schemes, and they are going to have to learn your drills," DeHaven said. "That's the one advantage I'll have right now – I'm pretty familiar with the players."
General manager Dave Gettleman and Rivera have talked since the end of the season about the need to bring in players specifically to fill special teams roles, and unsurprisingly, that's an idea DeHaven supports.
"The more good players we have the happier I'll be," he said.
But DeHaven believes he must also play a part in helping strengthen the other two phases of the team.
"A part of your job as a special teams coordinator is to develop young players to the point where they can play offense or defense and become starters there," DeHaven said. "I'll take any kind of player that is fast, aggressive, tough and smart. We'll be better if we've got those kind of players."
DeHaven said he'll be pleased with the special teams performance if they eliminate mistakes and become difference-makers in close games.
"My philosophy is to make the team better," DeHaven said. "Ideally, if you've had a good year and you've done your job, you won't have cost the team any games and, hopefully, two to three games may have turned on a special teams play."