Our good friend Lenny Gales knew a Kansas connection with Super Bowl 50 — Carolina special teams coach Bruce DeHaven.
DeHaven and Gales both graduated from Bel Pre-Trousdale High School. DeHaven was a 1966 graduate from the final graduating class before consolidation with Macksville High School.
DeHaven played eight-man football in high school. The Southwestern College Hall of Famer led the basketball team in scoring two consecutive years. DeHaven spent 12 years coaching in high school and college, including the University of Kansas from 1979-81. He coached in the USFL from 1983-1985 before starting a lengthy NFL career in 1987 with the Buffalo Bills.
But he learned to love coaching football.
“I wasn’t tough enough to be a football player,” said DeHaven, who said he always worked hard to overcome his lack of playing college or professional football.
DeHaven has quietly provided the Carolina Panthers with inspiration. He spent his off-season receiving treatment from a prostate cancer diagnosis that gave him anywhere from a few months to five years to live. He returned home to Buffalo for hormone treatments.
“That’s my problem,” he said of fighting cancer. “The only thing those guys should be concerned about is what can I do to help make them better players and win ballgames.”
DeHaven said he appreciates the support of Carolina owner Jerry Richardson, who promised to do whatever he needed medically or financially during his treatment.
“He said whatever you need, we’re going to get you,” DeHaven said. “I’m pretty fortunate to have doctors that can treat this kind of thing. I’m glad I’m still able to coach.”
Carolina’s players learned about DeHaven’s leave of absence by word-of-mouth, but not from DeHaven.
“I know when a guy has to fight for his life and he still wants to coach, that’s amazing,” said defensive end Mario Addison. “Hell, we should get out there and fight for Bruce.”
DeHaven fits the bill of special teams guru. He helped the Bills reach four straight Super Bowls in the 1990s and made Steve Tasker the most well-known special-teams player in the NFL. He’s coached with Hall of Famers Bill Parcells and Buffalo’s Marv Levy.
Carolina punter Brad Nortman, kicker Graham Gano and kick returner Ted Ginn, Jr. are highly ranked in their specialities. Snapper J.J. Jansen made the Pro Bowl.
When defensive back Colin Jones made a mistake on a kickoff return against Tampa Bay, DeHaven let everyone know it.
“His love for the game shows through,” said Jones. “He’s not afraid to call anybody out. That sets the tone, that you have to be accountable. The whole demeanor and attitude is just different, starting in the meeting room with Bruce.
DeHaven was part of four Super Bowl runner-up finishes at Buffalo. I predict he’ll be carried over the field in Super Bowl 50 when Carolina beats the Denver Donkeys.