DENVER — Dan Reeves, the head coach who led the Broncos to three Super Bowls in 1986, ‘87 and ‘89, passed away soon after the midnight New Year hour Saturday.
Pam, his wife of 56 years, and other family members were by his side. Reeves, who had been battling dementia in recent years, would have turned 78 on January 19.
“He was a great coach, I thought,’’ Joe DeCamillis, special teams coordinator for the Los Angeles Rams and formerly of the Broncos, said about his father-in-law. “He got the most out of his players. And he cared about his players. He helped out so many of his players.
“But as good as he was as a coach, he was an even better father, grandfather and husband. He always wanted to be around when our kids had something going on. One of the things he always said: ‘You can really tell the character of a person by how he treats people who can’t help him.’ That’s how he lived his life. He treated the clean-up people the same way he did Mr. Bowlen.”
After a solid eight-year playing career as a halfback with the Dallas Cowboys from 1965-72, Reeves became an assistant coach to Tom Landry in Dallas before new Broncos owner Edgar Kaiser hired him to become head coach in 1981. Kaiser sold the franchise to Pat Bowlen in 1984, but Reeves stayed as head coach and lasted 12 years, posting a 110-73-1 record with the three Super Bowl appearances.
Reeves and his star quarterback John Elway often clashed on offensive scheme and play calling, but with the years they gained great respect for each other. Elway was the Broncos' general manager in 2014 when Reeves was inducted into the Broncos' Ring of Fame -- proving no grudge was held by Elway.
“He certainly doesn’t,” Reeves, fresh off a golf outing six weeks following hip surgery, told this author and The Denver Post upon his election into the team's Ring of Fame. “When you look at it, John was a big part of my coaching career. We won over 100 games. I have a great deal of respect for him as a player and what he’s accomplished. And now he’s gone over to the other (management) side and he sees how that part of it works and ... it’ll be something, both of us will be in together, that’ll be neat.”
As a young quarterback, Elway sometimes felt stifled by Reeves’ conservative approach. They won together – Reeves would turn Elway loose for numerous fourth quarter comebacks and they reached the Super Bowl following the 1986, ’87 and 1989 seasons.
Yes, they clashed, but they were also successful.
“I have a great deal of appreciation for what Dan helped us achieve,” Elway said in a statement when Reeves was elected into the ROF. “He’s a great football coach and is very deserving of this honor.”
The year after he was fired from the Broncos following an 8-8 record in 1992, Reeves immediately turned the 6-10 New York Giants he inherited into an 11-5 playoff team in 1993.
He later turned around the moribund Atlanta Falcons, leading them to his fourth Super Bowl in 1998, when he lost to John Elway’s Broncos. Although Reeves’ teams lost big in his four Super Bowl appearances as a head coach, the accomplishment of getting to the Big Game over four season-long competitions should not be diminished.
Inducted into the Broncos’ Ring of Fame in 2014, Reeves was considered but never elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame even though Marv Levy was enshrined despite four Super Bowl losses in consecutive years with the Buffalo Bills. Reeves had his coaching record, plus a playing career that included throwing a halfback option touchdown pass to Lance Rentzel in the famed Ice Bowl on December 31, 1967 in the NFL Championship Game at below-zero Lambeau Field – 54 years ago nearly to the day Reeves passed away.
Reeves is survived by his wife Pam, three children and six grandchildren. DeCamillis, husband to Reeves’ daughter Dana, will fly out Saturday with his Rams and a heavy heart to Baltimore where the Rams will play the Ravens on Sunday.
“I was able to Facetime with him yesterday,’’ DeCamillis said. “That was a nice moment. It’s tough. But we all know Dan wouldn’t want it any other way. He’d have told me: "Go coach.'"
The Broncos released a statement following Reeves' passing:
“The Denver Broncos are deeply saddened by the loss of legendary Head Coach Dan Reeves, who passed away this morning at age 77 at home in Atlanta.
“One of the winningest coaches in NFL history, Coach Reeves set the foundation for the Broncos’ decade of dominance in the 1980s and championship tradition for years to come.
“A 2014 Broncos Ring of Fame inductee, Reeves led the Broncos as head coach from 1981-92 and was instrumental in the franchise becoming a perennial contender. With competitiveness, consistency and a style all his own, he guided the Broncos to three Super Bowl appearances, five AFC West titles and six playoff berths.
“The only coach to lead an AFC team to three Super Bowls in the 1980s, Reeves captured the AFC Championship three times in a four-year period from 1986-89. He led Denver to appearances in Super Bowl XXI (1986 season), XXII (1987) and XXIV (1989), ushering in a new era of Broncos football on the national stage.
“Reeves coached the Broncos with integrity, character and toughness along with sincere appreciation for his players and coaches. His time with the Broncos was part of a remarkable 39-year career in professional football in which he appeared in the Super Bowl an astonishing nine times as a player or coach.
“Our hearts and deepest sympathies go out to Dan’s wife and high school sweetheart, Pam; his children Dana, Lee and Laura; his grandchildren and great grandchildren; and the entire Reeves family.”
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