SAN JOSE, Calif. -- There is a temptation among special teams coordinators to deviate from simplicity.
Their portion of the game is waning. If they're lucky, maybe a kick return and a small handful of punts that are toward the middle of the field. Sunday could very well be the first Super Bowl in NFL history without a returnable kickoff. In 2015, the Seahawks were the first of 98 Super Bowl teams not to get the chance to take one back.
And that's where Bruce DeHaven, a special teams coordinator in the NFL since 1987, finds himself. The game plan is closed, save for a little bit of polishing here or there. The kicker is already locked in and the punt return man -- DeHaven jokes -- doesn't go the way he's supposed to half the time, anyway. But if you were as fast as Ted Ginn, would you?
"Fortunately, I'm not very creative," he said, laughing.
Routine, this week more than any, serves DeHaven well. He takes comfort in the fine tuning. It takes his mind off the tougher parts of life -- and a public battle with prostate cancer that he wishes could stay private. During a recent media session on Thursday, he was happy to discuss the minutiae of a special teams game plan for the Super Bowl with a naïve young reporter, and was more than gracious with his time and knowledge. His wish not to talk about his health was made public early on in the week. Looking good and feeling good is what's important the most.
"I feel good," he said Monday on Super Bowl Opening Night. "I don't really want to talk about it much and a lot of that is because my kids just don't need to hear me talk about all of this. Toby is a freshman in college and Annie is a sophomore in high school. They don't need to hear their dad talking about being sick. They see me and I look good so that's what they need to see. I'm just kind of going to refrain from answering a whole lot of questions about all of that."
For some, the narrative is simple. This humility, this adversity in the face of disease makes him a coach's coach. A football man. But the truth is that DeHaven has always been that way. He's been coaching for more than 40 years. He was the coordinator with the Bills during Scott Norwood's wide right. He was still with Buffalo almost a decade later during the Music City Miracle, a play he was routinely scapegoated for despite his due diligence. He is grateful and not bitter. He is excitable, and not worn down by the grind and the politics.
"Except for this media deal we've got, my schedule has been almost exactly the same," he said. "The only thing that's been a little bit different, I mean, we've already installed everything, we've already gotten the cards drawn up. By six or seven, you're through."
He likes the Super Bowl because of the finality. There is no advanced scouting and there is certainly no more room to correct mistakes. He admitted that there was a bit of emotion associated with writing up his call sheets knowing that it could make the difference in the world's biggest game.
In Carolina, the focus on simplicity and fundamentals has been a perfect fit. Head coach Ron Rivera preaches it from the top down. Their offense has been an evolution in progress, with some of the same coaches and calls, since 2011. DeHaven got there in 2013, happy that he found the right place.
Ask any Panthers player about their coach and they describe someone who is not afraid to hold anyone accountable. In practice his excitement is endearing, how something as simple as a good punt can cause him to erupt in happiness.
That's football for DeHaven. It's not that complicated.
"That's what it should be," he said. "It's just a football game."