Dan Reeves brought instant credibility to the Falcons.

That’s the way many of his former players see it.

Reeves, the formers Falcons coach who led them to Super Bowl XXXIII, died Saturday at age 77.

“He was basically an all-star coach by the time that he came to us,” linebacker Jessie Tuggle told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Saturday. “Everybody respected him. The magical year happened the second year (Super Bowl appearance) when everybody bought into what he was talking about, believing in his system, believing in him, believing in doing the right thing on and off the field.”

Reeves’ first move was to change the offense, another move that brought credibility.

“You have to understand from how he started,” offensive lineman Bob Whitfield told the AJC. “We went from run-and-shoot to him. He came into camp and he said we’re about to go smash mouth football. We are about to hit and do all of this. It was a difference. With that level of difference came a point in the chest. Are you up to this task? They type of football that we are about to play is demanding of you physically. Demanding of you mentally. Because of the physical demand, mental demands can win. Are you up to the task?

“I felt like when Dan came in, he challenged us. But the challenge was a challenge for him as well. He had a new bunch of guys. You might be a legendary coach, but if you can’t get this bunch of guys going in the right direction, then who are you. So, I felt like he did a mix of hardcore coaching, but Coach Dan did it with love and compassion.”

According to his family, Reeves died due to complications from a long illness.

Reeves coached the Falcons from 1997-2003. He appeared in nine Super Bowls as a player (Cowboys), assistant coach (Cowboys) and head coach (Broncos (3), Falcons). He won two of them: Super Bowl VI as a player and XII as an assistant coach, both with the Cowboys. He also was head coach of the Giants, where he won an NFL Coach of the Year, in his lengthy NFL career.

Reeves was hired by the Falcons to replace June Jones, who went 19-29 in three seasons, including 3-13 in 1996.

During the Falcons’ Super Bowl season, he famously returned four weeks after heart surgery at age 54.

Dan Reeves walked the walk – on and off the field. As much as he motivated his players on the field, he was a beacon off it.

“I’d said, I definitely grew up on the NFL under Coach Dan,” Whitfield said. “He was a coach, father figure, friend, confidante and advisor. Coach Dan wore so many hats for us. Not many relationships that are built on this regimented oriented thing do you really get to become personal with your coach.”

And he could dance.

Much out of his comfort zone, Reeves did the ‘Dirty Bird’ dance with his players as they celebrated moving on to the ultimate game.

“I thought that was pretty cool,” Tuggle said. “You could tell that he was happy to be a part of it.”