Dan Reeves remembered as consistent, caring coach

Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Reeves, center, breaks it down for kicker Morten Andersen (5), and center Dave Widell, right, during one long ago 1998 practice. (AP Photo/Erik S. Lesser)

Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Reeves, center, breaks it down for kicker Morten Andersen (5), and center Dave Widell, right, during one long ago 1998 practice. (AP Photo/Erik S. Lesser)

Former Falcons (and Broncos and Giants) coach Dan Reeves is being remembered today as a staunch professional and credible players’ coach. And if that meant sometimes getting after the kicker, so be it.

“He gave me the nickname ‘The Matador,’” chuckled Morten Andersen, Reeves’ kicker with the Falcons for the first four seasons of the coach’s tenure here. That for how Andersen resembled a matador waving the bull on by when rarely called upon to tackle.

“He got so mad at me in a game, I whiffed on a guy on a kickoff and the guy ran it back for a touchdown,” Andersen remembered Saturday. “In the meeting Monday, Dan flipped the lights on, stopped the video, and said, ‘Morten, I could have done this better.’ I said that’s not what you pay me for, coach. The whole room went, Oooooh.”

Reeves invited his kicker to his office after the meeting. “I went up there and he just said, I have to treat you the same way as everyone else,” Andersen recalled. “I know that’s not your main job to tackle, but I can’t let that go.”

The great golden Falcons memory of Reeves, who died Saturday at the age of 77, is of one tough, square-jawed football man flapping about like a free-range chicken, doing the Dirty Bird dance. Right there on the podium while celebrating his team’s shocking victory over the Vikings in Minneapolis during the team’s 1998 NFC championship season. It was like seeing Ronald Reagan doing the electric slide.

The man next to him on the podium was running back Jamal Anderson, the engine behind what would be the Falcons’ first-ever Super Bowl season. On Saturday, from the Rose Bowl where he was watching his former school, Utah, play, his emotions were running high. “Damn, I cried this morning because I miss coach Reeves. And I cried for Pam (his wife of 56 years),” Anderson said.

When Andersen, the kicker who supplied the 38-yard field goal in overtime that won the game, thinks about that moment, he goes back to the toughness Reeves displayed just to be on that podium. For a month earlier, the coach had undergone quadruple bypass surgery.

“That personified in a way who Dan Reeves was,” Andersen said.

“Dan comes back on really short rest after that major surgery and coaches in the NFC Championship game. I thought it was wild. I can’t believe this guy; he’s superhuman, you know.”

The mere human remembrances of Reeves, who coached the Falcons from 1997-2003, touched on his core values.

Dan Reeves (left) and Michael Vick celebrate in 2002.

Credit: Curtis Compton

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Credit: Curtis Compton

As in this, in a statement to the AJC from Michael Vick, the flashy quarterback Reeves moved up to draft: “I will be forever grateful to coach Dan Reeves for taking a chance and drafting me back in 2001. His belief in me along with his passion for the game meant a lot to me. I have fond memories of him unrelated to football like him gifting me my first set of golf clubs and introducing me to the game of golf. Coach Reeves will always have a special place in my heart.”

Defensive end Chuck Smith recalled how Reeves came in and re-established some balance with the Falcons after the run-and-shoot proclivities of predecessors Jerry Glanville and June Jones. “The years that he was here were really the best years of my career,” Smith said.

Having clashed with Jones, getting suspended by the coach at the end of his run with the Falcons, Smith said it was Reeves who came in and shored up his position with the team.

Said Smith: “I remember Dan bringing me in for the first meeting and he said, ‘Hey, Chuck everybody has a fresh start. Nothing you said or did before now will have any impact on how we treat you moving forward.’ That said a lot. He treated us like pros. I always remember that.”

Reeves career as player, assistant coach and head coach led him to nine Super Bowl appearances. He is one of small group of 10 coaches with at least 190 regular-season NFL wins. His coach in Dallas, the legendary Tom Landry, once called Reeves, “The most competitive man I know.”

Former Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Reeves greets a young fan at the Built Ford Tough Toughest Tailgate on Sunday, Jan. 1, 2017, in Atlanta. (Branden Camp/AP Images for Ford)


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Other marks of the man are more basic and perhaps more indelible than wins and losses.

Smith recalled how Reeves was always there to support any community service initiative that involved his former player. “Anytime that I needed his support he would always show up,” he said. “Be on time and stay late. Dan was more than just a coach.”

“Here’s the thing, man, obviously Dan Reeves was an excellent football coach and a fantastic leader of men. But most importantly, the crown jewel of his life was how important his family was to him,” Anderson said.

Reeves is survived by three children and six grandchildren.

“He was deeply rooted in Georgia (raised in Americus) and also in his faith. That guided him,” Morten Andersen said.

Toward that, he added, Reeves was, “always letting other people shine, happy to stand there and be a catalyst, be a guy who helps but he didn’t need the credit.

“He was bigger than that.”