EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Dan Reeves, whose career as one of the winningest coaches in NFL history included a four-year stint with the Giants, passed away Saturday. He was 77.
A statement released by his family through former Falcons media relations director Aaron Salkin – who was the Giants' assistant public relations director when Reeves was with the team – said Reeves died of complications from dementia. The statement said he died "peacefully and surrounded by his loving family at his home in Atlanta."
"His legacy will continue through his many friends, players and fans as well as the rest of the NFL community," the family said.
Reeves is the third former Giants head coach to pass away in a little more than a year. Ray Perkins, the team's coach from 1979-82, died on Dec. 9, 2020. Jim Fassel, who succeeded Reeves in 1997, held the job for seven seasons and led the Giants to Super Bowl XXXV, passed away on June 7, 2021.
"Dan Reeves had a legendary NFL career as both a player and a coach," said John Mara, the Giants' president and chief executive officer. "He made an indelible mark on the League and all of the people he played with, coached and worked alongside. He was one of the finest men I have ever been around in this business. Our deepest condolences to Pam and the entire Reeves family."
"He was a great coach, great man," said former running back Rodney Hampton, who rushed for 4,161 yards in four seasons under Reeves. "He's going to be truly missed. My prayers go out to Mrs. (Pam) Reeves and all his family. I'm sure he has a lot going his way because he touched a lot of people. He was a teacher, too. He taught us how to be men. When I first got there, we used to always stay at hotels (the night before home games). He told us, 'You're grown men, you should know what to do to take care of yourself.' So when he got there, we stayed at our own place, our own house."
Reeves is one of six coaches to win the NFL Coach of the Year with multiple teams, earning the honor with the Giants in 1993 and the Falcons five years later.
Reeves was an NFL head coach for 23 consecutive seasons with the Denver Broncos (1981-92), Giants (1993-96) and Atlanta Falcons (1997-2003). He was 190-165-2 (.535) in the regular season and 11-9 (.550) in postseason games. With the Giants, he was 31-33 in the regular season and 1-1 in the postseason.
Reeves led the Broncos to three Super Bowls and the Falcons to one, though he lost all four games, including a 39-20 defeat to the Giants in Super Bowl XXI. With 201 victories, he is one of nine coaches in NFL history to win 200 games, including the playoffs. Reeves is one of six coaches to win the NFL Coach of the Year with multiple teams, earning the honor with the Giants in 1993 and the Falcons five years later.
Reeves was named the 14th head coach in Giants history on Jan. 27, 1993, after the team went 14-18 in two seasons under Ray Handley, who had succeeded two-time Super Bowl winner Bill Parcells.
In his first season with the team, Reeves guided the Giants to an 11-5 record and an NFC wild card berth. The Giants lost to division champion Dallas in overtime, 16-13, on the season's final day. Had they won that game, the Giants would have had home-field advantage through the NFC playoffs. But after defeating Minnesota in a wild card game in Giants Stadium, the Giants traveled to San Francisco, where they were routed, 44-3.
The 1994 season was one of the most unusual in Giants history. They won their first three games, lost their next seven, but rallied to win their final six contests. Their final record was 9-7 – the same as wild card teams Green Bay, Detroit and Chicago – but they lost all tiebreakers and had to settle for having the best record among the conference's non-playoff teams.
The Giants finished 5-11 and 6-10 the following two years and Reeves was fired after the 1997 season.
Prior to coaching, Reeves was a versatile running back for the Dallas Cowboys under Tom Landry from 1965-72. He was a standout on the Cowboys team that won Super Bowl VI following the 1971 season. Undrafted out of the University of South Carolina, Reeves rushed for 1,990 yards and 25 touchdowns and caught 129 passes for 1,693 yards and 17 scores. He also threw a 50-yard touchdown pass to Lance Rentzel on a halfback option in the Cowboys' loss to Green Bay in the famed Ice Bowl on Dec. 31, 1967.
Hampton said Reeves' playing career – and specifically as a running back – made him a more understanding coach.
"I played eight years, but it probably would have been three, maybe four, if Dan wasn't there," Hampton said. "Coming in, we heard a lot about Dan Reeves, like that he was a tough coach and this and that. Then he got there, and he was totally different. He was a players' coach. He was amazing. He took care of me. He would understand that I can't lift all the weights and I can't do all that running in practice. He would always say, 'Hey, you do what you got to do on Sundays, and I'll take care of you during the week.'
"I had trouble with my knees. We had the same walk, we were both running backs. I was a quiet person, I didn't stir trouble in the locker room with anything, so I guess that's why he gave me a break. I went to him and would talk about my shoulders, my knees, and that stuff. Dan Reeves, man, he definitely took care of me."
Reeves was a player-coach in 1970-71 under Landry, whose 270 coaching victories are the fourth-highest total in history.
In 1972, Reeves became a fulltime assistant. He was in private business in 1973 before returning to the Cowboys the following year as their running backs coach. Reeves remained in that position until 1977, when he became Dallas' offensive coordinator, a position he held for four years.
Reeves was the NFL's youngest head coach at 37 when he took over the Broncos in 1981. In 12 years, he went 110-73-1 and led the Broncos to six postseason berths, including AFC Championships in 1986, '87 and '89. Denver lost its final two Super Bowls under Reeves to Washington and San Francisco.
In a statement, the Broncos said, "We're saddened by the passing of Ring of Fame Head Coach Dan Reeves, who led us to three Super Bowl appearances. We send our sincerest condolences to his family."
After leaving the Giants, Reeves joined the Falcons. After going 7-9 in his first year with the team, he led Atlanta to a franchise best 14-2 record and its first Super Bowl in 1998. The Falcons were 12-2 when Reeves underwent emergency quadruple-bypass heart surgery in December. He returned to the sidelines three weeks later and led the Falcons to an upset victory over the 15-1 Vikings in Minnesota to advance to Super Bowl XXXIII – against the Broncos and his former quarterback, John Elway. The Falcons lost, 34-19.
"Dan Reeves leaves a lasting legacy in our game as a player and coach," Falcons owner Arthur Blank said in a statement. "His track record of success in Dallas, Denver, New York and Atlanta over several decades speaks for itself, marking a long and successful life and career in football. On behalf of the Atlanta Falcons, I extend our condolences to Dan's family and friends as they mourn his passing."
Reeves grew up in Americus, Georgia and spent his retirement years in his home state.
"Dan Reeves was a remarkable man and coach," Pro Football Hall of Famer Michael Strahan said. "I will never forget his southern drawl the first time he called my name when he drafted me in 1993. I knew how great of a coach he was from his years with the Denver Broncos, and I remember how excited I was because I also knew he'd help guide my career. His decision to move me from the right side of the defensive line to the left side was a defining moment. It allowed me to become the player he knew I could be. He always believed in me. I couldn't be more thankful for Dan and all the encouragement he gave me throughout my career. He was a man of integrity, class and incredible character. I'll miss him, but take solace in knowing his legacy lives on within the NFL and all of the fans."