There aren’t many people in football with more Super Bowl experience than Dan Reeves.
As a running back for the Dallas Cowboys, he played in Super Bowls V and VI, winning the latter over the Miami Dolphins. Four years later, the 1975 Cowboys, whose staff included Reeves as offensive backfield coach, lost Super Bowl X to Pittsburgh.
By 1977, Reeves was serving as Dallas’ offensive coordinator under Tom Landry, and in that role he helped guide the team to a win over Denver in Super Bowl XII, followed by another championship loss to the Steelers in Super Bowl XIII the following year.
Then, in the middle of a 12-year stint as the head coach of the Broncos, Reeves led his players to three Super Bowl appearances in four seasons, losing XXI, XXII and XXIV. And in his fourth and final shot at a ring as a head coach, for the last Atlanta Falcons team to win an NFC championship, he came up short against his old team, the Broncos, in Super Bowl XXXIII.
There’s no question, of course, that Reeves would prefer to have won more than two of the nine title games in which he had a hand, but for better or for worse, he knows the stage and has the process down pat. And that, he says, can be an unexpected challenge that untested head coaches, such as Atlanta’s Dan Quinn, are apt to face during their first go-around in the sport’s premier event.
“It’s gotten so much bigger, and that’s the biggest thing to try to handle, all the distractions that you have,” Reeves told FOXSports.com on Wednesday ahead of his appearance on “The Herd” with Colin Cowherd. “And that’s not something the players are used to, either — every day being interviewed, every day going through that part of it.”
Certainly, there are other factors to consider as well. Most of the players and coaches have family in town all week. They’re staying in a hotel for an unusually long period of time. Everyone they’ve ever met is asking them for tickets to the game.
But above all that, Reeves said, it’s the extra week between games that often throws the most significant wrench into a coach’s operation, and if anything, having too much time to practice — and to think about what’s ahead — can be a disadvantage.
“I really think they would have a better Super Bowl each and every time if they went one week,” Reeves said. “They can get more commercials and do more stuff if it’s two weeks, but from a football standpoint, they’re used to doing a one-week thing.
“When you’ve got two weeks, how do you do it?” he continued, noting that all his Super Bowls came with one week between the conference championship and the title game, the league’s format until the 2003 season. “Do you put in the game plan and give it to them in practice that first week? Do you not do anything and just have them work out for two or three days, then fly down and put your game plan in like a regular week? Those are the decisions you have to make.”
Fortunately, in Quinn’s case, he not only has his own Super Bowl experience — as the defensive coordinator for the 2013 and 2014 Seahawks — but also a wealth of additional wisdom spread among his staff.
“Though not having been there as many times as Bill Belichick has — it’s second nature to them to know what to do — (Quinn) has been part of a win and he’s got some coaches that have been part of it,” Reeves said. “Kyle Shanahan’s dad won two in a row, Bobby Turner, the backfield coach, was with Denver. Richard Smith, the defensive coordinator, has been there before. So they’ve got a lot of coaches to draw on, how to do things and so forth. And that’ll help.”
And while there are some things that no coach can prepare for — Reeves expressed frustration about inconsistency in the length of halftime, player-related commotions such as Eugene Robinson’s arrest and Ray Buchanan’s needling of Shannon Sharpe ahead of Super Bowl XXXIII, and regrets over tactical decisions he wished he’d made — he feels that Quinn will be as prepared as possible to face the Patriots come Sunday.
“He did a good job bringing them together, brought in the military, made them go through some things with the military, where the military taught them about protecting the other guy,” said Reeves, a spokesman for After The Impact and Transworld Business Advisors, which help veterans with the transition back to the workplace. “You know, ‘It’s not about you, it’s about the team.’
“But if a player’s never been there, there’s no way you can explain to him what a shock it’s going to be,” Reeves added. “Because it is a shock. You knew it was going to be big, but you didn’t know it was going to be this big.”