In many of the stories about the roof collapse at the Dallas Cowboys practice bubble over the weekend (seen vividly in the video above), special teams coach Joe DeCamillis is identified as the son-in-law of former Cowboys star Dan Reeves, as if that's his principal claim to fame. But if DeCamillis' rise in the coaching ranks is largely due to Reeves, who gave him a job during his stint as coach of your Denver Broncos, he's certainly taken advantage of the opportunities nepotism provided for him, becoming one of the most effective special-teams expert in the entire NFL.
An Arvada native who played quarterback for Arvada High, DeCamillis was hired by the Broncos in 1989 as as "an administrative assistant to the head coach and general manager," according to a March 1989 Associated Press story. And because he was already married to Reeves' daughter Dana, and his main coaching experience involved wrestling, not football (at the time, he was working with grapplers at the University of Wyoming, where he'd won All-American status for his skills in a unitard), his arrival stirred little fanfare. Note that the aforementioned AP piece lumped in his addition to the staff with a report that assistant ticket manager Joan Baker had chosen to retire.
Even after DeCamillis reached the coaching ranks, he was paid very modestly. A 1992 USA Today article listed his salary at $36,000, the lowest on the entire Broncos staff (Reeves took home $985,000 that year). Nonetheless, Reeves brought DeCamillis with him when he jumped to the New York Giants in 1993, and by the following year, the 29-year-old assistant was coming into his own: The headline of a New York Times profile, "Giants' Special Teams Have Matured Along With the Coach," speaks volumes. And although he followed Reeves to the Atlanta Falcons in 1997, he generated his own legend, as an October 2004 profile in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution makes clear. The piece talks about his coaching technique, which merge a vivid use of profanities with lessons culled from the history of warfare. Here's an especially amusing excerpt:
"He and [assistant strength and conditioning coach] Rocky [Colburn] come up with something every week to inspire guys and challenge them," said Dana, wife of Joe. "He always rehearses the speeches with our two daughters and I. It's awesome. He talks about Genghis Khan, Attila the Hun, anything to make it seem like a battle."
Ever veto a speech?
"No. Sometimes I laugh a little bit," Mrs. D said. "With the Genghis Khan deal, the girls said, 'Dad, putting someone's arm and leg in your trophy case, I don't know about that.' There was the one about the Berzerkers, a group of Vikings."
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After leaving Atlanta, DeCamillis spent two years on the Jacksonville Jaguars staff, earning more acclaim. Then, in January, he came to Dallas, whose head coach, Wade Phillips, had handled the defense under Reeves in Denver before eventually becoming the Broncos' head coach himself. But by this point, no one suggested that Phillips was doing DeCamillis any favors. Indeed, if DeCamillis makes it back to coaching in time for the start of the 2009 season, Phillips and the Cowboys will be the beneficiaries.