Falcon Coach Dan Reeves, on the verge of personal triumph in Atlanta after draining experiences in Denver and New York, underwent multiple-bypass heart surgery Monday after complaining of a burning sensation in his upper chest after Sunday's victory over the New Orleans Saints.
Falcon team physician Charlie Harrison said Reeves had not experienced a heart attack, adding that surgery performed by Dr. James Kauten at Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta detected no muscle damage to Reeves' heart. Reeves could be home as early as Friday, Harrison said.
"I would not be surprised to see Dan participating in some of the game planning for the Dolphins [the final opponent of the regular season Dec. 27]," Harrison said after the four-hour procedure. "I see no reason why he can't be back for the playoffs and the Super Bowl, which I say with confidence."
Defensive coordinator Rich Brooks, head coach of the Rams when they moved to St. Louis before being replaced by Dick Vermeil, will replace Reeves in the interim.
Reeves, the winningest active coach in the NFL with a record of 168-124-1, said earlier this season he was working longer hours than ever before. Associates said he had been bothered by chest pains in recent weeks, and Reeves admitted to feeling further discomfort during the game in New Orleans, but waited until it was over to tell anyone.
"They do say the risk factors associated with heart problems include cholesterol, diabetes, blood pressure, cigarettes and family history," Harrison said. "Maybe we should add football coaching."
Reeves, who underwent angioplasties in 1990 and 1991, flew back to Atlanta with the team Sunday night. He spent the night at home, then reported to the hospital early Monday morning with his wife, Pam.
There, it was determined there was enough blockage to warrant quadruple-bypass surgery.
"The heart muscle is functioning perfectly normal," said Harrison, suggesting only fatigue and pain will determine how long Reeves remains away from the sideline. "He has absolutely no muscle damage."
Reeves, 54, has driven Atlanta (12-2) to its best record since 1980. The Falcons can win the NFC West title for only the second time in the franchise's 33-year history with a victory over Detroit on Sunday.
"It's been a wonderful experience, a fulfilling experience," said Reeves a few weeks ago, while also admitting he remains stung by earlier stops in Denver and New York. "It was tough and it took its toll . . . more than some people will ever know."
Reeves, four times the NFL coach of the year, took the Broncos to three Super Bowls in his 12 years in Denver, but failed to win any of them and took a heap of criticism from quarterback John Elway for the manner in which Reeves handled Elway's career.
Elway, feeling Reeves' offensive approach was too controlling and restrictive, threatened to retire unless Bronco owner Pat Bowlen refused to renew Reeves' contract. Reeves, surprised at his dismissal, remains baffled to this day by Elway's challenge that Reeves did not let him showcase all of his talent.
"I always thought I had a good relationship with Elway," said Reeves, who broke down in tears after hearing repeated disparaging remarks from Elway's wife, Janet. "I don't understand it."
Reeves left Denver to coach the New York Giants, but clashed almost immediately with the team's former general manager, George Young. Reeves, while taking the Giants to the playoffs with an 11-5 record his first year, contended the organization was not ready for the changes brought on by free agency.
The Giants fell to 9-7 in 1994, and finished 11-21 over the next two years, resulting in Reeves' dismissal. His departure from New York, Jim Fassel's appointment and subsequent selection as coach of the year on the heels of Denver's Super Bowl win left Reeves behind in Atlanta, in charge of a team that started 1-7 under his direction.
In the last 22 regular-season games, however, Denver and Atlanta--potentially on a Super Bowl collision course--have the best records in the NFL at 19-3 and 18-4, respectively.
"I carry no grudges against those people," Reeves said earlier. "I wish them well, and will do everything I can to make this organization this successful."
Brooks said he knows what will make Reeves recover faster.
"We won't have to give any speeches to the players this week," he said. "They understand. The best thing we can do for Dan's health is to win the game Sunday."
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Best in Their Field
Winningest active NFL coaches (including playoffs):
Coach, Current Team Record (Winning Pct.)
Dan Reeves, Atlanta: 168-124-1 (.575)
Marty Schottenheimer, Kansas City: 149-95-1 (.610)
Bill Parcells, Jets: 138-97-0 (.587)
Mike Ditka, New Orleans: 124-86-0 (.590)
Jim Mora, Indianapolis: 96-89-0 (.519)
Ted Marchibroda, Baltimore: 88-101-1 (.466)
Mike Holmgren, Green Bay: 82-41-0 (.667)
Bill Cowher, Pittsburgh: 76-45-0 (.628)
Jimmy Johnson, Miami: 77-58-0 (.570)
Dennis Green, Minnesota: 70-46-0 (.603)