Wyche had recently been battling melanoma and had been moved to hospice care in Pickens, S.C. He had a history of blood clots in his lungs and received a heart transplant in 2016.
“Sam was a wonderful guy. We got to know him as both a player and coach,” Bengals president Mike Brown said in a statement. “As our coach, he had great success and took us to the Super Bowl. He was friends with everyone here, both during his tenure as head coach and afterwards. We not only liked him, we admired him as a man. He had a great generosity of spirit and lived his life trying to help others. We express our condolences to Jane and his children, Zak and Kerry.”
Samuel David Wyche was born Jan. 5, 1945 in Atlanta, Ga. He played collegiately at Furman (1963-65) where he earned his Bachelors’ degree. Wyche also earned a Masters in Business Administration from the University of South Carolina.
After two years of minor league football, Wyche signed with the expansion Bengals for their inaugural 1968 season in the AFL. He was primarily a backup in his first two seasons but did start a combined six games. In 1970, the first season after the AFL-NFL merger, Wyche played in all 14 games with three starts.
In 1971, he moved on to the Washington Redskins, who appeared in Super Bowl VII after the 1972 season. He played in eight games in his two seasons in the nation’s capital but didn’t attempt a pass. Wyche finished his playing career with the Detroit Lions (1974) and St. Louis Cardinals (1976).
In total, Wyche played in 47 games (24 for the Bengals, eight for the Redskins, 14 for the Lions, one for the Cardinals) completing 116 passes in 222 attempts (52.3 percent) for 1,748 yards, 12 touchdowns, and nine interceptions. He also carried the ball 45 times for 303 yards and three touchdowns.
Wyche planted the seeds for his coaching career while working towards his MBA at South Carolina. In 1967, he was an assistant on Paul Dietzel’s Gamecocks staff. In 1979, he was hired by Bill Walsh and the San Francisco 49ers. Walsh spent four seasons as a 49ers assistant working with the quarterbacks, including future Hall of Famer Joe Montana He was on the coaching staff when San Francisco defeated Cincinnati in Super Bowl XVI.
Wyche left the 49ers after the strike-shortened 1982 season to become head coach at Indiana. His Hoosiers went 3-8 in 1983 including lopsided losses to Michigan (43-18), Wisconsin (45-14), Iowa (49-3), Ohio State (56-17), and Illinois (49-21). He was fired after one season.
Wyche returned to the NFL in 1984 when he was tapped to succeed Forrest Gregg (the coach Walsh bested in Super Bowl XVI) as Bengals head coach. He was 39 years old at the time. Cincinnati went a combined 29-34 in Wyche’s first four seasons. In 1988, he led them to one of the greatest seasons in franchise history.
Cincinnati finished tied for the league-lead with a 12-4 record and the No. 1 seed in the AFC. The offense, led by league MVP Boomer Esiason, averaged an-NFL best 28 points per game. Cincinnati defeated the Seattle Seahawks in the Divisional Round and the Buffalo Bills in the AFC Championship Game, setting up a rematch against his mentor Walsh and the 49ers in Super Bowl XXIII.
Seven years earlier, the Bengals were denied a Lombardi Trophy after scoring their final touchdown with 20 seconds remaining but couldn’t recover the ensuing onside kick. The final score of Super Bowl XVI: 49ers-26, Bengals-21.
Unfortunately for Wyche and the Bengals, they would find themselves on the wrong side of history yet again.
Despite being an overwhelming underdog, Cincinnati held a 16-13 lead with 3:10 remaining in the fourth quarter. San Francisco got the ball on their own 8-yard line for the game’s final drive. Montana marched his offense down the field in under three minutes. He connected with John Taylor on the game’s go-ahead touchdown with 34 seconds remaining.
Final score: 49ers-20, Bengals-16.
“I always thought of Sam and me as a bucking bronco with a guy that’s trying to take him,” Esiason said in an NFL Network documentary about the ’88 Bengals. “He put a lot on my plate. He would expect a lot from me. He would never let me put a wrist band on my arm to cheat. And he would always grill me, mentally, every day…I always think back to the great memories that our team had and the way that we did it. It was really unique in nature. We had a unique coach. We had great personalities on our team. And where we came from to where we ascended to is the most unpredictable of seasons that any team has ever had in the history of the league.”
The Bengals made one more playoff appearance with Wyche on the sidelines in 1990, losing to the Los Angeles Raiders in the Divisional Round. This is as close as Cincinnati has come to a Super Bowl in the last three decades. The Bengals’ victory over the Houston Oilers in the Wild Card that set up the Divisional matchup with the Raiders is the franchise’s most recent postseason victory.
Wyche’s tenure with the Bengals ended after a 3-13 1991 campaign. This was controversial because Mike Brown (who took over the team after the death of his father, Paul) had insisted Wyche quit with two years remaining on his contract but Wyche said he was fired.
Wyche remains the Bengals’ second all-time winningest coach in the regular season with a record of 61-66. He is still the franchise’s all-time winningest coach in the postseason (3-2).
In 1992, Wyche was hired by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as head coach. He spent four unremarkable seasons with the Bucs, going a combined 23-41 and never finishing above .500. However, he did draft three players who would prove instrumental for the Bucs’ future success—Derrick Brooks, John Lynch, and Warren Sapp.
Wyche would never get another shot to be an NFL head coach though he was a quarterbacks coach with the Bills for two seasons (2004-05).
As a coach, Wyche was a proponent of going against conventional wisdom so much that he was nicknamed Wicky Wacky Wyche.
He developed what he called the “sugar huddle” in which his offense gathered near the line of scrimmage after a substitution. If the defense tried to match the substitution, Wyche would have the offense snap the ball in an attempt to catch the defense with too many men on the field. This led to the NFL adopting a rule in which the defense is allowed to match an offense’s substitutions before the ball is snapped. Wyche was also one of the first proponents of using the no-huddle/hurry-up offense as a base offense.
In a 1987 game against the 49ers, Wyche decided to run the clock out on fourth down rather than go with the safer options of punting the ball or taking a safety. The play failed and Montana was able to hit Jerry Rice for the game-winning touchdown.
Wyche is also remembered for his colorful personality at a time when most NFL head coaches didn’t allow their personalities to come out. He was one of the first coaches to wear a mic for NFL Films during Super Bowl XXIII.
Wyche’s personality was on full display during a Dec. 10, 1989 Bengals home game against the Seahawks. Bengals fans began to throw snowballs on the field in protest of what they felt was a bad call. The Seahawks, who were at their own 4-yard line and an easy target for the snowball throwing fans, refused to continue the game.
Wyche grabbed a microphone and admonished the fans throwing snowballs and took a shot at their in-state rivals, the Cleveland Browns, at the same time.
“Will the next person that sees anybody throw anything onto this field, point ‘em out, and get ‘em out of here! You don’t live in Cleveland; you live in Cincinnati!” Wyche said.
Wyche’s words were met with a resounding applause. “You don’t live in Cleveland; you live in Cincinnati!” is currently plastered outside of Paul Brown Stadium.
Wyche also had a rivalry with former NFL head coach Jerry Glanville.
Glanville, who made many enemies among his fellow head coaches, had a particularly antagonistic relationship with Wyche. Cincinnati defeated Glanville’s Houston Oilers (who were members of the former AFC Central like the Bengals) 44-21 in their first meeting of the ’88 season while Houston won the rubber match 41-6.
In 1989, Houston defeated Cincinnati 26-24 in the first meeting. Wyche and the Bengals got their revenge and then some when they reconvened five weeks later. Cincinnati defeated Houston 61-7. In spite of the 54-point margin of victory, Wyche (who was also known for his intensity) was very angry at the postgame press conference.
“We don’t like this team,” Wyche said. “We don’t like their people. When you get a chance to do it (run up the score), you do it. I wish today, this was a five-quarter game…Jerry is an unusual coach. Drop me a note if somebody likes this guy. I just don’t like Jerry Glanville. I don’t like phonies and I don’t think Jerry is a very genuine guy. The cheap shots they tried after our quarterback was down, their big mouths.
“Jerry tries coming up and talking to me before the game and when the cameras start rolling, he puts his arm around you and smiles behind those dark glasses. When your football team is so talented and yet so undisciplined, you got to be ready to get kicked and the score run up on you. And that’s exactly what happened today…I feel sorry for the Houston players having to put up with him. He can take that hit-the-beach stuff and take it back to high school or wherever he got it from. He’s a joke.”
Wyche was regularly fined by the league office. He was hit with a $3,000 fine in 1989 after failing to make his players available to the media after a last-second loss. A year later, he defied an edict from Paul Tagliabue and barred USA Today reporter Denise Tom from the team’s locker room after a game. He was hit with a $27,941 fine, the largest fine levied against a head coach in NFL history at the time.
“I’ll be out of this business before I let a woman in the locker room,” Wyche told reporters when asked why he refused Tom access. “Our guys don’t want a woman to walk into a tight locker room like that. I’m not doing this to these guys. I’m not doing it to their wives.”
Wyche also had a career in broadcasting, working NFL games for NBC, CBS, and Westwood One. He also called college games for Fox Sports South. Wyche volunteered as a high school offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. In 2008, he was elected to a seat on the county council in Pickens County, S.C.
Wyche is survived by his wife, Jane; two children, Zak and Kerry; and six grandchildren. His brother, Bubba, was a quarterback at Tennessee who played in the Canadian Football League and the World Football League.