Sam Wyche, boundary-pushing coach of Bengals, dead at 74
Sam Wyche, who pushed the boundaries as an offensive innovator with the Cincinnati Bengals and challenged the NFL’s protocols along the way, has died. He was 74.
Wyche, who had a history of blood clots in his lungs and had a heart transplant in 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina, died Thursday of melanoma, officials with the Bengals confirmed.
“Sam was a wonderful guy. We got to know him as both a player and a coach,” Bengals president Mike Brown said. “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.”
One of the Bengals’ original quarterbacks, Wyche was known for his offensive innovations as a coach. He led the Bengals to their second Super Bowl during the 1988 season by using a no-huddle offense that forced the league to change its substitution rules.
And that wasn’t the only way he made waves throughout the NFL. A nonconformist in a button-down league,
Wyche refused to comply with the NFL’s locker room policy for media, ran up the score to settle a personal grudge, and belittled the city of rival Cleveland during his eight seasons in Cincinnati. He later coached Tampa Bay for four seasons.
Wyche was signed by the Bengals for their inaugural season. He got No. 14 — later worn by Ken Anderson and Andy Dalton — and played three seasons with Cincinnati, throwing for 12 touchdowns with eight interceptions. He later spent two years in Washington as a backup and a year each in Detroit and St. Louis.
It’s as a coach that he made his mark on offense. The Bengals hired him as head coach in 1984, and he soon showed a knack for going against the grain. During a game against San Francisco in 1987, he chose to try to run out the clock on fourth down rather than punt or take a safety — the safe choices. When the play failed, Joe Montana got a chance to throw a winning touchdown pass to Jerry
Rice, an ending that’s still remembered among the league’s most improbable finishes.
He put his fingerprints on NFL offense with Boomer Esiason as the quarterback. He developed what he called a “sugar huddle” that had his team group near the line after a substitution. If the defense tried to match the substitution, he’d have the offense snap the ball and catch it with too many players on the field. The NFL eventually adopted a rule allowing defenses to match an offense’s substitution before the ball is snapped.
Cincinnati reached the Super Bowl in the 1988 season and lost to the 49ers again on Montana’s touchdown pass with 34 seconds to go.