Former Bucs, Bengals head coach Sam Wyche dies at 74

Posted at 4:30 PM, Jan 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-02 17:19:33-05

CINCINNATI (WCPO/WFTS) — Former NFL coach Sam Wyche died Thursday afternoon at his home in Pickens, S.C., after a battle with cancer. He was 74 years old.

"It was in his liver and he just went really fast," said Sam's son, Zak Wyche. "He was able to walk around Saturday with a walker and then the next morning he was unresponsive."

Sam Wyche coached the Bengals from 1984 to 1991 including an appearance in Super Bowl XXIII. He led the Bengals to their most recent playoff win in 1991. He also reminded Bengals fans in December 1989 that they "don't live in Cleveland."

Sam Wyche is survived by his wife, Jane. They were married 54 years. He is also survived by his two children Zak (Jennifer) and Kerry and six grandchildren.

Sam Wyche was an NFL head coach for 12 years overall (1984 to 1995). He coached the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 1992-95.

"Sam was a wonderful guy," Bengals president Mike Brown said in a statement. "We got to know him as both a player and a coach. 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."

Wyche led the Bucs to a 23-41 record in those four seasons.

Sam Wyche had an inspirational journey when he recovered from a heart transplant in September 2016. He told ABC Action News' sister station WCPO in 2017 he would ride a bike 15 to 23 miles multiples times a week from his home. He also enjoyed being around his family and watched his grandson, Sam, played linebacker for Moeller during the 2017 season.

“He would do anything for anybody," said Zak, a St. Xavier assistant football coach and 1989 Wyoming High School graduate. "He’s very selfless. He’d loan people his truck for them to use. He would take care of people in need. He would let people to stay in the house if they were having trouble. He would do things for everybody else.

Sam Wyche was a part of a memorable moment in franchise history Dec. 10, 1989 at Riverfront Stadium.

The Bengals were losing to the Seattle Seahawks. Some fans were a tad disgruntled the way the game was going, enough so that they started throwing snowballs at Seahawks players.

It got to the point that the referees stopped the game.

Sam Wyche, the only Bengal coach you could imagine doing such a thing, grabbed the on-field mic and let the fans have it. It lasted all of nine seconds. He told fans to point out the snowball-throwers and they would be ejected.

But he closed with one thing that will live forever in Bengal lore: "You don’t live in Cleveland, you live in Cincinnati.”

Wyche’s comment was a shot at the Browns' Dawg Pound fan section in Cleveland. Wyche said the fans in the Dawg Pound threw batteries and half-filler beer cans at his players during warmups.

Sam Wyche was born Jan. 5, 1945 in Atlanta. He later played at Furman University and was a member of the Bengals' 1968 expansion team. He played in the NFL from 1968 to 1975 including the Bengals (1968 to 1970), Washington (1971-72), Detroit (1974) and St. Louis (1976), according to Pro Football Reference.

Wyche spoke fondly of being a member of the original Bengals. The team played its home games at Nippert Stadium before Riverfront Stadium.

Wyche had a free-agent tryout at St. Xavier High School in early '68. The Bengals quarterbacks coach that year was Bill Walsh. The head coach was Paul Brown.

Walsh and Brown were there at St. Xavier that day. It was Lou Holtz who made the call to the Bengals for Wyche to get a tryout.

“During the workout it was kind of damp and cold day – maybe January or February,” Wyche told WCPO in 2017. “We had about 15 guys working out. I was the only quarterback.”

Walsh was impressed with Wyche’s athleticism that day.

Brown later called Wyche from the Bengals temporary office at the Hilton Netherland Plaza Hotel and offered him a one-year deal for $11,000.

Wyche was ecstatic. The Bengals played home games at Nippert Stadium. He couldn’t wait for the opportunity to start with training camp that July.

“I can remember going down to the phone booth on the corner and putting the dime in there,” Wyche said. “I called my newlywed wife and my first words were ‘We are rich.’”

WCPO's archived stories contributed to this report.