Sam Wyche, who coached the Cincinnati Bengals to an appearance in the Super Bowl, died Thursday at age 74.
The Bengals confirmed Wyche’s death Thursday with a statement from team owner Mike Brown. According to a report by the team’s website, Wyche died at his home in Pickens, South Carolina.
Wyche’s son told Cincinnati’s WCPO-TV that the cause of death was complications from cancer. Wyche, who had a history of blood clots in his lungs and had a heart transplant in 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina, entered hospice on Monday, according to team officials.
“Sam was a wonderful guy,” Brown said. “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.”
The Bengals paid tribute to Wyche Thursday with a video posted on Twitter.
One of a kind. pic.twitter.com/fPcYdoonoG
— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) January 2, 2020
Wyche coached the Bengals for eight seasons from 1984 to 1991 and also was the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for four seasons from 1992 to 1995. He went 61-66 with Cincinnati and guided the Bengals to an appearance in Super Bowl XXIII, where they lost to the San Francisco 49ers on a touchdown pass by Joe Montana with 34 seconds left in the game.
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.
During the following season, Wyche made headlines when he barred a female reporter from the team’s locker room after a loss to the Seattle Seahawks. According to a report by the New York Times, Wyche was fined $27,941, which at the time was the largest financial penalty levied by the league against a coach.
The Bengals’ win against the Houston Oilers in a 1991 AFC wild-card game remains the team’s most recent postseason victory. After he was dismissed at the end of the next season, Wyche went 23-41 in his four seasons with the Buccaneers.
“We are saddened to hear of the passing of Sam Wyche earlier today. Sam’s innovative approach to offense left a lasting mark on the game of football,” Buccaneers owner/co-chairman Bryan Glazer said in a statement. “As our head coach in the early 1990s, Sam was instrumental in drafting cornerstone players such as John Lynch, Derrick Brooks and Warren Sapp, who were all key foundational parts of our eventual Super Bowl championship. The Buccaneers organization sends its heartfelt condolences to his wife, Jane, and the entire Wyche family.”
Wyche received his start in the NFL as a quarterback for the Bengals. The Furman alum spent the first three years of his seven-year career in Cincinnati. He started nine of the 24 games he appeared in with the Bengals. 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, 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 the opponent 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.
Wyche loved to push the envelope on offense and loved to go against standard wisdom. A Steelers assistant coach dubbed him “Wicky Wacky” for his go-against-the-grain mentality.
One of the franchise’s most notable moments occurred in 1989 when Wyche grabbed the stadium microphone to admonish fans in a home game against the Seahawks.
As he closed his message, he said, “You don’t live in Cleveland, you live in Cincinnati.” An excerpt of that infamous phrase is plastered on the outside of the Bengals’ Paul Brown Stadium.
Wyche also feuded with Houston Oilers coach Jerry Glanville, whom he called a phony. He had the Bengals make an onside kick when they led Glanville’s team by 45 points, and Wyche waved derisively at Glanville as he ran off the field following a 61-7 win near the end of the 1989 season.
His tenure with the Bengals ended with more controversy after the 1991 season, with Brown announcing that Wyche had quit during their end-of-the-season meeting but Wyche insisting he was fired with two years left on his contract.
After his stint with the Buccaneers, Wyche later served as quarterbacks coach in Buffalo and later became a volunteer offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for a high school in South Carolina.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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