CINCINNATI — Sam Wyche, the former NFL coach who led the Cincinnati Bengals to a Super Bowl appearance in 1988 and is credited with inventing the no-huddle offense, died Thursday afternoon after a brief battle with recurring melanoma, the Bengals announced on their website.
Wyche would have turned 75 on Sunday, the team said.
Under Wyche, the Bengals made it to Super Bowl XXIII, where they lost 20-16 to the Joe Montana-led San Francisco 49ers, relinquishing the lead with 34 seconds left when Montana hit John Taylor with a 10-yard TD strike.
A former player with the Bengals as an undrafted free agent out of Furman, Wyche’s NFL tenure lasted from 1969 to 1976. He went on to coaching stints with the San Francisco 49ers (assistant from 1979-82), Indiana University (head coach in 1983), and the Bengals, taking over the head coaching job in 1984. He stayed with Cincinnati until 1991, when he was let go after a 3-13 season.
Wyche was then hired by Tampa Bay, leading the Buccaneers to a 23-41 record before he was fired in 1995.
Wyche won 64 games in Cincinnati, setting a team record that stood until Marvin Lewis passed his milestone in 2011.
“Sam was a wonderful guy. We got to know him as both a player and a coach,” said Bengals president Mike Brown 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.”
Wyche’s use of the no-huddle offense was a rarity in 1988, but is now standard procedure in the NFL. His Bengals, led by quarterback Boomer Esiason, running back Ickey Woods, and receiver Eddie Brown, went 12-4 during their Super Bowl season.
“They couldn’t match up with us,” said former Bengals safety Solomon Wilcots during the 25th anniversary of that season. “When we’d go empty in the backfield, who could cover (running back) James Brooks and (tight end) Rodney Holman? Teams didn’t want to see that. We’d go right down the field and score. Sam was a genius.”
Wyche was also known for his stinging wit and sharp tongue. In 1989, before a Dec. 10 game against Seattle at Riverfront Stadium, Wyche became irked when fans began pelting the field with snowballs after a call went against the Bengals. Wyche stalked a few steps to public address announcer Tom Kinder, grabbed his microphone, and scolded the fans, reminding them, “You don’t live in Cleveland, you live in Cincinnati.”
The following spring, the Bengals’ statement said, Wyche traveled to Cleveland and teamed with Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar to raise money for The Salvation Army. For $5 a throw, fans could try and dunk Wyche into the chilly waters of March in a dunk tank. Kosar did it with a football on their way to raising $11,000.