With the very sad passing of former Cincinnati Bengals head coach Sam Wyche this month (January 2020) I thought it would be highly appropriate to conduct the first unlocking of the F10Y Retro Coach Vault by going back to the 1960s before travelling back to the future to a time when there were no iPhones and Tom Brady was an 11 year old 49ers fan. Enjoy…..
You may have heard of the AFL, which was the rival league to the NFL back in the 1960s, before it merged with its bigger and richer rival in 1970. A league you likely haven’t heard of is the Continental Football League (COFL), which lasted five seasons from 1965-69.
The COFL featured some incredibly exotic names including the Neptunes (Norfolk), the Vulcans (Akron) and the Charter Oaks (Hartford). The league also hosted the Wheeling Ironmen from West Virginia who in 1966 and 1967 were led by quarterback Sam Wyche, former Furmer Paladins College starter.
In Wyche’s first season (1966) he was part of a 0-14 team, and in his second season (1967) headlining the Ironmen he could have legitimately faced the San Jose Apaches – led by a first time head coach by the name of Bill Walsh. More about him later.
One of Wyche’s colleagues in 1966, defensive lineman Bob Brown, went on to play in January the following year for the Green Bay Packers in the first ever Super Bowl, and even recorded a sack.
A year before the COFL folded for good (1968) Wyche signed with the NFL’s rival league the AFL and for the expansion franchise Cincinnati Bengals. He played three games as an AFL rookie, winning one, and then in 1969 he made three more starts but failed to win a game.
In 1970 Wyche was part of the AFL’s merger with the NFL, and bizarrely started exactly three games again, gaining his first NFL and only NFL win in a 31-21 Week 1 victory against the Oakland Raiders.
From 1971 to 1972 Wyche went on to play for the Washington Redskins, holding the snap for the extra point in a 7-14 loss to the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl VII. After brief stints in Detroit and St Louis Wyche left the NFL as a player in 1976 with a 2-7 starting record having thrown 12 career touchdowns.
Wyche has always had a keen eye on coaching and as far back as 1967 he served as an assistant coach for the South Carolina Gamecocks whilst studying for his Masters Degree.
Having spent three years out of the NFL in 1979 Wyche was hired by the new head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, Bill Walsh, as an assistant coach and passing game coordinator.
This was the 1979 49ers that drafted QB Joe Montana in the 3rd round and WR Dwight Clark in the 10th round, had O.J. Simpson in the backfield and Tony Dungy playing in the secondary. Dungy went on to coach the Indianapolis Colts to a Super Bowl win in 2007.
The ’79 49ers went 2-14, improved to 6-10 in 1980 and then stunned the world by winning Super Bowl XVI, by beating the Cincinnati Bengals 26-21, taking a 20-0 half-time lead before holding back a furious Bengals comeback in the 4th quarter.
Under the tutelage of Coach Wyche Joe Montana won his first championship ring going 14 of 22 for 157 yards, passing for a score and rushing for one too, without throwing an interception.
In 1982 the 49ers were unable to even reach the playoffs and in a strike shortened season the finished a disappointing 3-6.
Wyche took the opportunity in 1983 to gain experience as a first time head coach, and took up the offer to be the head man at Indiana University, where he only managed three wins in his only season in charge.
The Hoosiers starting QB in 1983 was Steve Bradley, who went on to be drafted by Wyche in 1986, and make just one NFL start (in 1987 for the Chicago Bears). Bradley’s backup in ’83 was Cam Cameron who went on to become the Hoosiers head coach (1997-2001) and then the Miami Dolphins head coach in 2007, going a disastrous 1-15.
Having not found a home in college football Wyche was then given an opportunity to become an NFL head coach in 1984, by none other than the team that signed him as a player sixteen seasons before – the Cincinnati Bengals.
Recruited in late December 1983 Wyche masterminded the drafting of QB Boomer Esiason in the second round of the 1984 NFL Draft. Esiason was the first quarterback selected in the ’84 Draft.
Coach Wyche led the Bengals to a 29-34 record from 1984 to 1987, before taking the Bengals to their second Super Bowl appearance in the 1988 season, remaining the last time they have represented the AFC in the big game.
The game, Super Bowl XXIII resulted in a second heartbreaking finals loss for the Bengals as Wyche’s former boss Bill Walsh and the San Francisco 49ers, led by Joe Montana, produced a legendary fourth quarter drive, number 16 finding WR John Taylor in the end-zone for the winning score late in the final period.
Along with reaching the Super Bowl the 1988 Bengals are known as the pioneers, under Coach Wyche, of the no huddle or hurry-up offense as a default throughout games, and not just in the final two minutes of each half. (The no-huddle offense generally sees huddling taking place nearer to the line of scrimmage and looking as if a unit is going to snap the ball, meaning defenders are unable to substitute to match up against offensive formations.)
in 1989 the Bengals wen 8-8, before slightly improving in 1990 to 9-7 and a Wild cCard berth as Coach Wyche managed something no subsequent Bengals head coach has managed since, a playoff win. The Bengals beat the Houston Oilers 41-14 at home in the Wild Card before being knocked out a week later by the Raiders.
29 seasons later Wyche remains the last Bengals head coach to win a playoff game as Cincinnati have lost their last 7 playoff games – all Wild Cards, including consecutive post-season defeats from 2011-2015.
Wyche left the Bengals after a poor 3-13 1991 season, and was immediately snapped up by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Four losing seasons (1992-1995) were an unfortunate way for Wyche to end his NFL coaching career.
Whilst Wyche was not in post to see the Buccaneers win their only Super Bowl (XXXVII) in 2003, he was the head coach responsible for drafting the three cornerstones to that success, Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks and now San Francisco 49ers General Manager John Lynch.
Wyche, who passed away on January 2 2020, compiled a 84-107 regular season coaching record, and a winning 3-2 playoff record. He lost a Super Bowl as a backup QB, won one as a QB coach and lost a second as a head coach.
A remarkable football career that started professionally with the Wheeling Ironmen of the COFL in 1966 and ended over half a century later in 2019 as an offensive coordinator for Pickens High School in South Carolina in 2019.
We hope you enjoyed the first opening of the Full 10 Yards Coach Vault, and if you would like to suggest a coach to feature please hit me up on Twitter @F10YRetro .