Sam Wyche is without a doubt one of the most memorable coaches in the history of the Cincinnati Bengals. In addition to being the second-longest tenured head coach in the team’s history (121 games), behind Marvin Lewis (208 games), he ranks second all time in total wins (61) behind Lewis (112). Along with Forrest Gregg, he is one of only two coaches in team history to lead the team to a Super Bowl appearance. Furthermore, he is also memorable for being an animated, lovable coach who fit in perfectly with the personality of the late-80s Bengals.
However, there was a chance none of that history would have happened. According to Wyche, he was very reluctant to take the Bengals’ head coaching job.
"I turned down Paul four times. I even cried on the fourth time," Wyche told Jim Owczarski of Cincinnati.com. "I said PB, you don't want a crybaby – and we had a great relationship too, by the way – I could talk to him and not feel uncomfortable in expressing how I really felt about things. I said you don't want a crybaby as a head coach.”
Wyche began his playing career in the NFL with the Bengals as an undrafted addition to the expansion squad in 1968, although his professional football career began with the Wheeling Ironmen of the Continental Football League a few years earlier. Those negotiations with the Bengals, as you can probably guess, were met with much less resistance from the young player looking for his first big break.
"Paul Brown called me in and in those days you did not take an agent into the room with you. With Paul Brown anyway," Wyche recalled. "I don't know about other teams. But that was an absolute no-no. I sat down and Paul eventually went over the workout and he offered me a contract, a one-year, $11,000 contract in 1968 to come play quarterback."
In those days, an $11,000 contract was fairly average, although it seems unthinkable today. He only started a total of nine games during a span of three years with the Bengals, and went on to play with the Washington Redskins, Detroit Lions, and St. Louis Cardinals afterward. However, despite failing to make much of an impact as a player, he was always known as a quick study. When he did finally break into coaching at the NFL ranks, he made an impression by helping build the career of one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time.
"Sam was great for me. He was a great teacher," said Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana, whose entire career in San Francisco coincided with Wyche’s time as an assistant coach and director of the 49ers passing game. "Just the fundamentals on what to look for, what the safety does, how to properly read a defense and what you see isn’t always what you get so this is where to look when you see this."
However, after helping to mold the early career of the quarterback who would eventually beat Wyche’s Bengals in Super Bowl XXIII, Wyche landed his first head coaching job with the Indiana Hoosiers. Brown eventually talked him into leaving the job for the Bengals’ job after only a year with the team, but it required a lot of patience and empathy from Brown, who understood Wyche’s reluctance to leave the team so quickly.
"He said 'oh yeah, I know by your reaction that this is important to you and you have respect for Indiana. That's a good quality and I like that,'" Wyche recalled.
Luckily, Paul Brown was a patient, yet persistent man. After four tries, he managed to convince Wyche to accept the job, and he turned out to be one of the greatest coaches in Bengals history, as well as one of the most innovative of his era.
"It was fortunate for me,” Wyche said. “I think that I was with a broad-minded head coach who was on the cutting edge himself in trying stuff that really hadn’t been done before.”
He certainly was on the cutting edge. In addition to all of the accolades mentioned earlier, he is also credited with pushing some team strategies that, at the time, were relatively new and unheard of. One of his most notable innovations came in his no-huddle offense, which regularly terrorized opposing NFL defenses and was a big reason the Bengals’ offense dominated the NFL all the way to the Super Bowl in 1988.