Samuel D Wyche

January 5, 1945January 2, 2020

PICKENS, S.C.—Sam Wyche, who brought imagination to the sport of football, an AFC Championship to the Cincinnati Bengals, and a joy of life to the players, friends and family around him, died Thursday after a short battle with metastatic melanoma. He was 74. Wyche, who lived in the country town of Pickens for his last 20 years, died at home, surrounded by his family: wife Jane, daughter Kerry and son Zak and their families. He had a Renaissance life as an NFL player, a college head coach, pro head coach, broadcaster, amateur magician, pilot, sporting-goods store owner and county councilmember in Pickens County, his adopted home. He was close to death with heart disease in September 2016, but got a last-minute heart transplant that gave him three more years of life. “He was funny, brilliant at football, complicated, forward-thinking and a great human being,” said Boomer Esiason, who had an NFL Most Valuable Player season under Wyche’s tutelage in 1988. “This is such a sad day. He meant everything to me. He made me into the quarterback I became.” “It’s so sad when bad things happen to good people,” said Joe Montana, whose first position coach in the NFL with San Francisco was Wyche, in 1979. “Sam was the best. He’s one of those people that it’s so accurate to say, ‘They don’t make ‘em like him anymore.’ “ Wyche had a brief pro football career, starting nine games for the expansion Bengals in Cincinnati (1968-’70) under then-coach Paul Brown. He then played as a backup in Washington (1971-’73), Detroit (1974) and St. Louis (1976). Familiar with Bill Walsh from Walsh’s days as an offensive assistant in Cincinnati, Wyche got hired on Walsh’s first coaching staff in San Francisco as quarterbacks coach in 1979. His first NFL student was a rookie named Joe Montana. “Sam was exactly what I needed early in my career,” Montana said. “He was a great teacher. I was a practical joker, and Sam was great at that too. He had a way of making you feel so good when you were feeling your worst.” They stayed close for years after Wyche left the 49ers to be the head coach Indiana University in 1983. Despite a 3-8 season with the Hoosiers, Wyche was Brown’s choice to coach the Bengals in 1984. Immediately Wyche pressed the envelope in the NFL, giving quarterback Ken Anderson and Esiason independence to change plays and run a wide-open offense. It was Wyche who eventually instituted the no-huddle offense that frustrated defenses league-wide and led Esiason to be a dominant NFL quarterback. “He entrusted me with his brainchild, the no-huddle offense, and we were able to make it something great,” Esiason recalled. “Sam was always trying to come up with something new and different, and it’s amazing how often he was able to do that.” He often said football should be fun, and players play better when they enjoy what they’re doing. Choreographed by Wyche, the Cincinnati offense exploded for a league-best 448 points in 1988. Cincinnati made the Super Bowl that season against Wyche’s old mentor, Walsh, and former pupil, Montana. And it was Montana who led a late drive for the 49ers to beat Cincinnati 20-16. That was only part of what made Wyche the person he was. Before his first game as an NFL head coach n 1984, he posed for the front page of the Cincinnati Enquirer in a tuxedo, pulling a rabbit out of a top hat. He loved magic, and performed it often—including at a Christmas show at a Cincinnati orphanage in December 1984, during the season. Most head coaches would do their charitable works in the off-season, but Wyche would do them anytime, anyplace. “I love magic,” he once said. “I love seeing the kids’ faces when I can make them marvel at something I was able to do.” “Of course Sam was brilliant at football,” said Cris Collinsworth, a wide receiver for the Bengals in Wyche’s tenure. “But the thing I hope people see in Sam is the human side. He didn’t sleep much, and I know many mornings he’d be out in Cincinnati, giving money or sandwiches to the homeless, or just listening to their stories. He cared so much more about people, about relationships, and in particular about racial relationships. People were much more important to Sam than football.” He then coached the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for four seasons before beginning a career as an NFL TV analyst. His final NFL stint came in 2005 and 2006 as quarterbacks coach of the Buffalo Bills. Then he coached at his adopted hometown Pickens High School. His time in Buffalo was about when Wyche contracted the degenerative heart disease cardiomyopathy. As the disease progressed over the next 10 years, he knew one day he would need a transplant. That day came in 2016, and he went to a Charlotte hospital that September to wait for a transplant. With Wyche’s time very short, he got the transplant on Sept. 13. In his last three years, Wyche became a fervent advocate for organ donation. At that time, he said, “If I told you that you have a chance to save another person’s life … and you’re going to pass, and you’re not going to need your heart anymore, or your liver, or your pancreas, you would give it in a heartbeat. All you do is go by the DMV and get an insignia put on your driver’s license. It doesn’t cost a dime. You have a chance to save somebody’s life … Infants can donate a body part. A 71-year-old man can do the same.” Born in Atlanta in 1945, Wyche played football and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree at Furman University. He later got his Masters in business administration at the University of South Carolina. Wyche is survived by his wife of 54 years, Jane Underwood Wyche, of Pickens; his daughter Kerry Wyche, of Velva, ND, and her children, Ryan, Caroline, and Hank Bodine; his son Zak Wyche and his wife Jennifer of Cincinnati, OH and their children Maddy, Sammy, and Jack Wyche. He is also survived by his brother Bubba Wyche and his wife Lindy of Atlanta, GA. Sam was firm in his Christian faith and believed that you preach your own funeral everyday by your faith and actions. In honor of his wishes, no services will be held. Memorials may be made to the Sam Wyche Scholarship Fund at Furman University, 3300 Poinsett Highway, Greenville, SC 29613, Donate Life, or to Rock Springs Baptist Church, 201 Rock Springs Road, Easley, SC 29640.


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Samuel D Wyche

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Michael Fee

January 10, 2020

I was blessed to know Sam through Meals On Wheels. His passion for this charity was awesome. We got along through the Holy Spirit, because my background was totally the opposite. I am a Northerner from NY, love the Dallas Cowboys and Boston College. We looked at each other and laughed and constantly we just would bust each other all the time. Our laughs were due to our faith. Blessed to be able to pray with a great guy. Gods blessings on the entire Sam family.
Michael Fee

Dwain Henderson

January 9, 2020

Sam gave me an autographed photo right before I graduated from Easley Sr. High and joined the Air Force. Sam was my big brother in the Big Brother Program in Greenville, SC during my teen years. He and I had some great times together as well with Jane, Kerry and Zak! A few years back we reconnected and I must say my wife Robin was very impressed and really enjoyed meeting you and Jane at your home in Pickens. It meant a lot to her as well. I miss the old VW bus from Sam Wyche Sports World but I will miss you more! Thank you and Jane for taking the time out of your own family life and spending time mentoring and providing guidance and wisdom to me. Like other little brothers you have mentored I feel very special! I will never forget you Sam.

Mike Barber

January 8, 2020

I played for Sam two years in Cincinnati. He made coming to work everyday fun! From practical jokes that everyone was in on except the rookies to his everyday banter with such a dry sense of humor. He was entertaining as well as great teacher of the game. He had a special way of letting you know your value to the team (see pic.)
I now coach girls high school soccer & often think of Sam when I'm talking to the team and, because I am keeping a straight face, at least half of them don't know whether I am being completely serious or just playing a joke on them. He was very influential in my life!

Dan Weaver

January 7, 2020

In memory of Sam Wyche!
We met Sam every year at Bengals Training Camp at Wilmington during his reign in Cincy.
Sam always took time out for all Fans and made sure he stopped and made small talk and always asked how you were doing.
He was more than a coach but a special personable human being.
The Team and Fans fed off his enthusiasm for the game!
Sam is and always will be my best Bengals Coach who served under Paul Brown.
My memories of Sam will always be a Big piece of Great Bengals Memories in my lifetime.

Jean Ashley

January 7, 2020

I have kept up with Sam’s career as a player and coach since graduating from Furman with him in the Class of 66 and was so proud to be able to tell our then teenage son that I had gone to Furman with the Coach of the Cincinnati Bengals. But more than football accolades, I remember Sam as the President of our Senior Class, a well-deserved recognition of his qualities as a leader and someone who was admired and respected by his classmates. I so enjoyed the wonderful article about him in the most recent issue of the Furman Magazine. It was just as inspiring as he was, and I now feel the emptiness of his loss. My heartfelt condolences go out to his family and all those who knew and loved him.

Judy Looper-Wood

January 7, 2020

Dear Jane and Family,
There have been many wonderful accolades written and spoken to praise and honor Sam. There is one thing I would like to add. He knew how to pick a winner, Jane, his biggest fan and partner for many years. She was always by his side, smiling that contagious smile and supporting him in everything. My deepest sympathy to you, Jane, and to your precious family during this very difficult time.

Terry Wedgewood

January 7, 2020

Sam Wyche was a great man- not because of his football related accomplishments but because of his willingness to share and serve others. He was always willing to take time to speak at gatherings for benefit of others and did it joyfully. He gave me my first job in the sporting goods business and I am still at 46 years later. What a blessing he was to many .
My deepest sympathy to Jane and family.
Terry Wedgewood

Ernie Saunders

January 6, 2020

Was in the Martin's Ferry high school class 1968

Susan Norris

January 6, 2020

Sam was my youth group leader at Grace Presbyterian church in Martind Ferry Ohio
So sorry for your loss

John David Stone

January 6, 2020

Sam, the last time we spoke I walked into an evening service at Rock Springs with you and Jane. Even in your condition you were still seeking to serve the Lord. You said the melanoma felt like you had an ice pick stuck in the side of your head. It seems most folks won't go to church if they stub their toe anymore. You were more of an inspiration to people than you realized. I know I'll see you again, so as they said in the early church,"Maranatha!"