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TDBH: Bengals go back to the future to name Wyche head coach

Posted Dec 28, 2017

This Day in Bengals History - December 29, 1983


Ten Bengals contacted by The Cincinnati Enquirer have never met him. Running back Charles Alexander asks how to spell his name. Cornerback Louis Breeden says all he knows about him is that he’s the Bengals’ new head coach. But Paul Brown and Bill Walsh know Sam Wyche well and that’s all that matters when word emerges today that one of Brown’s original Bengals and Indiana University head coach has been named to succeed Forrest Gregg five days after Gregg leaves for the Packers. Wyche is to be introduced tomorrow in a news conference at Riverfront Stadium, where 13 years ago as a Bengals backup quarterback he scores the building’s first regular-season touchdown.  Despite the players’ reaction, long-time Bengals’ watchers can’t be all that surprised. Before Wyche takes the Indiana job last year, he serves for four years on Walsh’s staff in San Francisco that is a reunion of their time together in Cincinnati with the expansion Bengals of 1968. That’s when Walsh begins to take Brown’s multiple offensive schemes he used in Cleveland the previous decade and morphs them into what is later known as the “West Coast offense,” when Walsh settles in as the head coach of the 49ers dynasty that takes down the Bengals for their first Super Bowl title two years ago. As fate would have it, five years later Wyche’s cutting-edge no huddle offense takes the Bengals back to the Super Bowl but Walsh retires to the Hall of Fame when he catches Wyche with 34 seconds left for his third Super title.

“Sam matured as a head coach at Indiana. He has a diversified background and he did an excellent job for us at San Francisco. He is a brilliant young coach,” Walsh says today.  “He’s ideally suited for the Cincinnati job. As a matter of fact, I recommended him highly.”  The recommendation goes straight to Paul and son Mike Brown, the top members of the organization that interview Wyche at their La Jolla, Calif., home when they catch him on a recruiting trip.  “He didn’t want to go back on his word at Indiana,” says Bob Trumpy, the Cincinnati radio personality and former Pro Bowl tight end during those first Bengals season who has stayed friendly with Wyche. He talks to him as he tries to make up his mind and says, “He was really struggling with this. He said this couldn’t come at a worse time. It really tied him up in knots.” Wyche’s mercurial personality proves, at times, to tie up Bengals’ management in knots over the next eight years but he also proves to the Browns they’ve made an excellent choice when he oversees the most exciting team in franchise history and has them making the postseason or having a shot at the postseason heading into the season’s last game five times, capping it off with the near miss in Super Bowl XXIII. In fact, five years to the day today Bengals quarterback Boomer Esiason is voted NFL MVP on the strength of handling Wyche’s dizzy no-huddle.

Today’s simultaneous announcement of several key coaching changes gets the tongues wagging and wondering just how much say Wyche has over his staff. Secondary coach Dick LeBeau replaces Hank Bullough as defensive coordinator in a stunning move that gets lost in the Wyche news since the Bengals were ranked first in defense last season, and Bruce Coslet is moved from coaching receivers and quarterbacks to just coaching receivers. Both LeBeau and Coslet are seen as young coaches on the fast track and Wyche, who turns 39 next week and is the youngest head coach in the league, seems pleased.  “Cincinnati is where I first started and it’s the chance of a lifetime,” Wyche tells an Indianapolis paper.  Trumpy could actually see it coming all those years ago. “I think people inside the game respect Sam as a young coach … but he couldn’t play worth a damn,” Trumpy says. “We always said he’d go to the Hall of Fame with a clipboard on his bust. He was coaching as a player.”

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