Wyche, McNally Buffalo future

2-10-04, 6:20 a.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Sam Wyche has a voice again in the NFL.

He also has a face in Buffalo, where he learned that over the weekend more people recognized him than in his home territory of Greenville, S.C.

Wyche, 59, the Bengals' charismatic and creative Super Bowl head coach who made as many headlines for his eccentricities as well as his Xs and Os, has re-surfaced after eight years out of the league as the Bills quarterbacks coach.

The announcement was made Monday in Orchard Park, N.Y., with a news conference set for Tuesday. But Wyche and his old offensive line coach from the Cincinnati glory days labored deep into Monday night in adjoining offices at the Bills' facility.

It's where Wyche and Jim McNally are going to prepare for their return to Cincinnati later this season when the Bills come to Paul Brown Stadium.

"Irony? That's Jim McNally's middle name. Jim "Irony," McNally," said Wyche of the Bills' new line coach. "He's been my date every night since we got up here. The wives aren't here yet. So the coaches just work all day and night. We go to dinner at different places and he's not a cheap date, believe me."

Buffalo's new head coach, Mike Mularkey, has a date back to the future. Wyche is known in Western New York because the crowning moment of his offensive genius with a Pro Bowl line molded by McNally came in the 1988 AFC championship game against these Bills when the NFL warned the Bengals not to run the feared No-Huddle.

Wyche ran it anyway and the Bengals fast broke into the Super Bowl. But three years later, Wyche was in Tampa Bay and the Bills had integrated elements of the No Huddle into the K-Gun that won four straight AFC titles.

"I don't know. We'll see," said McNally when asked if he and Wyche can repeat history after not working together for a dozen years. "He's here

every night. He's been studying and taking notes. The game has changed a little bit. There's more blitzing and more coverages, but they haven't re-invented the wheel. He's here while we're putting in our plays. He knows what's three deep, what's four deep. He'll be fine."

Wyche went 64-68 in eight seasons in Cincinnati from 1984-91 and went 23-41 the next four seasons in Tampa Bay before getting fired in favor of Tony Dungy. The Xs and Os have always come easily for him, so Wyche is more worried about his voice holding up than anything else. Not even his heart condition that was once considered fatal has him worried like the volume of his voice. After standing through a couple of seasons as the Pickens, S.C., High School volunteer quarterbacks coach, Wyche is convinced his cardiomyopathy is under control with medication.

After Wyche went through the past week at the Bills' offices in what he called a volunteer assistant tryout, Mularkey also seemed convinced.

"The heart is fine. No problem. Physically, I proved that coaching in high school because you're on the field just like you are in the pros," Wyche said. "My voice is fine. The volume just isn't going to get any higher, which is fine indoors. We'll have to see what happens on the field if it gets windy and there's other noise, but I think it should be OK and obviously Mike does, too. If one of us wasn't comfortable with it, this wouldn't have happened. This has given me so much energy. I can really feel the energy after being here just a week."

Wyche said he should get a little help from a mini-amplifier about the size of a box of cigarettes that he can place in his lapel. Now the question is if the Bills' offense can catch fire like the Wyche-McNally Bengals did in the late '80s, when Cincinnati finished in the NFL's top five offenses during the first six seasons of Wyche's tenure, including two first-place finishes.

The key, of course, is quarterback Drew Bledsoe, a former Pro Bowler coming off the worst of his 11 seasons. He doesn't have the mobility of the quarterbacks Wyche coached in San Francisco (Joe Montana) or Cincinnati (Boomer Esiason), but Wyche worked with similar drop-back passers in Tampa Bay in Vinny Testaverde and Trent Dilfer.

"He probably most resembles Dilfer in style, but he's much better," Wyche said. "I've watched him (on tape) and he's not done. He's still got the quicks, he's still got the experience, he's still got the arm.

"This is not a devastated team like most teams that go through a coaching change like this," Wyche said. "We're pretty good. The defense was ranked second in the league, Drew Bledsoe is a proven quarterback, and they had four close losses that if they had gone the other way, they're 10-6. We've got a few holes to fill, but there's plenty here."

Wyche and McNally are probably two of the more intense and gregarious creatures to ever coach in the NFL, and any reunion would have to include some kind of zany moment. It has already happened, when Mularkey apparently bumped McNally during some kind of technique session concerning the line. McNally thought he would fall back on a closed door in the office, but the door was open and McNally ended up hitting his head on the wall in the hallway.

"We've already got the dent marked out," Wyche said with a laugh.

Now, all of Buffalo is waiting for Wyche and McNally to put their heads together one more time.

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