At some point next season Marvin Lewis expects to pass Sam Wyche as the winningest Bengals head coach when the fifth win of the year gives him 65. Wyche ended up helping make it happen Tuesday with a phone call from his South Carolina home during Lewis' impasse with management.
Told Tuesday night that the Bengals and Lewis had agreed to keep going after his contract expired, Wyche was pleased. He couldn't help but recall another four-win season long ago when management made the unpopular move and brought him back after the 1987 season.
"I was wondering how that worked out. I'm glad. It's the right move," Wyche said. "Mike and Paul (Brown) showed me a lot of support back then and the next year we went to the Super Bowl. You have bad years. It doesn't mean you have a bad team. Marvin's a good coach."
Realizing that Lewis was in meetings that were similar to the one that led to his controversial departure from the Bengals on Christmas Eve 1991, Wyche, a day shy of his 65th birthday, called Lewis to commiserate. Lewis said he gave the following advice:
"To just step back and give it some time."
Truth be told, both Wyche and Mike Brown still have regrets the way that day played out, which ended up with the heat controlling the moment. Brown said Wyche quit and Wyche said he was fired in a dispute that was settled two months later. This time cooler heads prevailed. When Lewis walked out of Tuesday's second meeting, all he knew was he didn't have an agreement and he didn't know if they'd meet again, or if that was it, or what.
So he didn't do anything rash. He just went home. Brown didn't send out a press release ending the Lewis era, but he waited and two hours later called him back in the phone call that brought Lewis back to the stadium. There are different sides to the Wyche-Brown saga, but Wyche swears that when he walked out of his meeting he thought he was still the coach until he heard reports that he quit.
Lewis didn't have time to do much of anything because he said he and Wyche were on the phone for 45 minutes before Brown called.
Think they talked a little offense?
"We just talked about coaching, how tough it is to move, a little bit of everything," Wyche said. "They had a tough season. A lot of injuries. We had some of those years and we came back."
And through it all, Wyche and Brown remain friends. Their wives have remained close over the years. Indeed, two months after Wyche left and went to coach Tampa Bay, Nancy Brown and Jane Wyche went shopping for antiques in Indianapolis while their husbands went to the NFL scouting combine.
"Paul and Mike were always very supportive of me, supportive of the coach," Wyche said. "When Paul was alive, he would always make sure I was OK. Those guys don't want to lose either. We'd be coming back from a tough loss on the road, or if they knew I was down, they'd always try to pick me up by saying something. Mike watched his father a lot and when Paul passed, he treated me the same way.
"I just wish we had met the day after Christmas. You're tired and everybody is mad when you meet the day after a bad season."
Now Lewis has coached the Bengals longer than the founder, Paul Brown, and a Super Bowl coach in Wyche.
"Glad it worked out," Wyche said.