9-24-03, 4 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
Sam Wyche has won more games than any coach in Bengals history, but it took him longer than any of them to get the first of his 64 victories.
The first one didn't come until 35 days after the 1984 season started, a 13-3 win at Riverfront against the Oilers that stopped an 0-5 start and ignited an 8-3 finish.
On Wednesday, Wyche offered some advice to Marvin Lewis as simple and stark as the current AFC North standings. The Bengals are the only team without a victory at 0-3 as Lewis seeks his first NFL victory in Cleveland.
"We weren't getting blown away and I don't think Cincinnati is either," Wyche said. "If you still believe in what you did in training camp and what you're doing in practice, the wins will come. Sometimes, the most creative thing you can do is stay the course."
Two years later, the Bengals were 10-6 and got nosed out for the playoffs on the last day. But it's not the only time Wyche lived a slow start. He was on
Bill Walsh's San Francisco staff in 1979 when the 49ers lost their first seven and finished 2-14.
"There are coaches that get out of the gate quickly, but it's generally a struggle at the beginning. Look at Joe Gibbs," said Wyche of the Redskins Hall-of-Famer who started 0-5. "You've got a new system, new terminology, and new personnel because that's something you're going to do as a new coach. And to me, free-agency has made that more of a factor because in 1984 you wouldn't have lost a Takeo Spikes."
And, Wyche never said this or even dreamed it in September of 1984, but he was a NFL rookie.
"You never want to admit it to yourself when you're put there in the middle of it and it's happening to you," Wyche said. "But I'm sure it was a factor with me. There are just some things you have to learn by doing them. Experience is still the best teacher."
When Wyche took over the Buccaneers in 1992, he told them it takes back-to-back winning seasons to wipe away the stigma of being an easy win around the league.
"One winning season can change around the attitude," Wyche said. "But there is no secret pill or magic wand."
Wyche sees similarities. In Walsh's first year, the Niners took Joe Montana in the third round. In 1984, the Bengals took Boomer Esiason in the second round. Two years later, the Niners won the Super Bowl and the Bengals won 10 games. In 2003, Lewis' first draft pick was Carson Palmer.
"We had a good offense with the Bengals, so at least we were fun to watch," Wyche said. "I didn't start wondering if we were ever going to win. Bill was beside himself, but I don't think I know a coach who wouldn't be in that situation.
"But we didn't change," said Wyche, who pretty much took care of the offense. "Dick LeBeau was our defensive coordinator and he stuck with what he was doing. There may come a time when a coach thinks a team is going to develop so it can do x, y, and z, and it just doesn't happen, and you have to move on. But it's too early for that."
Wyche saw his own 8-3 finish, and he also played for the 1970 Bengals when they finished the season winning seven straight to wipe away a 1-6 to make the playoffs.
"I have a feeling this team is going to come on and play better, kind of like that, and have a strong finish," Wyche said. "Marvin's a good coach and I think he's going to there a long time. And he'll win."