Former Bucs’ coach Sam Wyche dies at 74

by Gary Shelton on January 3, 2020

in general

Wyche had a loud tenure with the Bucs.

Friday, 4 a.m.

I always said that Sam Wyche had a great personality. The problem was that he had about 17 of them, and you could never count on coming upon the right one.

Sam, the former Bucs and Bengals coach, died Thursday, and he took all of his personalities with him. The funny guy. The stubborn one. The reactionary. The angry coach. The combative one. All the rest.

But in there, too, was a gracious, kind man. Away from the sideline, Wyche was a charming, insightful guy.

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He just wasn't able to measure up the size of the mess that was the Bucs in his days. He lost 41 of 64 games with Tampa Bay.

Wyche and I became good friends after he left coaching. That's because of him, because I wrote some savage things about him. When he came out in a towel to the locker room to protest the presence of women reporters (there are plenty of places to hide in a locker room for a shy player), when he and his coaches left practice one day, when he started a receiver simply to start a fight on the first play of the game.

I met Sam when he was still coaching the Bengals and they were on their way to Super Bowl XXIII. He had been calmed down that year by Paul Brown, and he did a fantastic job. But there were no Paul Browns with the Bucs, and Wyche became his own worst enemy. He would come in after a loss and change everything, and the Bucs would lose again.

Sam used to twirl his finger in the air, his signal for the hurry-up offense. Soon enough, the fans behind the Bucs bench were all twirling their fingers along with him. It wasn't a tribute.

I was standing by Sam in the tunnel one day when something whizzed past. Someone had thrown a pair of binoculars at him (or me). Sam looked up, then continued to talk. Man, he could talk.

He kept the media waiting one Christmas Eve, lecturing them as the players slipped out. It was a violation of league by-laws, but Sam had fought wars with the commissioner before.

It was Sam who handed out paychecks once to the Bucs. But as he did it, he made belittling comments. "Oh, you didn't drop that like you did that pass the other day," he would say.

I was in Cincinnati one day to do a story on the Bengals, and a friend of mine -- Tim Smith -- was working for the Enquirer. There was a buzz, and someone signaled Tim into the room. Then they came for me.

The Bengals had just traded Jim Skow to the Bucs for Rod "Toast" Jones. Sam pulled Tim and I into his office and showed us film breakouts of Jones and how he thought he could be a great player for the Bengals (he wasn't).

Sam was the guy who fueded with Jerry Glanville, with the city of Cleveland, with the hurry-up offenses against slow-down defenses.

There are those who give Sam credit for the Bucs' great draft of Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks. He doesn't deserve it. That was Rich McKay's draft -- I was there.

Sam was a great analyst when he went to TV, witty and quick. But throat cancer took that from him.

Still, he always answered his phone, and he always took the time to talk. I appreciated it. I still do.

Perhaps my go-to Sam story, though, came when another member of the Times wrote a story suggesting that Wyche had lost the Bucs' locker room. That week, Sam jumped Don in a press conference, talking about how the members of his family had been affected by the story.

The writer (the late Don Banks) approached Sam afterward and told him that was below the belt. And the two started to argue. Loudly.

So Don assumed the writer's position. He held his tape recorder up to Sam, suggesting he was taping the conversation. The public relations guy grabbed Don's hand as if he was Rosey Grier with Sirhan Sirhan. Meanwhile, Sam started to whisper profanities at Don. It was a grand comedy.

But if you could get Sam talking about his days with the Bucs, or about Tim Tebow, or about football, or about politics, you would find a bright opinioated man.

I'll miss him.

The NFL will, too.

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