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Bengals' Wyche Out, but Question Is How : Pro football: Coach says he was fired; team says he quit. The difference is $1 million in his contract.

December 25, 1991|From Associated Press

CINCINNATI — Coach Sam Wyche has left the Cincinnati Bengals, but there is some question whether he quit or was fired.

At stake is the $1 million he is to receive under the final two years of his contract if he was fired. Wyche met Tuesday morning with General Manager Mike Brown, who later released a statement saying Wyche had resigned. That would allow the club to avoid paying the final two years on Wyche's contract.

Brown declined to talk about his meeting with Wyche. A few hours later, Wyche released a statement through his attorney denying he had resigned.

"I was simply fired by Mike Brown at a meeting today," Wyche said. "I have no idea whythe Bengals have chosen to announce this as my decision to leave."

The dispute caps the worst year in the franchise's history. Founder Paul Brown, who hired Wyche before the 1984 season, died during the summer. The team then went 3-13.

Wyche, 46, had indicated recently that he wanted more say in running the team next year, which would have been his ninth in Cincinnati. That apparently set up the falling out with Brown, who was assistant general manager before his father's death. Mike Brown made virtually all of the team's personnel decisions.

Wyche wasn't available for comment at his home Tuesday. His son, Zak, 20, said he didn't mention resigning or discuss the possibility with the family before Tuesday's meeting with Brown.

"He didn't say anything to us," Zak Wyche said. "I didn't hear about it until today. He called home and told my sister what happened."

The Bengals began the season with eight losses. Wyche insisted fans and the media had no right to criticize the team, and regularly criticized the officiating--a sore spot with the NFL office.

After a loss at Cleveland, Wyche said his team was going to enjoy itself despite its record because there's "golf to be played and tennis to be served up." Later, he said fans unhappy with the team's performance should "get a life."

Fans bristled, pelting the team with tennis balls after its next home loss, and the media lampooned his insistence that no one was to blame for the troubles.

His worst moment came during a Monday night game against Buffalo on Oct. 21. Wyche ran onto the field after an official's call, drawing a 15-yard penalty, and got into a shouting match on the sideline with assistant coach Jim Anderson.

Even Brown criticized Wyche's conduct, prompting Wyche to tone down his sideline demeanor.

But the team continued to deteriorate. The defense was last in the NFL despite an infusion of draft choices in the last two years, and the offense went into a two-year slide after offensive coordinator Bruce Coslet left to become head coach of the New York Jets.

Wyche had a 61-66 record in the regular season and was 3-2 in the playoffs. During his years in Cincinnati, he became one of the NFL's most-copied offensive innovators with his no-huddle offense.

Ultimately, he became expendable because the team resembled his unpredictable personality.

Under Wyche, the Bengals never had consecutive winning seasons and made the playoffs only twice despite having among the best offensive talent in the AFC Central Division.

They never had a losing record in an even-numbered year and never had a winning record in an odd-numbered one. An AFC championship in 1987-88 was Wyche's best accomplishment.

Along the way, Wyche feuded with the media, mocked other head coaches, defied the NFL and launched crusades to keep female reporters out of the locker room and to de-emphasize winning.

Wyche came to the Bengals with a reputation as an offensive innovator. He was quarterback coach at San Francisco under Bill Walsh from 1979-82, helping develop the 49ers' offense with Joe Montana. He became head coach at Indiana University the next year, going 3-8, before Paul Brown offered him his first head coaching job in the NFL.

The highlight of his career in Cincinnati was the 1988 season, when he took the Bengals to the Super Bowl and received another five-year contract. But the team reverted to its unpredictable play in the next season.

Wyche defied league policy by barring reporters from the locker room after a last-minute loss to Seattle and clamped a gag order on his players, resulting in a $3,000 fine from the league.

In 1990, he defied Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and barred a female reporter from the locker room. He was unrepentant despite a $27,941 fine, carrying his crusade into the playoffs, where the Bengals lost in the second round.

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