Sam Wyche, Furman University’s most recognizable football alumnus and former head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, passed away today, three days before his 75th birthday, following a recent battle with cancer.
“Sam embodied what it means to be a Furman alumnus,” said President Elizabeth Davis. “He was a champion on the football field and in the community, whether he was in Cincinnati, Greenville or Pickens, South Carolina. He was a stellar ambassador for Furman University, and we will miss him.”
“Furman Athletics is deeply saddened by the loss of Sam Wyche ‘66,” said athletics director Jason Donnelly. “Sam’s success as an NFL coach, broadcaster and leader in the community is unparalleled. We will miss seeing Sam on campus and learning from him. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Jane, and their family.”
“It is a very sad day in the Furman community with the passing of coach Wyche,” said Paladin head football coach Clay Hendrix. “He will be remembered for his achievements as a coach, his innovation in the game of football and for the class and integrity he displayed daily in sports and throughout his life.”
Wyche, an Atlanta, Georgia, native and member of both Furman and South Carolina Athletic Halls of Fame, as well as the South Carolina Football Hall of Fame, joined the Paladin program as a walk-on but ended up serving as Furman’s starting quarterback in 1964 and ‘65, earning All-Southern Conference honors as a senior.
Following graduation, he began a nine-year professional career starting with the Wheeling (West Virginia) Ironmen of the Continental League. A year later he moved to the University of South Carolina as a graduate assistant under Paul Dietzel.
He signed an NFL free agent contract in 1968 with Paul Brown’s expansion Cincinnati Bengals, with whom he remained until 1971 when he was traded to the Washington Redskins. Stints with Detroit, St. Louis, and Buffalo followed before he retired as a player in 1976.
He opened a chain of “Sam Wyche Sports World” stores in South Carolina before returning to professional football as the quarterbacks/passing game coordinator for Bill Walsh’s San Francisco 49ers in 1979. His first season with the 49ers coincided with the rookie campaign of Joe Montana, one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. With Wyche on staff, San Francisco won Super Bowl XVI in 1981.
Following a one-year stint as head coach at Indiana University in 1983, he was lured back to the NFL and to the Bengals to serve as head coach, leading Cincinnati to a pair of AFC Central Division Championships in 1988 and 1990 while earning AFC and NFL Coach of the Year honors. His 1988 Bengals squad, which included former Furman great Stanford Jennings ‘84, finished with a 12-4 record and played in Super Bowl XXIII against the San Francisco 49ers.
Wyche served as head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 1992-96 and went on to coach the quarterbacks with the Buffalo Bills over two seasons (2004-05). He also assisted the Pickens (South Carolina) High School football program, serving as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach over five campaigns.
He began his career as a broadcaster in 1996, working with both NBC and CBS, and later served as an analyst for Southern Conference and Furman football broadcasts, serving through the end of the 2019 season.
On Sept. 13, 2016, Wyche, suffering from congestive heart failure, underwent a successful heart transplant and made a full recovery, returning to the broadcast booth to work Paladin football games over the last three seasons. His story was chronicled in a recent Furman Magazine story, “A Series of Miracles.”
He is survived by his wife, Jane; two children, Zak and Kerry; and six grandchildren.