CINCINNATI -- The Marvin Lewis story Sunday -- he’s going, no, he’s not -- would seems like the low in Bengal coaching transition history.
It totally overshadowed the game against the Minnesota Vikings and made it look like Lewis and the franchise were on different pages, depending on whether you believed what Lewis said or ESPN’s Adam Schefter’s report.
But on the coaching transition fiasco scale, what happened Sunday pales in comparison to 1991.
The Bengals were coming off an awful 3-13 season.
Mike Brown and Sam Wyche scheduled a meeting for Christmas Eve -- two days after a 29-7 season-ending win over New England.
It was thought to be a routine end-of-the-season meeting. It wasn’t.
Afterward, the club announced Wyche had resigned.
Not so fast, Wyche countered. He insisted he had been fired.
"I was simply fired by Mike Brown at a meeting today," Wyche said in a statement from his lawyers. "I have no idea why the Bengals have chosen to announce this as my decision to leave."
Whether it was a resignation or axing, it was clear Wyche’s eight-year tenure as coach was over. And it was clear that the Christmases of media types all over the Tristate had been ruined.
Jack Brennan, who would later become the Bengals' media relations director, was the The Enquirer beat writer at the time. This, of course, was before Twitter and before cellphones.
Brennan called Brown and left a message to call Brennan at home.
“Shortly after that I left the house, the least of my worries being that I wouldn't be able to reach Mike later,” Brennan said. “But he called the house after I left and (my wife) Val answered. Her already bad mood was worsened, thinking it would further mess things up that I had missed his call, and
then she asked him if he knew how many people's Christmases he had ruined.
“And Mike, true to form, was very apologetic and said he had no idea such a thing was going to occur.”
I was Brennan’s backup at the time. My assignment was to get player reaction. The one I remember is from offensive lineman Bruce Kozerski.
“It’s Christmas!” he said and hung up on me.
The dispute over firing/resigning was about money. If he was fired, Wyche could collect the $1 million left on his contract. If he resigned, he wouldn’t.
The money issue was settled in March of 1992. Wyche took over as the Tampa Bay coach for the ’92 season.
The effect on the Bengals turned out to be huge.
Wide receivers coach Dave Shula was promoted to head coach three days after Wyche’s departure. Shula was 32, the second youngest coach in NFL history at the time.
The Bengals drafted quarterback David Klingler with the seventh pick overall in the draft. He would take over for Boomer Esiason after the team started 4-7.
Let’s just say things went really bad. Shula lasted 4 1/2 seasons. His record was 19-52. His winning percentage is the fourth worst in the NFL history.
His tenure began a streak of 12 non-winning seasons. It didn’t end until Lewis put up an 11-5 season in 2005.
John Fay is a freelance sports columnist; this column represents his opinion. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.