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Broo View: Remembering Coach Sam Wyche's Bengals legacy

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Posted at 6:30 PM, Sep 15, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-15 18:30:05-04

The former Bengals coach with the big -- and now new -- heart is doing well. And this is the best news you'll hear this week.

Former Bengals coach Sam Wyche may actually get up and walk around a bit tomorrow, according to his daughter-in-law. That he may be able to accomplish that is as much a shock as it was to hear that Wyche needed a new heart in the first place. Seventy-one doesn't seem that old anymore.

Although millions now claim to revere what Wyche did here in Cincinnati as Bengals head coach (I saw one headline that called him 'beloved'), fans weren't always that kind to him, and the slide the Bengals began under his watch, in his final season as the head coach, was then quickly laid at his feet.

I'm here to tell you that those fans all those years ago were wrong.

First, a little about Sam the man.

I first met him when I came to town almost 30 years ago. My sports department staff decided it was a good idea for me to meet the Bengals' head coach, so they arranged for a meeting at a downtown Cincinnati establishment, Tina's. We had lunch and talked football and exchanged a few war stories.

I had just arrived from Tampa and wasn't clear about my new surroundings. When he mentioned that he was living in Wyoming at the time, I suggested that was a long commute.  It was then I got my first taste of his wry humor.

"It is," he explained, "but Jane and I love the wide open space and our horses can run on the 300 acre ranch we own."

While the rest of my group suppressed their snickers, Sam remained deadpan.  He was, of course, talking about the Cincinnati suburb of Wyoming, not the state.

Through the years, we developed a good working relationship that bordered on friendship. That was never a line that I crossed when he was here, as it simply wasn't good for business. You can't be friends with someone you're covering for a living. The lines become too gray.

Sam was always open to new ideas; he sought ways to promote both his team and the causes he believes in. We did a number of segments for sportscasts and specials while I was at one of my previous stops.  We paid him for his appearances. He took the money and divided it among his position (don't ever call them assistant around him) coaches.

It's well known that Sam would rise early on game days and drive around the city of Cincinnati to decompress before heading to Riverfront Stadium. It was then that he became aware of the increasing problem our city was dealing with: homelessness.

That became his passion, and he worked hard to help to eradicate the problem.  Obviously, it remains a great issue today, but I wonder how much bigger an issue it would have been without his work.

What isn't well known, in large part because he didn't want it to be, is how frequently he'd be available, sometimes at a moment's notice, to do a charity event.

I vividly remember calling him at his home one night and asking him for a favor. A children's shelter was caught up in the hoopla of Bengals season and wanted to meet someone from the team.

Sam didn't hesitate. He asked me for the name of the shelter and what time to meet him.

For almost two hours, he talked football and performed magic tricks for about two dozen kids.

When we walked out, he said, "How can I take them all home with me?"

Similar stories about Sam have probably been repeated dozens of times. I don't doubt that all of them are true.

As for Sam the coach, he kept things interesting on the field. 

His lively coaching style included showing up after a game in a skirt to protest women in the locker room (wrong side of that argument, Sam), sticking his head out of the locker room door and telling the media not to come in because "players with IV bags are laying all over the floor" (we went in) and staging training camp 'fights' to keep things interesting. 

Pairing players of different ethnicity, race and creed for training camp roommates? That was Sam too. He always was looking for an edge.  

He would design plays sitting at home, or at a restaurant or in an airport. I know.  I've got one framed on my office wall. He was reportedly diagramming plays in his hospital room while waiting for his new heart. He would auction off the first play of an exhibition game for charity events.  I'm sure he eventually talked the winners out of running double reverses and quarterback draws -- well, almost sure.

And his teams never played boring football

But with the death of Paul Brown, the Bengals began to sour. The 'lost generation' was beginning. And Sam wanted no part of it.  Did he quit? Did he get fired? Does it matter? It was over. He left, and it took 15 years for the Bengals to get competitive again.

In the last decade or so, Sam and I became friends, at least that's the way I like to look at it.  Not the kind of friends that talk to each other everyday; the kind who can talk every so often and catch up on what life has done to or for the other. 

We talked after my heart attack and after the death of my wife. He'd always find a way to end it on a high note, usually something about what nonsense I was up to 'back in the day.' When I' would have him on my radio show, I always began the interview, "Now joining us from the front porch of his antebellum estate in South Carolina..."  

He liked that.

I'm going to call Sam again, soon.  And I'll tell him that in all of my years covering sports in this town, he was easily the best 'quote' and as a coach, the most fun to cover.  I think he'll want to hear that. I think I need to say it.

Now then.

It's game night in Cincinnati, but I'm wondering if any non-Power 5 team will ever make the college football playoff.

We'll find out at some point this season, particularly if Houston runs the table.  But the odds would tell you the chance of it happening, ever, are slim.

To get to the college football playoff as a non-Power 5 school, you have to build a schedule that includes Power 5 teams, at least two non conference Power 5 schools, and then hope your conference has some nationally ranked teams.

Not only would you have to run the table inside of your conference, you would also have to beat the Power 5 schools you schedule, most probably on the road. No small trick in that.

Rare is the Power 5 school that will schedule a road game against a non-Power 5 school. It does happen: Kansas will play at Ohio University next year.

But Kansas isn't winning a national championship in football anytime soon. And as conferences expand, which they ultimately will again, that expansion will provide fewer chances for non-Power 5 schools to accumulate the gravitas they would need to impress the selection committee.

And in addition to all of that, a non-Power 5 school would also need some help in the form of Power 5 conference contenders losing, and probably more than just once.

I don't say that to downplay what Houston can do this year, or the University of Cincinnati, for that matter. It's simply to illustrate the gap that exists between the 'have and have nots' in college football.  

And it's not changing anytime soon.

All that said? I fully expect the Bearcats to beat Houston.