The Christian View magazine  
A ministry of Christian journalism...Shining the Light of Christ
Matthew 5:16

                                                   
  Coach Sam Wyche Shares His Faith
By Karen Brewer, Publisher 


Link to Official Website for Sam Wyche


                                                      
Reflecting on the importance of his Christian faith, Coach Sam Wyche noted a turning point in his life--the summer after his freshman year at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina. 

One of his coaches, Jackie Powers, offered him a scholarship to a Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) national conference in Black Mountain, North Carolina. "I hadn't gotten a summer job yet," Wyche told this writer. "So, he 'corralled' me, 'kicking and screaming', and made me go to this FCA thing. It was a very important summer in my life." 

Wyche had grown up attending Morningside Baptist Church in northeast Atlanta. His mother, Sarah, had made him go to church. "When you're growing up, you don't want to go to church sometimes," he said. "But we had to go to Sunday School and church every Sunday. And we had to go to church on Sunday night, when I wanted so much to watch the I Love Lucy show or Sky King. And we had to go to church on Wednesday. In those days, in the Southeast, Wednesday was just like Sunday. We would go to church on Wednesday night, and we would have potluck dinners. So, I grew up going to church and was baptized as a kid. In a lot of ways, it became a ritual.

"That FCA conference in Black Mountain kind of refocused my life at that stage of my life," he said. "I will always be grateful that that happened. It truly happened because I didn't have a summer job, and Coach Powers said, 'I want you to go to this.' 

"I later ended up working for the FCA, when I was playing for the Bengals, in the off-season. As a field representative for Ohio, Illinois, and parts of southern Michigan and western Pennsylvania, I would set up groups in high schools and colleges." 

Another turning point in his life happened at Furman, when he met fellow student Jane Underwood, of Pickens, South Carolina. They married when he was in his senior year and she had graduated and was a teacher at Hagood Elementary School in Pickens. They lived in Pickens for a few months until his graduation in 1966. 


The freshman walk-on who earned a football scholarship for his last three years in college broke his back during his last game at Furman, playing the Citadel at Charleston. Instead of entering the National Football League (NFL) straight from college, he played minor league football for one year in Wheeling, West Virginia. He and Jane both taught school that year in Martins Ferry, Ohio, across the river from Wheeling. 

Wyche then decided to attend graduate school, and, at the University of South Carolina, where he earned his Master's degree in Business Administration, he became a graduate assistant under Head Coach Paul Dietzel. "I was assigned to assist a young defensive backfield coach named Lou Holtz," he said. Through Holtz's connection with the Cincinnati Bengals, Wyche got a tryout and made the team. 
   
The year 1970 marked the first time the Bengals made the playoffs, after beating the Boston Patriots, the team now known as the New England Patriots. Wyche was given the game ball for throwing a couple of touchdown passes. 

After playing for the Bengals for three years, Wyche was traded to the Washington Redskins. "We went to Super Bowl VII," he said. "We lost to Miami. That's the year they were perfect and went undefeated." 

After three years with the Redskins, Wyche then played for the Detroit Lions, St. Louis Cardinals, and Buffalo Bills. 

He and Jane returned to Greenville, where they had lived during the off-season, and opened Sam Wyche Sports World, a sporting goods business they have since sold that once included 13 stores in the Carolinas.
 
His coaching career began when he received a call from Bill Walsh, newly hired Head Coach of the San Francisco '49ers. Wyche coached the '49ers quarterbacks for four years. "The first year, we drafted out of Notre Dame a kid named Joe Montana," he said. "I was Joe's first coach, and I coached him in Super Bowl XVI, which we won. We beat the Cincinnati Bengals, ironically."

Wyche's first Head Coaching job was at Indiana University, where he stayed for one year before being called by Paul Brown to be the Head Coach of the Cincinnati Bengals. 


   

   "I coached Cincinnati for eight years and took them to Super Bowl XXIII, where we, coincidentally, played the San Francisco '49ers," he said. "We lost the game, but it was probably one of the best games we ever played. We were leading by four points, but Joe Montana got the winning touchdown with 34 seconds to go." 

A few years later, Wyche was hired by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where he coached for fou
r years.
 
He has the distinction of being one of only four people in the history of professional football to have played in a Super Bowl as a player, coached in a Super Bowl as an Assistant Coach, and coached in a Super Bowl as a Head Coach. 

During his coaching career, his No Huddle comic strip, based on funny things that happened in professional football, on the sidelines, in the meeting room, and in the locker room, was published in about 50 newspapers. 

After coaching, Wyche began a career as an analyst, joining NBC in 1996 and moving to CBS after one year when NBC lost the NFL contract to CBS. Because of his background as a player and a coach, other players and coaches trusted him to be fair. His analyst career was cut short after a doctor, while cutting lymph nodes which turned out to be benign, accidentally cut the nerve to Wyche's left vocal cord, rendering his vocal cord totally paralyzed. He could whisper, but not speak. He had three surgeries at Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville, and can now talk, but not raise his voice. 

After he and Jane moved back to her hometown, Wyche got back into coaching, this time at the high school level, coaching the quarterbacks of the winning Pickens Blue Flame under then Head Coach Andy Tweito and then Assistant Coaches Brett Turner, Chad Seaborn, Chris Seaborn, Donny Garrison, Stan Butler, Mike Gravely, and Andy Virgil. (Turner was named the Head Football Coach in 2004.) Wyche also served as a substitute teacher at his wife's alma mater, Pickens High School, of which Marion Lawson is Principal, fulfilling another aspiration of returning to teaching. 

"I enjoyed that as much as anything I've ever done," he said of coaching and teaching at Pickens High. "I enjoyed being around the kids and listening to where they were coming from at this stage of their lives in this time in history. Coaching was fun, simply because they were in those formative years of learning to play and learning what they're all about. Pro football is totally different, because the players are grown men with families and businesses of their own."

From that experience at Pickens High, Wyche said, he gained valuable "insight into the way young people think and the influences on their lives." 




He spoke of Pickens High's strong FCA group, which meets throughout the school year early Friday mornings at Pickens First Baptist Church and includes breakfast, music, and speakers. The FCA, he noted, is not just for football players, but for all athletes, and not only for athletes, but for all students. "When the football season started, some of the players invited me to come to an FCA breakfast," he said. "I learned that, if before 7 a.m. you can gather 300 kids, in a town the size of Pickens, inside the First Baptist Church, their influence is not just from television. They're getting positive influences, too. Coach Tweito, before, and now Coach Turner, are very strong Christian guys. The coaching staff has a positive influence on those football players, and the players do on the school." Wyche spoke at one of the FCA breakfasts and attended quite a few.

He will miss his teaching and coaching experience at Pickens High, but looks forward to his new adventure as quarterbacks coach for the Buffalo Bills. Training camp started in Rochester, New York on July 31, and the Bills will scrimmage with the Cleveland Browns in early August before pre-season games begin. 

Mike Malarkey, the new Head Coach of the Bills, drafted a quarterback from Tulane, J.P. Losman. "I'll spend a lot of time working with him along with the starting quarterback, Drew Bledsoe," Wyche said. 

During games, Wyche and Offensive Coordinator Tom Clements and another coach will be in the booth, helping to call the plays.

The Wyches bought a condo in New York, and Jane will travel back and forth between Pickens and Buffalo and attend the home games, he said. "We're not going to sell here," he added, referring to the home he and Jane share just outside Pickens, a ranch barely outside city limits but with beautiful scenic views of the mountains. (They have sold their home at Daytona Beach, Florida.) "This is going to be home," he said. "And, when football ends, we'll move back here." 

Their family in Pickens includes horses, a dog named Blue, a cat named Fast Eddie, and a new puppy, Evie, one of a litter of puppies that had been abused and rescued. "Jane picked me up at the airport June 18," he said, "and she said, 'I've got your Father's Day gift, and it's a little puppy.' Obviously, it's her puppy," he said, with a smile, "but it's a cute dog."

The Wyche's children have made plans to attend Buffalo Bills games this fall. Daughter Kerry and her family live in Velva, North Dakota, a town of 1,300 residents. Son Zak and his family live in Cincinnati, Ohio.

"They love it up there," Wyche said of Cincinnati. "I played there for three years before he was born, and we moved back there and I was the Head Coach for eight years in Cincinnati for the Bengals. His early years were in California, when I was with the San Francisco '49ers, but most of his youth was in Cincinnati. His wife grew up in Cincinnati." Z
ak is a football coach, wrestling coach, and teacher at Cincinnati Hill Christian Academy, and Jenny is an administrator at the school. 

Sam and Jane always look forward to spending time with their grandchildren. "They love to come and play on the open fields and ride the horses," Wyche said of the grandkids. They enjoyed a vacation with the grandkids this July at Myrtle Beach.
 
Precious time is also spent with Sam's father, Joe, who lives in Decatur, Georgia, and Jane's mother and stepfather, Dr. Cleon and Margaret Hunter, who live in Liberty. 
 
Wyche's parents were great influences on his life, he said. "My mother was probably more of an influence, just because my Dad traveled a lot," he said. "He sold paper products in bulk to wholesalers who distributed them to grocery stores. Then, he worked for Dairy Queen and designed the very first Braziers. Dairy Queen used to be just an ice cream store, the cone with a curl on top, but they branched out with food. He later owned a store after he retired." 

Wyche's late mother, he said, "was one of those sweet, special kind of people. She was a very kind, strong Christian lady, and was a positive influence in making us go to church. But she was a good disciplinarian, and a mother who loved us. I knew I had that security at home, which was important, especially since Dad was on the road a lot."


Several influences in his life have revolved around sports. In addition to Powers, his former coach at Furman (now Dr. Jackie Powers who lives in Spartanburg), his mentors have included his first coach, Bud Slaker, from Atlanta, Georgia who now lives in Greenville, and Coach Bob King from Furman. 

He also admired the late Schaefer Kendrick, a Furman professor who taught business law when Wyche was a student. "I latched onto everything he said," said Wyche. 

Wyche, himself a mentor and positive influence to many over the years and here in Pickens County in recent years, will return to that role in the NFL. 

He has already been working long hours in the off-season, and, while in New York, he has been attending Hamburg Wesleyan Church. 

At home, he and Jane have visited different churches: Liberty Presbyterian Church, where Jane's parents are members; Rock Springs Baptist Church in Easley; Taylors First Baptist Church; and Travelers Rest First Baptist Church, where they attended in college.

"We do a lot of traveling on weekends," he added. "We go to Atlanta a lot, where my family is. My Dad has a place on Lake Oconee, about an hour and a half east of Atlanta, south of Augusta. They have a drive-in church down there, at an old drive-in theater."

Once the football season starts, he will not be able to attend church, as the professional teams play on Sundays.

They do, however, have chapel at 8:30 on Sunday mornings.

"All 32 teams have a chapel service," he said. "Some are sponsored by Campus Crusade for Christ or FCA, or they have their own chaplain who brings in speakers. Some teams have one chaplain who speaks to them every Sunday. When I played for the Redskins, our chaplain, Tom Skinner, a black minister from the Washington area, spoke every Sunday."

In addition to the chapel service, most teams have a Bible study, usually at a player's house, he added. "I know the Buffalo Bills have a Bible study every week during the season," he said. "When I was at Tampa, we had about 10 guys, out of 50, who regularly attended the Bible study. And we would have 35 to 40 out of 50 at chapel. That was a good turnout." The chapel service, he said, would be not only for the players, but also for the coaches, trainers, and equipment men. "I used to round up people in the lobby of the hotel, to invite them to chapel, when we were on the road," he added.

Wyche's favorite Scripture references include Philippians 1:21, in which Paul says, 'For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.' The Christian benefits from either living or dying, he explained, because we live in Christ and, when we die, we are with Christ.