Originally created 07/27/06

It's back to basics for Wyche in preps



GREENVILLE, S.C. - A healthier, happy Sam Wyche is still in the game - even if his to-do list at Pickens High includes things he never did in the NFL.

Sweep out the locker rooms? You bet. Simplify his vast playbook for the high school game? Easily done. Watch his starting quarterback take a few days away from camp to play baseball? Not a problem.

"Money's tight up here. They're looking for any volunteers they can get," Wyche said by telephone. "I'm glad to do it."

Wyche returned to Pickens, where he worked with the team's quarterbacks four years ago, after coaching with friend Mike Mularkey in Buffalo the past two seasons.

The 61-year-old Wyche could have easily sat on his 28-acre horse farm in South Carolina's Upstate and attended high school games Fridays and college games (he went to nearby Furman) on Saturdays.

But Wyche kept in contact with Pickens head coach Brett Turner, who was the school's defensive coordinator during Wyche's previous prep stint, and decided to come back as an assistant.

"I enjoyed every bit of my experience the last time," Wyche said. "This time, I'm actually more involved in the offense."

Wyche was known as an offensive innovator during his 12 seasons as an NFL head coach. He lead Cincinnati to the Super Bowl after the 1988 season, losing to San Francisco 20-16 on a late touchdown.

After four seasons at Tampa Bay, Wyche became a CBS analyst in 1998. Two years later, he underwent a biopsy on some lymph nodes in his chest. His left vocal chord was severed during the procedure, leaving his signature voice - he once famously shouted to snowball-throwing Bengals fans, "You don't live in Cleveland, you live in Cincinnati!" - little more than a raspy whisper.

"That operation changed my life, my direction, my income," he said. "Everything."

Gradually, Wyche's condition improved. He sounds clear and crisp on the phone.

"I sometimes have trouble with my volume, or when I get excited at a game," he said.

Still, he's strong enough to broadcast August's Hall of Fame Game between Oakland and Philadelphia for Westwood One radio. Should that go well, "I've already gotten a call from Marv Albert about working with him during the playoffs," Wyche said, chuckling.

Wyche had also been diagnosed with a heart condition, cardiomyopathy. He's been told by doctors that a third of his heart muscle does not work properly. At each checkup, physicals show he's about two to four years away from needing a new heart, "but they just keep rolling that number over."

There are days Wyche feels winded and weak or his voice strains as he speaks. But "I'm the best I've been in a while," he said.

During the spring, Wyche filled the Pickens playbook with exotic schemes before keeping it simple.

"I keep reminding myself that these guys are learning in biology class and English class, dating, I can't put in way too much," he said.

Still, Wyche might not be done with the pros. He would love another shot as a head coach, or even an offensive coordinator in the right spot. He also would enjoy a return to the broadcast booth. Then again, Wyche said he is happy to stay at Pickens for several more seasons.

"I'll let each year dictate the next," he says. "But getting back here is refreshing."