Thursday, February 6, 1997
Wyche, out of the loop, wants back in

BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Television has been therapeutic for Sam Wyche, but it could not change him. He remains a study in contradictions - a football guy with an artistic temperament, a bleeding heart in a blood-and-guts sport.

What he misses most about coaching is what he used to like the least. Wouldn't you know it?

''When I had to cut a good football player, or when you had to tell somebody you weren't going to sign him, those kind of things where you basically control a break for people - that's the part that I miss the most because it was being in the loop,'' Wyche said Wednesday afternoon. ''As an announcer, I find myself being pretty close to the loop, but you're not in it.''

Wyche is a made-for-TV personality - bright, witty, candid and quick - but his soul is still on the sideline. Mike Ditka's return to coaching has created an intriguing opening on NBC's studio show, but it also stimulates Wyche's appetite to be back in the trenches.

Network money is nice, and the hours are agreeable, but football coaches tend to think of TV as a layover rather than a destination. Ditka and Dick Vermeil are only the latest to leave the analyst's chair to return to the hot seat. Previously, Jimmy Johnson, Bill Parcells and Bill Walsh abandoned the steak-and-limo life for the uncertainty of Sunday afternoons.

Wife happy, but Sam's not

Sam Wyche says he enjoys television, that he does not view it as an ''interim'' job, yet he periodically feels a pang to draw up some plays. Perhaps he'll eventually outgrow it, as John Madden did, but not this soon.

''No way I could have been in coaching for as long as I was, be out of it for a year, and not miss it,'' he said. ''I miss the competition. I miss the scoreboard. On Sunday afternoon, I miss leaving the stadium not knowing if I won or not.''

Given his record, Wyche would seem slightly masochistic. He was 87-109 as a head coach with the Bengals and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and left neither team on his own terms. He has been vilified more often than vindicated, and tends to be inflamed by things he should ignore. He is known in the trade for his brilliant innovations and brittle psyche.

''My wife would be very happy if I stayed in television,'' Wyche said. ''Frankly, she hears when people are booing the coach, and it's not easy.''

For his own part, Wyche says, ''I think there are therapeutic qualities (to television). It's a medicine. But I don't know if it's a magic elixir.''

The choice is not entirely his, of course. Though Wyche's name has been mentioned in connection with several recent coaching vacancies, they were not head coaching positions. He has been mentioned mainly as an offensive coordinator candidate, a backward step from where he's been.

''I haven't been close,'' he said. ''I don't know that there's an owner or a general manager right now who feels that I'm the right guy for their situation. It's not just getting a good guy or a guy who looks good in front of the camera.''

TV star is rising

Looking good in front of the camera - and speaking succinctly into the microphone - permits Wyche the luxury of rejecting offers to serve as a subordinate coach. He has a two-year contract with NBC, and is seen in the industry as a ''talent'' with breakthrough potential.

Rudy Martzke, USA Today's influential sports television critic, mentioned Wyche Wednesday among game analysts NBC Sports President Dick Ebersol might consider to take Ditka's seat in the studio.

''I haven't heard anything from NBC,'' Wyche said. ''From everything he (Ebersol) says, they're just not in any hurry. They want to look at which group of people or combination of people would be the most entertaining.''

Surely Sam Wyche would add life to the party. Joe Gibbs won three Super Bowl rings, but as a television analyst he is a brown suit beside Wyche's tie-dyed tuxedo. The same mercurial qualities that undermined Wyche's coaching career make him must-see TV.

''I was awful early,'' he said. ''I was careful that I wasn't too slapstick, too comedic, and I started out almost a little stiff. I didn't get awful reviews, but I felt awful.''

Once he starts to loosen up, there will be no stopping him.