For the approximately 250 people gathered at the Cleveland Country Club, the opportunity to enjoy a good meal and golf with friends, plus hear former NFL player, coach and TV commentator Sam Wyche speak was just the icing on the cake for an event benefitting such a worthwhile program as the Trousdale School.
“I believe in living life to the fullest, and that’s what these guys (the Trousdale students) do every day,” proclaimed Wyche, who played with former Bradley Central and University of Tennessee standout Bob Johnson on the first Cincinnati Bengals team in 1968, plus was the head coach when the Bengals played the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl XXIII (in January 1989).
“Both Bob and I played for legendary coach Paul Brown and he taught us how precious every day is. It’s not recoverable,” Wyche added. “He taught me a life lesson one day when I was riding back from an event with him and he pulled into a service station. The man who came out to pump the gas moved like the old man character Tim Conway used to do on ‘The Carol Burnett Show’ — so slow, with no energy or excitement.
“Coach Brown asked me if I knew anybody at Shell Oil Company. I told him no,” he related. “He then expressed this one man was representing the whole company to us. He told me how important it is to appreciate every day, and approach it with enthusiasm.”
One of only four people (along with NFL legends Mike Ditka, Tom Flores and Dan Reeves) to have participated in a Super Bowl as a player, assistant coach and head coach, Wyche is considered an offensive genius by many in the NFL ranks, and is credited with starting the “hurry-up offense.”
“When I was an assistant coach for Bill Walsh with the 49ers, we had the ‘West Coast offense,’ but one day I noticed something that got me to thinking,” he explained. “We had signed a world-class hurdler named Renaldo Nehemiah. He held like, six world records. One day in practice he came back to the huddle and was gasping for air. I asked him what was wrong and he told me he had just run all out for 60 yards, but to give him a few seconds and he’d be back breathing through his nose and ready to go again.”
“That planted the seed and I started thinking if we could speed up the game by not huddling, we could keep defenses from substituting and catch them before they could get their breath,” the veteran coach explained. “By doing that, were weren’t playing the same team in the fourth quarter that we had started out playing at the beginning of the game.”
“Sam does stuff other people don’t even think of,” Johnson stated during his introduction of his former teammate. “He’s a forward thinker. He’s willing to try things that other would scoff at. That’s why he is one of the most successful coaches in Bengals history. He had San Francisco down in the Super Bowl (1989) until they scored with 35 seconds to go.”
Wyche is also the key reason a certain Hall of Fame quarterback played the majority of his career for San Francisco.
“When I was with the 49ers in 1979 (as an assistant coach) they sent me to Los Angeles to check out James Owens, a running back out of UCLA, they were interested in drafting. I needed somebody to come work out with him and throw him some balls, and Joe Montana lived not far away, so I called and asked him to help out,” Wyche explained. “I went back and told Coach Walsh that Owens looked good, but Montana looked great.”
“We didn’t have a first-round pick that year, so we took Owens in the second and Montana in the third,” he related. “A couple years later I was talking to Bart Starr, who was coaching the (Green Bay) Packers and he told me he tried to get his guys to draft Montana with the pick before ours, but they wanted to go for a lineman. Montana came very close to being a part of the long line of great Packer quarterbacks.”
A member of the American Football Association's Semi Pro Football Hall of Fame, Wyche joined the expansion Bengals in 1968, where Johnson, also a rookie at the time, helped him begin his NFL career. “I’d look around and make sure everybody was lined up right, and then I’d turn around and often put my hands under the wrong guy, and Bob, being the center, would have to tell me where to move over to,” he said with a laugh.
Wyche’s pro playing career was highlighted by an appearance in Super Bowl VII. “Sonny Jurgensen got hurt, so I was Billy Kilmer’s backup on the Washington Redskins when we played the Miami Dolphins in the 1973 Super Bowl. That was the Dolphins’ perfect (17-0) season,” in which they won all of their regular and postseason games, which no other NFL team has duplicated.
Starting just a half dozen games his three seasons with the Bengals, Wyche was mainly a backup QB, finishing his playing career in 1976 having completed 53 percent (116-of-222) of his passes for 1,748 yards with a dozen touchdown tosses and nine interceptions.
While coaching the 49ers offense from1979-82, he ironically helped San Francisco defeat Cincinnati 26-21 in Super Bowl XVI (1982).
After becoming the head coach at Indiana University for a year, Wyche was hired by the Bengals as their head coach in 1984 a position he held until 1991, including leading them to the Super Bowl XXIII, which they lost to 49ers in the final minute by a 20-16 tally.
He later coached the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for four seasons before moving to the broadcast booth, working for both NBC and CBS.
Wyche’s interaction with the Trousdale students, as well as the golfers, helped bolster the annual event that raises in the neighborhood of $50,000 a year to provide scholarships for students. “About two-thirds of our students are supported by scholarships,” explained Tom Johnson, Bob’s brother, who along with his wife, Judy, and Christin Rose, founded the school in 2005.
Trousdale seeks to provide an affordable educational experience for high-functioning adults with intellectual disabilities. Its goal is to teach job skills and social independence for its current 35 students ages 22 and older.
"Previously, those with intellectual disabilities would finish their high school educations at a fifth- or sixth-grade level, which was not quite employable," explained Tom Johnson. "Through the Trousdale School, which is the first postsecondary public school program of its kind, we've been able to up that to a seventh- or eighth-grade education level, which is employable.
“We are trying to help our students go from being tax liabilities to taxpayers,” he said of the day program, which has an annual budget of $800,000. “We are a day program and all of our students currently have part-time employment. They also have classes they attend to help with life skills. We’re doing a lot of progress and are very thankful for the support we’ve received from Bradley and Hamilton County folks. We get a lot of private financial support as well as money from grant foundations."