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Sam Wyche, who pushed the boundaries as an offensive innovator with the Cincinnati Bengals and challenged the NFL’s protocols along the way, has died. He was 74.

Wyche, who had a history of blood clots in his lungs and had a heart transplant in 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina, died Thursday of melanoma, officials with the Bengals confirmed.

“Sam was a wonderful guy. We got to know him as both a player and a coach,” Bengals president Mike Brown said.

“As our coach, he had great success and took us to the Super Bowl. He was friends with everyone here, both during his tenure as head coach and afterwards. We not only liked him, we admired him as a man. He had a great generosity of spirit and lived his life trying to help others. We express our condolences to Jane and his children Zak and Kerry.”

One of the Bengals’ original quarterbacks, Wyche was known for his offensive innovations as a coach. He led the Bengals to their second Super Bowl during the 1988 season by using a no-huddle offense that forced the league to change its substitution rules.

And that wasn’t the only way he made waves throughout the NFL.

A nonconformist in a button-down league, Wyche refused to comply with the NFL’s locker room policy for media, ran up the score to settle a personal grudge, and belittled the city of rival Cleveland during his eight seasons in Cincinnati. He later coached Tampa Bay for four seasons.

Wyche was signed by the Bengals for their inaugural season. He got No. 14 – later worn by Ken Anderson and Andy Dalton – and played three seasons with Cincinnati, throwing for 12 touchdowns with eight interceptions. He later spent two years in Washington as a backup and a year each in Detroit (1974) and St. Louis (1976).

It’s as a coach that he made his mark on offense.

The Bengals hired him as head coach in 1984, and he soon showed a knack for going against the grain. During a game against San Francisco in 1987, he chose to try to run out the clock on fourth down rather than punt or take a safety – the safe choices.

When the play failed, Joe Montana got a chance to throw a winning touchdown pass to Jerry Rice, an ending that’s still remembered among the league’s most improbable finishes.

He put his fingerprints on NFL offense with Boomer Esiason as the quarterback. He developed what he called a “sugar huddle” that had his team group near the line after a substitution.

If the defense tried to match the substitution, he’d have the offense snap the ball and catch it with too many players on the field.

The NFL eventually adopted a rule allowing defenses to match an offense’s substitution before the ball is snapped.

Hutchinson a finalist

Former Wolverine Steve Hutchinson is among 15 finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s modern-day 2020 class.

It’s the third time that Hutchinson, a former offensive guard with the Seahawks, Vikings and Titans, has been a finalist.

Colts receiver Reggie Wayne, Steelers safety Troy Polamalu, Packers safety LeRoy Butler, Rams receiver Torry Holt, Panthers linebacker Sam Mills, Dolphins linebacker Zach Thomas, and 49ers defensive tackle Bryant Young are first-time finalists.

They are joined by past finalists Broncos/Jets safety Steve Atwater, Jaguars tackle Tony Boselli, Rams/49ers receiver Isaac Bruce, Steelers/Jets/Cardinals guard Alan Faneca, Colts/Cardinals/Seahawks running back Edgerrin James, Buccaneers/Broncos safety John Lynch, and Patriots/Raiders defensive lineman Richard Seymour.

These 15 will be considered for selection on Feb. 1 in Miami. A player must receiver 80% of votes from the selection committee. A maximum of five modern-day players can be chosen.

For the first time this year, the Hall of Fame also is adding 10 senior candidates, three contributors and two coaches to be inducted in the Canton, Ohio, shrine in August.

That is a special selection in celebration of the NFL’s 100th season.

The class of 2020 will be introduced during NFL Honors, when The Associated Press announces its NFL individual awards winners, on the evening of Feb. 1 on Fox.

The entire 20-person class of 2020 will be on hand for the enshrinement week in Canton. Modern-era players along with contributors and coaches will be formally enshrined on Saturday, Aug. 8.

The 10 seniors will have their own inductions the week of Sept. 16-19.

Senior Bowl coaches

The staffs of the Lions and Bengals will serve as coaches for the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., on Jan. 25.

The game is a showcase for NFL Draft-eligible players. The Bengals have the No. 1 pick in the draft and the Lions have the No. 3 pick.

The Lions staff last coached in the Senior Bowl in 2013 under head coach Jim Schwartz.

Last year, 93 players who participated in the Senior Bowl were drafted, including 10 in the first round and 40 in the first three rounds.

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