Couch part of another historic moment for UK



By Les Johns

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Tim Couch stood in the pocket, lodged among a group of reporters Sunday afternoon at Nutter Field House asking about his involvement in the hiring of new UK football head coach Mark Stoops.

The Kentucky native and modern-day football legend beamed with pride equal to that he must have felt in his final game at Commonwealth Stadium in 1998, when he passed for 492 yards and five touchdowns in a 55-17 trouncing of Vanderbilt.

Couch has been a part of good teams, mediocre teams and frustratingly bad teams.

In recent years, in his role as a broadcaster with Fox Sports South, Couch has seen more of the latter from UK football.

That is why he was so eager to be part of a process to bring Stoops to UK — a move which he feels can take the program to new heights.

Stoops thanked four people for helping UK athletic director Mitch Barnhart through the hiring process: three assistant or associate athletic directors at the university (John Cropp, DeWayne Peevy and Marc Hill) and Couch.

“I had several of my staff that helped me through this process and a great friend of the program in Tim Couch,” Barnhart said at the press conference Sunday. “I’d like to thank him for that.”

Barnhart solicited Couch to be a part of the search.

“He’s been around a lot longer than me,” Barnhart said, explaining how the search took place. “We had some conference calls with Tim in there, and he was fabulous. He went in there and took notes. He was very thoughtful in the process.

“He asked some good questions. He wanted to know about how the game would be coached. I appreciate it and he was really helpful to us.”

As the list of names whittled down from more than 200 to just a handful, Stoops’ preparation and vision stood out to both Couch and Barnhart.

“He is excellent for the program. He is excited to be here. Every question we had for Mark, about recruiting, schemes an everything — he had a tremendous plan for what he wanted to do. He has been waiting for this opportunity for a long time,” Couch said. “We wanted a coach that wanted to be here and had a vision for the program. He fit the bill perfectly. His name came to my mind when this opening came up and Mitch was thinking the same thing.”

With the Cats’ persistent struggles on the defensive side of the ball, it is believed that Stoops can make an immediate positive impact.

“I knew of Mark, being in the TV business. He has a reputation of being one of the best defensive minds in all of football,” Couch said. “I know one thing at Kentucky we have always struggled with is stopping people from scoring in this conference.”

In a basketball-crazy state, Couch grew up dreaming about wearing UK blue — on the football field. That passion led him to take part in this search.

“I care a great deal about this program. I’m a Kentucky kid and I have cared about this program since I was a little boy. That’s the reason I chose to come play ball here and turn down other schools because I cared about this school, and I still feel the same way,” Couch said.

“If there is any way he (Stoops) wants me to help this program going forward, I’m willing to help in any way — whatever he wants me to do.”

In Couch’s first year, the quarterback, who now has the third most passing yards in UK history, was relegated to running an option-heavy offense.

“My freshman year at UK, we were the worst offense in the country,” Couch said.

He said the program changed direction after his freshman season and two years later was competing in bowl games.

“That’s a 2-10 football team in the toughest conference in America. It can turn around,” Couch said. “You get guys in the right position and get them ready to make plays and the right mismatches on the field — that’s what coaching is all about. It can turn quickly.”

And if it does, Couch can proudly claim to be a big part of two of the most historic turnarounds in UK football history.