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By LARRY VAUGHT
Hoover, Ala. — The final part of an interview from SEC Media Days with former UK All-American Tim Couch.
Question: Did you see any scenario where recruiting could go this well?
Couch: “No, I never envisioned it this quickly. I thought it would happen over time because I knew coach Stoops and his staff would be dynamic recruiters and would grind the recruiting trails hard. But never did I imagine before he ever coached a game that he would get this type of excitement about Kentucky football and get recruits and fan base excited. He has exceeded everyone’s expectations.”
Question: Back when Brown was a walk-on receiver at UK and sat with you on bus rides, did you ever think of him as a future coaching star?
Couch: “Neal and I were good buddies. He actually came back with me to my hometown a couple of times and he was a good friend. We hung out a lot. It’s exciting to see the success he’s had so early. To be able to go out and be a younger guy but still command the respect of the players is great. I think they all feel like they can relate to him and that’s a good thing that he has that kind of youth on his side. He can relate to the young guys well and he has an exciting offense that they all want to play in.”
Question: Did you realize then what a great football mind he had?
Couch: “You just never think that way. It really is hard to imagine one of your teammates going on to be a coach. You know them as a 19- or 20-year-old kid and we were doing 20-year-old kid things and it’s hard to imagine him going on to be a coach. I am proud of him and what he has been able to accomplish and just wish him nothing but continued success.”
Question: What would be your best story with Brown from your college days together?
Couch: “I have to think about that one. I can’t think of just one.”
Question: What would be one story he would not want you to tell?
Couch: “I have got a couple of those. Neal and I and Nolan Devaughn and a couple of guys, we had a good time. I am just glad we played in an era with no social media, no Twitter or camera phones or we would be facing some of these same questions a lot of guys are facing right now.”
Question: Do you still stay in touch with him regularly?
Couch: “I do. I talk to him all the time. He told me to enjoy Media Days and stuff. We keep in touch regularly.”
Question: Would you like to get more involved with the program now?
Couch: “I am always willing to help the program. Anything I can do, I will. I grew up there. Kentucky means more to me than I just played there. I grew up a Kentucky fan my whole life. Anything I can do to help the program whether on a committee to get a coach or talk to players or whatever the case may be, I am all in.”
Question: How have you stayed in such good physical shape, especially with two children now ages 8 and 4?
Couch: “I try. I still work out every day. I got in a certain routine with my training and eating when I was playing. When I finished playing I didn’t know what to do with myself because I had all this free time, so I was just on routine. I would wake up, train and eat healthy and I just stayed with it. So far it is working for me.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
HOOVER, Ala. — Here’s more with former UK All-American quarterback Tim Couch.
Question: Looking back now, how far ahead of the offensive curve was Hal Mumme when he was your coach at UK?
Couch: “It has really been unbelievable. Doing what I do going around and calling college football games, I get a chance to talk to so many offensive coordinators who have told me that the system they run is a version of what Hal was doing in 1998 and 1999. They are all running it and it is spread all across college football.
“Now a days you see a very athletic guy playing quarterback like a Johnny Manziel or Robert Griffith III or any of those guys who are running a similar offense but they bring the mobility side to it which adds another dimension to the offense. You get guys spread out like that and you get a guy who can run and throw, it makes a big difference and is hard to stop.”
Question: What if Mumme had brought in a defensive coordinator like Mark Stoops? How successful could he have been?
Couch: “I think we would have definitely had different results at Kentucky. Any time you are going out and putting up 35 or 40 points a game against some of the best teams in the conference, you should win some of those games, and we did. But we lost some that we should have won. I think it is a great combination when you look at Oklahoma with coach Stoops’ brother Bob and they won a national title with (former Mumme assistant) Mike Leach as offensive coordinator. It is a great combination. It can work and win games and hopefully it will win games at Kentucky.”
Next: Couch on Neal Brown.
By LARRY VAUGHT
HOOVER, Ala. — Record-setting quarterback Tim Couch, Kentucky’s only No. 1 overall NFL draft pick, now works for Fox Sports South as a college football analyst and was at the Southeastern Conference Media Days here last week.
Couch, the SEC Player of the Year in 1998 when he was a Heisman Trophy finalist the same year, still holds the NCAA record for completion percentage in a game and for completions per game as well as several records from his five years with the Cleveland Browns.
The former All-American helped with the process that got Mark Stoops from Florida State to Kentucky to take over after Joker Phillips was fired and he’s almost a former teammate and current friend of UK offensive coordinator Neal Brown.
Couch shared his insights on Stoops, Brown and more during the SEC Media Days.
Question: Do you feel like a genius for how well the Mark Stoops-Neal Brown connection has worked for UK football?
Couch: “I feel lucky. I think it has been great. I am just glad it was able to work out the way it did. Kentucky was just starved for an exciting brand of football again and I think they have showed how hungry they were by bringing 50,000 people to a spring game and saying this is what we wanted to see. We wanted Neal Brown’s offense back in Kentucky. Then you pair that with a defensive mind like coach Stoops and the staff that he has built and I think it is a recipe for success.
“How quickly is that going to happen? It is going to take some time. There are a lot of holes to fill. You are talking about year one of a program and you are installing a new offense, new defense. You are switching from a 3-4 to a 4-3 (on defense). It’s a big adjustment for the players and the schedule doesn’t do any favors. It is probably the toughest schedule in the country.
“It is going to be a slow learning curve for these guys. But I am so excited for the future of this program. If you look two, three, four years down the road with the way coach Stoops and his staff are recruiting, if they can continue at that level there are going to be some exciting times for Kentucky football.”
Question: Can incoming freshmen skilled players thrive in Brown’s offense?
Couch: “If they are good, this offense allows them to step in and play right away and that’s kind of the beauty of the deal. It is not a very complicated system to run offensively. Lot of sight adjustments and hot reads that you have to do off the blitz drills is built into the offense. There is not a big learning curve. You just have to know your assignments. There are not a lot of plays. There are a lot of formations that kind of dress it up and make it look different to the defense, but offensively everyone is on the same page because they know exactly what they are doing.
“It should be a nice transition for the young guys coming in. I know some of the young guys coming in actually ran a similar type offense in high school, so it will be a nice easy transition for them and hopefully they can get on the field and get used to the speed of the game and physicality of the SEC and play right away.”
Next: Couch on Hal Mumme.
His purpose is simple — put on an informative, entertaining football camp for youth ages 10-17 that costs the participants nothing.
“When I was growing up in Florida, I could not afford to go to camps. We couldn’t do it. I wanted to attend, but couldn’t because of money,” said Champ Kelly, a former University of Kentucky player and current assistant director of pro personnel for the Denver Broncos. “I said if I was ever in position to have a camp like that for kids, I would want to give them the most coverage and most instruction possible for no cost.”
He’ll do that again June 21-22 at Henry Clay High School from 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. each day.
“It’s going to again be a time for the kids to meet the star, but it is about more than that,” Kelly said. “It’s not about the guys coming back to help me. It’s about the campers. We come in and don’t make a big stink out of who is there to help and you are going to get awesome coaching.
“The kids are going to learn football. We are going to prepare them for success on and off the field. For younger campers, we will stress the basics while getting into more extensive training with older campers. We will have a variety of guest speakers delivering messages on life skills and the importance of making good decisions.
“I like a mixture of ages. Older kids are able to be leaders by example. I want younger kids there at ages 10 or 11 from now until they graduate and they know what that CHAMP Camp on the front of the T-shirt represents.”
Kelly had the camp at Bryan Station last year, but wanted to reach out to “a few different kids” by moving the camp to Henry Clay.
“Our plan originaly was to try every couple of years to move to a different area to reach more kids. We hope the kids in the Bryan Station area want to come to camp regardless of where we are.”
But he would like to have more than just Lexington campers. North Hardin High School has told Kelly it hopes to bring up to 44 players and at least 30. Kelly is hoping other high schools will do the same.
He’ll have a variety of former UK players like Derek Abney, Dougie Allen, Leonard Burress, Chris Demaree and more at camp again. Last year he had both Randall Cobb and John Conner, current NFL players, speak to the campers.
“It’s almost like a who’s who of Kentucky football,” Kelly said. “But these guys love to get together and help. They like to come back to Kentucky where we all met and give back for a great cause. It’s not like pulling teeth to get them back. They want to help. I just think it is awesome that a guy like Derek Abney, who lives in South Carolina and is very selective about camps he’s involved with, will come spend time and talk to kids and help the receivers out.”
He’s reached out to former UK quarterbacks Tim Couch and Jared Lorenzen about helping this year as well as former UK linebacker Jeff Snedegar. Cobb plans to be back if his schedule permits. Current NFL offensive lineman Garry Williams also plans to return. “He is awesome. He stays the entire day to help,” Kelly said.
He said current Bronco tight end Jacob Tamme also hopes to be at this year’s camp if his schedule allows.
“I try to not put names out there because I want kids to come for the idea of what the camp is about opposed to just the people that will be there,” Kelly said. “But I always want as many of the Kentucky guys there as possible not because of their names, but because they are great with the kids and teach them lessons about life and football.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
He was not highly recruited during his high school career in Knoxville. Actually, he was not recruited by any Division I-A schools and only ended up getting a chance to play at Marshall because he went to a summer camp there.
“I played freshman year and then redshirted my next year. I was not highly recruited. How I got to Marshall was luck. I wasn’t recruited by any I-A schools. I had a fairy tale career and just a great experience at Marshall,” said Chad Pennington.
He turned that “fairy tale career” at Marshall into a memorable NFL career with the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins. Now Pennington and his family have settled in Woodford County.
“I don’t miss getting hit. I miss the grind as far as the preparation and getting ready for game day. I do miss that because there is a certain structure and sense of anticipation that goes along with that is pretty exciting,” Pennington said. “My goal was never to be an NFL player. It was a dream, but not a goal. Your goals have to be smaller and you have to pay attention to the smaller steps. It started to hit me a little bit that I had an opportunity to possibly get drafted going into my senior year. After my senior year and going into the combine process, it started to hit me I could be drafted and be drafted relatively high. But never in a million years did I think about going on and playing 11 years like I did.”
He knows the fine line between a long career like he had and one that was much shorter like former Kentucky standout Tim Couch, the first pick in the 1999 NFL draft, had. Pennington was the first quarterback picked in 2000 with the 18th selection. Couch threw for 11,131 yards and 64 scores in five seasons and led Cleveland to a 9-7 record and playoff berth in 2002. However, he suffered a variety of injuries and despite several comeback attempts did not play in another game after the 2003 season.
Pennington threw for 17,823 yards and 102 scores in 11 seasons, but twice won the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award for overcoming injuries.
“We are basically the same age. I had to deal with injuries like Tim did. You have got to have a little luck on your side to last like I did,” Pennington said. “You have got to prepare. You have to seize the opportunity. People really don’t realize how competitive and tough it is to stay in the NFL. Every day somebody is coming after your job and every day you are having to prove yourself. You are having to fight off injuries and deal with all those things.
“The average career is 3 1/2 years. People don’t realize that. It is not even a career. It is must a moment in time. You really can’t make a career out of it because when you get out you are probably in your late 20’s or 30’s and have a lot more time to live hopefully. So you have to have a plan. I know Tim just a little. We played against each other once or twice, but not in depth. He obviously had talent, and a lot of talent. He was really a good player.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
At the end of his freshman season under coach Bill Curry, quarterback Tim Couch was frustrated that the offense did not suit his passing skills. Then UK fired Curry, hired Hal Mumme and Couch blossomed into the first overall pick in the NFL draft.
Could that same type of transformation be in store for Patrick Towles under new UK offensive coordinator Neal Brown after Towles never seemed to click with offensive coordinator Randy Sanders last year when he was a freshman?
“It is a fresh start for everyone on the team,” Couch said. “I think it is a chance to prove yourself all over again. Whatever perception the old staff had of you and whether that be good or bad, you have to prove yourself to this staff coming in.
“For Patrick, he was a guy who was highly recruited and a lot was expected out of him coming into this program. Listening to Mark (Stoops) talk and who he is going to bring in as an offensive coordinator … he talked about throwing the ball a lot and getting guys spread out and putting the excitement back in Kentucky football. If I am Patrick, I am pretty excited about playing for Neal Brown.”
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By LARRY VAUGHT
Mark Stoops, who has never been a head coach, said during his press conference Sunday that he would “lean” on former UK quarterback Tim Couch for advice. Couch was part of the search process with UK athletics director Mitch Barnhart and talked to Stoops several times before he was hired.
“I think he just means he wants to use me as a resource here. I care a great deal about this program,” Couch said. “I have been a Kentucky kid. I have cared about this program since I was a little boy and that was the reason I chose to come play ball here and turned down a lot of other schools because I care about this program. I still feel the same way and in any direction or way if he wants me to help this program going forward whether it be talking to the team, being around the team more or anything like that, I’ll do it. Getting the alumni back together, making it stronger, I am willing to help in any way.”
Couch said it was depressing to see attendance dwindle the way it did last season when UK finished 2-10 and had less than 20,000 fans at the final two games.
“As a former player it breaks your heart when you see games like the Vanderbilt game when no one is in the stadium. I know what these players go through. I was on team in (19)96 my freshman year where I think we won two games (UK won four). I know what it is like to go through that, but I know what these players put themselves through just to take the field,” Couch said. “When there is no fan support it is a tough deal for the players. To walk in here today (for the press conference) and seen the energy and excitement back in the program is great to see as a former player.”
Numerous former players were at Sunday’s event introducing Stoops and Couch says the feedback he has had on the hire has all been positive.
“That Stoops name is a big name in college football. All the guys I have talked to, all my former teammates, are excited,” Couch said. “The biggest thing I have told them when they ask me what sold me on Mark is his want to be here. I went into this thing thinking we might have to sell some of these guys. This is a 2-10 program playing in the toughest conference in America and we may have to sell them a little bit. It was the exact opposite. These guys want to be here and see the potential of this university, especially Mark. He has a plan of how he is going to get it done and it was really impressive.
“Mitch had it narrowed down to a few guys. Once I came in, we just got on board with the guys Mitch had it narrowed down to. I was part of the interview process with those guys and had a chance to talk to them and listen to their schemes and relay to Mitch how I thought that would fit and the changes that we needed. I really liked Mark from the get-go, I really did. When Mitch asked me a couple of names that I liked, Mark certainly was one of the names that I liked. I love his background for defense, his passion for wanting to be a head coach and he comes from a family of coaching and he’s excited.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Scoring touchdowns certainly would help the University of Kentucky football team next year, but former UK quarterback Tim Couch says he believes there is an even bigger priority for new coach Mark Stoops.
“I am not taking a shot at the former staff or anything like that. I just think that this program over the last few years has gotten away from being a physical football team,” said Couch, now a college football analyst for FOX Sports. “I really believe that and that is one thing that really sold me on Mark is his defensive background and his ability to come and put toughness back into this program.
“I think putting guys in the right schemes … and there is a lot of transition going on not only with a new staff but with new schemes offensively and defensively … but I think putting toughness back in this program is priority number one in my opinion.”
Couch believes Stoops’ defense does that, too.
“What I like about Mark’s defensive system is that he is not a trick ‘em guy. He is a guy that he going to line up and play football. He’s going to play the 4-3, play the zone defenses. He will be aggressive just like he was at Florida State,” Couch said. “I love that because it allows the players to go play fast. Y
“You can complicate things as much as you want and try to trick guys, but what Mark has been successful at is being a coach with guys on the same page and not wondering about what their responsibilities are. They play fast, they play hard and they play physical for him. He brings a lot of energy to that position which gets guys fired up.”