My exposure to Couch goes back to his senior year in high school. I was a graduate assistant at Vanderbilt and the head coach thought he had a chance at getting Couch to commit to Vandy over every other college in the land. We had just come off a 2-9 season. My feeling was that we were a longshot. But we persisted. Our quarterback coach was former NFL QB Jeff Rutledge. The head coach, Rod Dowhower, had been a head coach, a coordinator and a QB coach in the NFL. He had tutored John Elway when he played at Stanford. Dowhower figured that all this would be enticing to a kid hoping to play in the NFL some day. In fact, I was instructed to make a tape of Elway from Stanford to show to all our QB recruits. The thinking was that we could do for them what Dowhower supposedly did for Elway. Needless to say, Couch did not visit campus, it didn't work and Tim enrolled at Kentucky where he led the Wildcats onto the national stage.
Fast forward three years later and I am sitting in a film room watching this guy do amazing things. The coaches and staff in Lexington rave about him personally. He is the best this and the best that. You hear this all the time as a scout and you have to be careful. No coach wants to bad mouth someone, but you can usually sense the difference between them meaning it and just going through the motions. They meant it about Couch.
As a player, he was phenomenal. He did it all. He carried the team offensively. The only two questions about him were that he was a product of the system and that system did not throw the ball deep that often, which of course raised questions about his arm strength. The list of great quarterbacks with average arms is long and distinguished, so I was not too concerned about his arm. Say what you want in hindsight, but I never heard a single person question whether or not he was going to be a good pro.
At the time, a buddy of mine asked me before that draft which guy would be the best QB eligible for the draft? Donovan McNabb, Couch, Daunte Culpepper, Akili Smith and Cade McNown went in the first round. Shaun King went in the second round, Brock Huard in the third. Joe Germaine and Aaron Brooks in the fourth. Kevin Daft in the fifth. Michael Bishop, Sturgeon Bay's Chris Greisen and Scott Covington in the seventh. McNabb and Culpepper are the best so far with Brooks coming in third.
I only got to see Couch, Culpepper, King and Covington in person. I liked Culpepper, he was big and strong and worked hard. He was raw and needed to develop a little more. I had him right behind Couch. Couch was more polished and more developed. My peers who saw McNabb said that in time he would probably be the best once he developed because of his physical skills. When asked who the bust would be, I answered it would be whomever Cincy drafted.
So what happened? Is Couch a poor man's Ryan Leaf? Is he a bust? Can he be reclaimed? Will he be this generation's Jim Plunkett? Should the Packers trade for him and will he wait a few years for Brett Favre to hang it up? Assuming the Packers can work out the contract and get him for a low-round draft pick, I think it would be a great pickup. To be so young and get drafted by an expansion team, with a porous offensive line and no offensive weapons took its toll on him. He has been a winner and worshipped going back to high school and now he was exposed to sheer loathing and ridicule.
The fans in Cleveland are notoriously fickle. These are the same fans that ran Bill Belichick out of town. The Dog Pound did a number on its savior. The Dawgs were very hard on Couch and even cheered when he got injured in a game. Now with Jeff Garcia on board, Couch is expendable. You hope Couch would be tough enough to deal with that kind of thing, but a new venue will allow him to get a second chance and start over. He will be able to sit a year or two behind Favre and not suffer from such high expectations and get comfortable. Once Brett hangs it up, Couch can step in and lead the team.
Talent and physical skills are so important to an athlete, but the mental side of things is what separates the great ones from the average ones. Favre has it, that resiliency, that toughness that translates into victories. Winners have the ability to transcend circumstance and dig down and rise to the occasion and get things done. They make plays. They play hurt. There is more to leadership than just starting at QB. You have to act and play like a leader and you need to have a willingness to lead. I think that Tim Couch has not chosen to lead the Browns. For whatever reason, he played the rookie role and then when the team struggled, he took it personally. Then the fan reaction caused him to pull further into his shell and by that time I think he had lost his teammates. Take a winner, a guy idolized in his home state, touted for all the awards and put him in a losing environment and see how he responds. Then have the fans turn on him because he is not Bernie Kosar and you can go get the coffin and the hammer and the nails.
A change of scenery and a fresh start are what this guy needs. But will he get booed in two years because he is not Brett Favre? How will he respond? With the exception of Steve Young, what replacement QB ever followed an icon at the position and won a Super Bowl? Who followed Bart Starr? Who followed Terry Bradshaw? Who followed Elway? Who followed Roger Staubach? Who will follow Brett Favre? Will it be Craig Nall, Tim Couch or someone else? Will Tim Couch be here when Favre retires? Mike Sherman's future hangs on these questions. For the sake of Packer fans everywhere, I hope he has the answers.