Vaught's Views: Tim Couch in no-win situation in Cleveland

August 15, 2003|LARRY VAUGHT

Tim Couch is in a no-win situation in Cleveland.

He's not the first high-paid quarterback to be blamed when a team fails to become a Super Bowl contender. And he won't be the last to get caught in that situation.

Couch was supposed to be the savior of the Cleveland Browns when they made him the No. 1 overall pick in the National Football League draft in 1999. That certainly was not a new role for Couch because he was viewed the same way by University of Kentucky fans when he signed with the Wildcats after a record-setting career at Leslie County.

Thanks to the arrival of pass-minded coach Hal Mumme, Couch got to showcase his passing skills and did get Kentucky to the Outback Bowl before leaving after his junior year to become an NFL millionaire.


He's been effective in the NFL, but not brilliant. Never mind that the Browns were rebuilding and have not had a quality running game during Couch's tenure. He was still expected to make the team a division champion and Super Bowl contender.

Cleveland fans can be brutal and many cheered at a game last year when Couch was hurt. They also cheered more and more every time backup Kelly Holcomb completed a pass.

No matter who wins the job, Couch loses

Now Couch and Holcomb are locked into a battle for the No. 1 job. No matter who wins the job, Couch loses.

Because he makes $6.2 million this year compared to Holcomb's $825,000, many have already speculated that the Browns will go with Couch as the starter to justify paying him the big bucks. Both the coach and owner say that's not true, but if Couch is named the starter most are going to believe it is because of his salary.

If Couch doesn't get the starting nod, then the rumors are going to swirl that he's an overpaid failure, a quarterback who will never be a quality player in the National Football League.

Holcomb has nothing to lose. He's a 30-year-old journeyman, a player who has always been a backup quarterback. He was brilliant in a playoff loss last season when Couch was injured, but he's never had to prove himself over the course of a 16-game season. Still, the fans love him and it has to be easier for him to take chances during preseason practices and games.

Couch has all the pressure on him. He can't win the job because he's the returning starter. He can only lose the job with inconsistent play and poor decisions. But that pressure can make a quarterback hesitant and afraid to take chances for fear of making a mistake.

Of course, it's hard to feel sorry for Couch. He'll make $7.6 million next year whether he's playing in Cleveland or for another team and it won't matter if he's the starter or backup. He'll still go to the bank with a hefty paycheck.

Another former UK player, Dewayne Robertson, will find out how Couch feels. He was the first-round pick of the New York Jets and was expected to make an immediate impact in the defense line. Instead, he's had only one assisted tackle in two preseason games. That's not exactly what was expected from a player some were calling the next Warren Sapp. Again, it was unfair to compare Robertson, a rookie defensive tackle, to one of the game's premier players. But that's the price a player pays for getting a huge contract as a high draft pick.

Don't believe him when says he'll be fine if he's not the starter

Couch keeps saying he'll be fine if he's not the starter. Don't believe him. He's always been a starter and was miserable his freshman year at Kentucky when coach Bill Curry and offensive coordinator Elliott Uzelac went with Billy Jack Haskins and an option attack rather than playing Couch. If he doesn't start, Couch is not the type of player to complain publicly and cause trouble, But he won't be happy.

Couch's future in Cleveland could hinge on tonight's exhibition game with Green Bay. Holcomb gets the start and a big performance could vault him ahead of Couch. If that happens, Couch likely will not be back in Cleveland next year. Even if Couch wins the starting job and then fails to lead the Browns to at least 10 wins, he might well not be back.

No matter what Couch does, it may not be enough to silence the critics and solve his no-win dilemma.

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