HOOVER, Ala. — Tim Couch, a former No. 1 pick in the NFL draft, might be a bit biased when it comes to evaluating Kentucky coach Joker Phillips, especially when it comes to his recruiting ability.
“Joker is an outstanding coach and recruiter more than anything. I have known him for years because he actually helped recruit me to Kentucky back in 1995,” said Couch, who was here working for Fox Sports South at the Southeastern Conference media days. “He does a great job relating to the players very well. That’s one thing I have always liked about him. He is a good offensive mind and guys like to play for him. He’s a player’s coach and I think he will do an outstanding job.”
Couch was a Kentucky high school phenom who completed 872 passes for 12,104 yards and 133 touchdowns at Leslie County. He also scored 3,023 points in basketball.
At UK, he completed 795 of 1,184 passes for 8,435 yards and 74 touchdowns, including a 97-yard score to Craig Yeast against Florida in 1998 during Kentucky’s Outback Bowl season. In 1998 alone, he threw for 4,275 yards. He threw for 11,131 yards and 64 yards with the Cleveland Browns and was the team’s leading passer from 1999-2002 before injuries cut short his career.
Now he works as a game analyst for the eight-game SEC package for Fox and also does a Wednesday 10 p.m. show during football season with former NFL players Randy Cross and Kevin Carter, a new addition to the show this year.
“Kevin is a former defensive end with the Florida Gators and Tennessee Titans, so I am looking forward to working with him,” Couch said. “I enjoy the TV work. It keeps me around the game. I travel a lot during the season, but it is fun.”
He’s not sure if he’ll be working any Kentucky games this season, but he’s hoping he will.
“We do not have a Kentucky game for certain yet, but we do have one on the schedule towards the end of the year if it works out. It may be Mississippi State. I always check when the schedule comes out to see if I get to go back home and do any games,” Couch said.
He knows how important this season could be for Phillips, who went 6-7 in his first season as Rich Brooks’ successor.
“It is a big year but I¿think the fans have to realize how much production we lost off that offensive unit. You lose Mike Hartline, a senior quarterback and I¿know a lot of people were hit or miss with Mike, but he had a real good year,” Couch said. “He was in the top five in most categories in the SEC.
“You lose Randall Cobb, obviously one of the best players ever to lace them up at Kentucky. Then you lose the production of big 6-5 Chris Matthews at receiver and the home run threat of a Derrick Locke in the backfield.¿I think early on fans are going to have to be a little patient with this team on the offensive side of the ball and Joker will have to get some of these younger players some experience.”
Kentucky likely will start the year with junior Morgan Newton at quarterback and Couch says Newton likely is a “little concerned” about who will be UK’s playmakers.
“He has no idea who his playmaker is yet and as a quarterback, that’s the one thing you always want. If you walk up to the line of scrimmage and see man-to-man coverage, you have to know there is no more read. You have to have a guy like Craig Yeast and know I¿am going to Craig Yeast or have a guy like Randall Cobb or a Keenan Burton,” Couch said.
“I don’t think he has that yet, and that’s an uncomfortable feeling. He does have a veteran offensive line coming back, though, and that is comforting for a young quarterback. But he has to find his playmakers at some point to be an effective quarterback.”
Couch said making the climb any higher for UK, which has been to five straight bowl games, is not easy.
“It’s hard to take out bias about UK. Kentucky has had a nice run the last five years. Rich Brooks did an outstanding job with that program and Joker has continued it. They are certainly a lot better than they used to be, but a lot of other teams are, too,” Couch said.
“Mississippi State with coach Dan Mullen has certainly climbed the SEC ladder in the West and Arkansas has come up with Bobby Petrino and could win the West this year.
“`There are a lot of teams getting better, and Kentucky is getting better as well. They have to recruit top guys and hopefully some those recruits fall our way because it takes a lot of talent to win in this league.”
Couch now lives in Lexington with his wife and two sons, ages 5 and 2. His one regret is that his job leaves him little time to follow UK¿football.
“As much as I would like to follow Kentucky high school football, I don’t because during the season I am on the road now,” Couch said. “I lived in Ft. Lauderdale for six years before I¿moved back to Lexington and just didn’t follow it as much, but I¿love high school football.
“My cousin is quarterback at Letcher County Central and I¿go down and watch him play a couple of times a year and it is fun to get back down there. I wish I could do it more, but I¿also love the job I have covering college football.”