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December 3, 2012

Couch: 'This thing could turn around quickly'

When Mitch Barnhart reached out to Tim Couch, asking if he would be a part of the ongoing Kentucky coaching search, the former Wildcats quarterback had no hesitation about saying yes.

"Anything I can do to help this program, I'm willing to do it," Couch said. "I was glad to help out."

Couch, now a college football television analyst, was essentially the football expert on the coaching search panel that hired new UK coach Mark Stoops.

"My role in this whole deal was to talk about the schemes, the Xs and Os, with Mitch," Couch said. "Just how it would fit into our program with the guys we have and who we think we can get into this program."

By the time Couch entered the picture, Barnhart had already narrowed what he said was a list of 200 or 250 candidates down to a few. Stoops was one of those names.

Couch was on conference calls with the remaining candidates, "and he was fabulous," Barnhart said.

"He went in and took notes," Barnhart said. "He was very thoughtful in the process. He asked some good questions that he wanted to know about, just the way the game would be coached. Not so much about the process and all that other stuff that goes into it. I really appreciated him."

Couch said he was on board with Stoops "from the get-go." He liked his vision for the program, his plan to implement a high-powered offense and his defensive reputation.

Although he had never personally met Stoops, Couch had heard positive feedback from media colleagues and coaches around the country as part of his job as a commentator on Fox Sports South's SEC coverage.

And above all else, Couch liked Stoops' proactive desire to be the new Kentucky coach.

"I went into this (coaching search) thinking we may have to sell some of these guys a little bit, but it was the exact opposite of that," Couch said. "They see the potential at this university, especially with Mark. He had a plan for how to get it done. It was really impressive."

Couch said he's willing to do "whatever (Stoops) wants me to do" to help, whether that's "being around the team more" or organizing more alumni gatherings.

"I think he wants to use me as a resource here," Couch said. "I care a great deal about this program. I've been a Kentucky kid. I've cared about the program since I was a little boy, that's the reason I chose to come play here and turn down a lot of other schools because I care about this program. I still feel the same way."

Both Barnhart and Stoops said Couch's long history with the university made him a good resource during both the search and moving forward.

"I understand the impact that Tim has on this university," Stoops said. "Again, I want to lean on Tim and visit with him about some ideas, because he's been around football."

He's been around some bad and good football, too, as both a player and supporter of Kentucky.

In his first season, coach Bill Curry was fired halfway through the season after a poor start. He saw it all over again this season, when Joker Phillips was fired during the season.

"As a former player, it breaks your heart to see games like Vanderbilt where nobody's in the stadium," Couch said.

But days like Sunday, with palpable fan excitement buzzing around Nutter Field House, have Couch excited for the future under Stoops.

"When there's no fan support for it, it's a tough deal for the players," Couch said. "But to walk in here today and see the energy back for the program, the excitement back in the program, it's great for former players to see that."

Couch was also part of some of the highlights of the program, operating the "Air Raid" offense that energized the fan base, and thinks those days could return.

Stoops said he plans to install a high-powered offense, a plan Couch sees as being crucial - when paired with better defense - to improving UK's program. He said there are some "talented" quarterbacks and wide receivers for Stoops to work with.

"I think," Couch said, "this thing could turn around quickly."


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