UK’s Tim Couch Elected to the College Football Hall of Fame

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Courtesy UK Athletics
Courtesy UK Athletics

Tim Couch, All-America and record-setting quarterback who led the University of Kentucky football team to some of its greatest moments in school history, has been elected to the College Football Hall of Fame.

The National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame made the announcement Monday afternoon on ESPN. Couch will be inducted at the annual National Football Foundation Awards Dinner, to be held December 10 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

“I’m honored and humbled,” Couch said upon receiving the news.  “This is an unbelievable honor, I’m blown away by it.  I’m really excited for the celebration this year, representing Kentucky and doing my best to do that.”

Couch played at Kentucky from 1996-98.  After seeing limited action during his freshman season, Couch’s sophomore and junior campaigns – coinciding with the arrival of the “Air Raid” offense of Coach Hal Mumme – sent a lightning bolt of excitement through the Kentucky program and Wildcat fan base.

In the first game of the 1997 season, Couch threw for a then-school-record 398 yards and four touchdowns as Kentucky reclaimed the Governor’s Cup with a 38-24 win over Louisville.  Two weeks later he threw for a school-record seven touchdown passes in a 49-7 win at Indiana.

Two weeks after the TD avalanche in Bloomington, Couch guided Kentucky to a win for the ages.  Playing host to the Alabama Crimson Tide, whom UK had defeated only one time in school history (75 years earlier in 1922), Couch threw for 355 yards and four TDs, including the game-winner in overtime, as UK posted a 40-34 triumph.

Following the game-winning TD toss to wide receiver Craig Yeast, the Kentucky fans stormed the field and tore down the goalposts, prompting then-UK Athletics Director C.M. Newton to say, “If I weren’t so old, I’d have torn them down myself.”

The fans, indeed, are a large part of the Couch legacy. During his first season as the starting quarterback, attendance increased from 40,000 fans per game to more than 59,000 fans per game. As a response to the surge of interest, the University enlarged Commonwealth Stadium (now Kroger Field) by 10,000 seats, an expansion that was nicknamed “The House That Couch Built.”

Couch finished the ’97 season throwing for 3,884 yards and 37 touchdowns, setting several Southeastern Conference and school records, most of which he would break a year later.  He was named second-team All-SEC, with only the presence of Tennessee senior QB Peyton Manning preventing him from higher league laurels. Couch also finished in the top 10 in voting for the Heisman Trophy. 

Couch led the Cats to greater heights in 1998, guiding Kentucky to a 7-4 regular-season record, the team’s first winning season in nine years.  UK piled up 68 points in the season opener at Louisville, and in midseason, a 39-36 win at No. 21 LSU was the Wildcats’ first road victory over a ranked opponent in 21 years.

Kentucky advanced to the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1, 1999, the Wildcats’ first appearance in a New Year’s Day bowl game in 47 years, sustaining a loss to Penn State. It also was UK’s last New Year’s appearance for 20 more years, until the Wildcats turned the tables on the Nittany Lions with a victory in the VRBO Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1, 2019.

Couch completed an NCAA-record 72.3 percent of his passes in 1998, throwing for 4,275 yards and 36 touchdowns. He was named first-team All-America by the Football Writers Association of America and the Walter Camp Football Foundation, making him eligible for the eventual College Football Hall of Fame accolade that he is now receiving.  Couch was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy, finishing fourth in the voting.

Couch also was the 1998 SEC Player of the Year, the Southeast Area Back of the Year by the Atlanta Touchdown Club and the Midwest Collegiate Player of the Year by the Cleveland Touchdown Club.

Couch’s career totals, almost all of which came during his two seasons as the starting QB, feature 795 completions in 1,184 attempts (67.1 percent) for 8,435 yards and 74 touchdowns.  He broke seven NCAA records, 14 SEC records and 26 school records. 

Following his junior season, Couch declared for the National Football League Draft and was the overall No. 1 selection by the expansion team Cleveland Browns in the 1999 draft.  He played five years for Cleveland, eventually leading the team to the 2002 NFL Playoffs, before injuries ended his career following the 2003 season.

Moving to Lexington after retiring from playing, Couch has remained involved with the Kentucky football program.  Several years ago, when UK renovated the Nutter Training Center practice complex, Couch made the lead financial gift and the “Tim Couch Practice Fields” were named in his honor.

Following the 2012 season, Couch served as an advisor to Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart during the selection process that eventually chose Mark Stoops.  Still the coach of UK football, and currently the seventh-longest active coach in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision, Stoops has set the school record for wins while leading the Wildcats to a school-record eight consecutive bowl games.

In addition to the College Football Hall of Fame announcement, Couch has received numerous other honors over the years, including:

  • (state of) Kentucky Sports Hall of Fame
  • University of Kentucky Athletics Hall of Fame
  • Jersey has been retired by the University of Kentucky
  • Selected as a Living Legend of the SEC
  • National High School Hall of Fame

Couch will join several other Wildcats in the College Football Hall of Fame, including Paul “Bear” Bryant (UK coach 1946-53), tackle Bob Gain (1947-50), quarterback Vito “Babe” Parilli (1949-51), end Steve Meilinger (1951-53), tackle Lou Michaels (1955-57) defensive end Art Still (1974-77) and Jerry Claiborne, who played at UK in 1946, ’48-49 and was head coach of the Cats from 1982-89.  Bernie Shively, who was athletics director at UK from 1938-67 and was head coach of the football team in 1945, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in recognition of his playing days at Illinois. 

Couch joins Claiborne as native Kentuckians who played at UK and were elected to the Hall of Fame.  A native of Hyden, Ky., Couch was the 1995 National Player of the Year at Leslie County High School, setting then-national records for pass completions (872), passing yards (12,104) and touchdown passes (133).  He led Leslie County to berths in the Class AAA playoff semifinals his junior and senior years.

Also an outstanding basketball player at Leslie County, he led the state of Kentucky in scoring with 36 points per game during his junior season.  In recognition of his versatile excellence, Couch was named No. 6 on an ESPN list of the Best High School Athletes Ever. He also was chosen to the MaxPreps list of the 50 greatest high school all-around athletes of all time. 

Couch, who has two sons, Chase and Brady, resides in Lexington and is co-owner of Meridian Wealth Management. He has made numerous media appearances over the years and has been a frequent guest and host on “The Ultimate Cleveland Sports Show” on YouTube. 

Couch was involved with multiple community service activities during his years with the Browns. Since returning to Lexington, he has participated in fundraising for the Gill Heart Institute in Hazard, Ky. He also has made personal appearances and/or provided financial support for several other non-profit organizations, such as Coaches for the Kids, Appalachian Regional Hospital, Youth Arbor Foundation, God’s Pantry and the Lexington Cancer Foundation.

by Susan Lax