Of all the first overall picks in all of the major professional drafts in North America/Canada, it seems as though somewhere around half totally fail to live up to the hype.
Whether it be due to injury, lack of commitment and work ethic, or “off field issues”, there are plenty of reasons why they fail. But some are put in a position where they are set up for failure and there’s little they can do about it.
Tim Couch, #1 overall pick of the 1999 Draft, should be considered in the latter category.
The University of Kentucky standout, throwing for 4,275 yards and 36 touchdowns during his senior season, wasn’t even the consensus number one pick to the Browns — they’d considered taking Oregon’s Akili Smith instead. And we all know how things turned out for Smith.
Being brought back into the league in 1999 after re-locating to Baltimore in 1996, the Browns made Couch their franchise cornerstone. But the problem with taking a quarterback for your new franchise, as the Houston Texans would find out with David Carr three years later, is that you have to have pieces around him.
The team had no talent at the skill positions and no one to keep Couch upright. Originally slated to sit for the year behind Ty Detmer, Couch was thrown into the fire starting with game two. The Browns would go 2-14 that year, with Couch losing 359 yards to sacks — the team’s leading rusher gained 452. He would finish the season watching the final game from the sideline with an ankle injury.
“When I look back at that season now, I think the best thing would have been if I had sat for the year behind Ty and just learned,” Couch said. “It’s one thing if you’re a young Ben Roethlisberger who goes to such a veteran team. You can put a young quarterback in that situation. As an expansion team … it’s very similar to what happened with David Carr in Houston. It’s almost impossible for a guy to go in and start right away.”
Things wouldn’t improve much for Couch in 2000 as a fluke practice accident saw a linebacker get in too close on a standard drill, resulting in Couch bouncing his hand off the defender’s helmet. With a broken thumb and surgery necessary to repair it, Couch’s season would end with nine games to go.
With a new coach in 2001, Couch finally managed to make it a whole season without being sent to the MASH unit. He completed 60% of his passes for 3,040 yards and 17 touchdowns but more importantly, he seemed to be growing as the team went 7-9.
The Browns finally turned a corner in 2002, going on a tear down the stretch (they won seven of their last eleven) to make the playoffs. Couch had a solid season: 61.6% of his passes completed, 2,842 yards, and 18 touchdowns but 18 interceptions. He had started earning a reputation for being inaccurate. Fair, given the amount of interceptions he’d thrown but given that he’s still the Browns all-time leader in completion percentage, a bit miffing as well.
“None of those busts took their team to the playoffs,” he said. “If people say it was a disappointment, I can understand that. I was hurt every year. I was on a bad team. I didn’t feel like I could show Cleveland what I was capable of doing. I wanted nothing more than to bring that city a championship, and that still burns.”
That season wasn’t without cost, however. In the regular season finale, Couch would break his leg, missing the only playoff game the post-expansion Browns would have to date.
Things took a strange turn for Couch after that. Kelly Holcomb had gotten the start in the playoff game and had thrown for over 400 yards in a loss to the Steelers, winning over the fan base.
Heading into the 2003 season, coach Butch Davis had a competition between Holcomb and Couch for the starting role, ultimately going with Holcomb based on a “gut feeling.” Both would go on to start eight games each and the Browns would never find sure footing, ending the season 5-11.
In the off-season, Couch was assured of his role by Davis. Until Davis signed free agent Jeff Garcia and suddenly released Couch. And just like that, the first overall pick was gone.
He wound up signing with Green Bay but was experiencing arm and elbow pain, a fact he neglected to bring up to management. He would visit with famed surgeon Dr.James Andrews, uncovering a myriad of injuries: torn labrum, torn rotator cuff, and a torn bicep. His arm was done.
Following reconstructive surgery, Couch attempted a comeback but, after failed tryouts with Miami, Chicago, Houston, Pittsburgh, and Tennessee, the interest from the league was gone.
His football career over, it’s hard to feel bad for Couch when you consider that he’d made a pretty penny and married a former Playboy Playmate (Heather Kozar). Like many former players and coaches, he’s moved on to a broadcasting career. He works for Fox Sports South, as a color analyst for the SEC Regional Network as well as SEC Gridiron Live.
Number one picks are more often than not set up to fail: tons of expectations and bad teams can doom the best of them. In Tim Couch’s case, if looks as though the Browns inability to keep him on his feet and off his back may have been his biggest downfall.
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