Another assistant in the coaching search was not an employee of the University of Kentucky. But his association with the Kentucky football program is just as important when it came to finding the next man to lead the Kentucky football team into Commonwealth Stadium. Former Kentucky quarterback and No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft Tim Couch was asked to be a part of the coaching search from the beginning, and his opinion was highly regarded.
"I had several of my staff that helped me through this process and a great friend of the program in Tim Couch," said Barnhart Sunday afternoon. "I'd like to thank him for that."
Couch was present Sunday at the Nutter Field House as Kentucky introduced the head coach that Couch personally wanted and helped find in former Florida State defensive coordinator Mark Stoops.
"I had a chance to visit with Tim on the phone a few times," said Stoops. "He was involved in one of the interviews. I understand the impact that Tim has on this university. Again, I want to lean on Tim and visit with him about some ideas because he's been around football."
Couch was a key cog in a high-powered attack that helped Kentucky become one of the best offenses in the country. He was part of the "Air Raid" offense under head coach Hal Mumme and took over as the starting quarterback his sophomore season. He broke several school and conference records during his time as a Wildcat, and in his junior season, he threw for 38 touchdowns and 4,611 passing yards before declaring he would forgo he senior season to enter the NFL Draft.
The former NFLer and current college football analyst was looking for something much different in the next head coach at Kentucky, however. Couch knew that this program would need to take a defense-first approach if they wanted to have success in the Southeastern Conference.
"He has a great reputation around the country of being one of the best defensive minds in all of college football," said Couch. "I know one thing at Kentucky we've always struggled with is stopping people in this conference, so we continued the process and it turned out he was a great fit for us."
What impressed Couch about Stoops was his authentic enthusiasm and excitement for the direction of the program, a program that Couch clearly still cares very much about. After participating in one of Stoops' interviews with Barnhart, Couch could tell that this was the place that Stoops truly wanted to be.
"I think number one that's what we all wanted here was a coach who wanted to be here at Kentucky, a coach had a vision for our program and the direction it wanted to go and what we all saw for our program," said Couch. "And he fit the bill perfectly."
That vision is a similar one that Stoops, Couch, and the rest of the search committee shared. Kentucky was looking for a defensive-minded head football with great recruiting connections as well as person capable of putting together a talented coaching staff.
Couch also was looking for a guy who could come in and help restore the physicality of the football team. Over the last few seasons, Couch noticed that this Kentucky program had lost a bit of its physicality and toughness, which may have contributed to their struggles on the field. Playing in one of, if not the most physical conferences, restoring that toughness was a critical quality that the new football coach must have.
It sounds like Couch thinks Kentucky found that guy.
"I just think this program over the last few years has gotten away from being a physical football team," said Couch. "I really believe that. I think that's one thing that also sold me on Mark was his defensive background and his ability to come back and put toughness into this program."
Now Stoops has the difficult task of rebuilding the program after a two-season bowl drought and trying to make a winner out of a 2-10 football team.
It can happen. Couch has seen it with his own eyes. When he arrived as a freshman from Hyden, Ky., he split time at the quarterback position. The team struggled mightily. But in his sophomore season, once he took over the role full time, the offense and the team flourished.
Couch thinks it can happen again, but it's not going to be easy.
"It's a 2-10 football team in the toughest conference in America, but I am saying that it can turn around," said Couch. "You get guys in the right system, you put them in a position to make plays, and you get them in the right mismatches on the football field, and that's what coaching's all about."
The man who wore No. 2 during his time as a Wildcat mentioned how much he likes the young talent on this team at the skill positions, particularly at wide receiver and quarterback. With a new head coach and an entirely new staff, the returning players will have the responsibility and opportunity to make a new impression.
"It's a fresh start for everyone on the team," said Couch. "I think it's a chance to prove yourself all over again. Whatever perception the old staff had of you, whether that be good or bad, you have to prove yourself coming in."
Couch did what Barnhart asked of him, offering friendly advice and help to Barnhart and the search committee. Now that Couch's services in the coaching search are no longer required, he hopes to be able to offer his help to the new head coach directly, however he sees fit.
"I just think he wants to use me as a resource here," said Couch. "I care a great deal about this program. I've been a Kentucky kid. I've cared about this program since I was a little boy and that's the reason I chose to come play ball here.
"In any direction or any way he wants me to help this program going forward, whether it be talking to the team, being around the team more, or anything like that, getting alumni back together, making it stronger, I'm willing to help in any way."