SB Nation: You went through the whole process. Exactly how and when does that start? Who's the first person who legitimately comes up to you and says, "Hey, you're probably going to the NFL."
Tim Couch: You know, it started my junior year, and I had a really big sophomore season. Peyton Manning came out, and he was the No. 1 pick, and coming into my junior year I was kind of the favorite to be the Heisman winner, top player in the SEC, all that stuff.
SBN: Sure, but when did you really start hearing it?
TC: Probably my sophomore year. Peyton was just drafted at one, and we were kind of playing at the same level in college. People were saying, "You have another big year, you're going to be the first pick in the draft." So about halfway through my junior year, because I was having a big year, I knew. So after the season's over, you put out feelers to find out where you're going to be drafted. I heard top two or three picks, and decided to come out after my junior year.
SBN: Who are the people you contact for that? Most people don't know how that works.
TC: The NFL has a service that tells you that. They tell you what the general feel of what kind of player you're projected to be.
SBN: You come from Harlan County, so I imagine you had a slightly different experience when it came to people pressuring you to let them represent you. Did you have a lot of your people lobbying for the job, or was it more like, "Um, Dad, I need to find an agent."
TC: It was "hey Dad, I need to find an agent." My dad helped me find an agent, and so did a good friend in Lexington who was a former player and booster at Kentucky. I ended up signing with Tom Condon. He'd signed with Peyton Manning a year before, and I'd interviewed so many guys, but I felt more comfortable with Tom.
SBN: So finding an agent is pretty much like finding a plumber?
TC: Yeah, you get referrals. He represented a lot of quarterbacks, and he played in the league for 12 years. He knew what it was like as a player, and understood what you'd be going through.
SBN: What was Hal Mumme (Couch's coach at Kentucky) like during the whole decision process? That's another thing people don't often get a window into when considering the draft.
TC: Hal understood. Hal actually told me to leave. He said, "All five of your offensive linemen are seniors, and leaving. Your top receiver, Craig Yeast, is leaving. You're gonna come back as a senior, and break in a whole new team. You can't get any higher than one, so all you're going to do by coming back is hurt yourself. Of course I want you to stay, but you should go." He was cool about it.
SBN: Your parents at this point have to be freaked out.
TC: It was such an overwhelming thing. My mom works in a welfare office and my dad is a transportation coordinator for the school buses in the county. I came from a very small town and a very normal family. All of a sudden, there's numbers being thrown around--50, 60 million dollar contracts--well, that was so foreign to us that my parents were a little taken back by it. It didn't seem real to them until it happened.
SBN: What is that point? At what point did it kick up from just being "campus famous" to something entirely different?
TC: As I went through the process, I was doing all these national things--the Letterman show, the Rome show, etc. Going to airports people would notice you. At the time, the draft was just becoming a thing. There's 26 people in the green room now, and at the time I think there was five of us. It's grown a lot, but it was still pretty big back then.
SBN: Let's remind everyone who's back there with you.
TC: Donovan McNabb. Akili Smith. Daunte Culpepper. Ricky Williams, and Edgerrin James. Wait: Torry Holt and Champ Bailey were there as well. We had a great group. Jevon Kearse, Donald Driver, and Joey Porter were in that draft, too.
SBN: When you negotiate that contract, at what point did you turn a corner and say, "How much money?"
TC: It was so surreal to me at that point. It didn't matter if it was 5,000 or 5 million, it was so big of a number to me. I was living in a dorm with a bunch of dudes, and my agent was working on all that, and I just let him handle that. The Browns wanted the deal done before the draft, and I actually signed the deal the morning of the draft. I'd had my contract done, since I didn't want to miss a day of training camp. I didn't want to be the guy who would piss and moan over a million dollars here or a million dollars there. You offer me that much money, I'm going to sign today.
SBN: Especially when, at the time, you didn't know what a million meant.
TC: Oh, sure. I wanted it done, and everything was all set.
SBN: The actual process of sitting there. What's it like? There's a lot of guys on phones, sure, and--well, in your day it would have been a much bigger phone.
TC: Yeah. It's a big Zach Morris phone.
SBN: What are you doing, exactly?
TC: It's like Andrew Luck's situation. He knows he's going to the Colts, and he's already done, but you're still nervous. Until you hear your name called, you're still thinking in the back of your mind that they could change their mind.
SBN: Did that happen to you, or anyone you knew there?
TC: Well, the No. 2 pick that year was supposed to be Ricky Williams. After I came out on stage, the fans started chanting "RICK-Y, RICK-Y." Donovan came out instead, and was booed off the stage. That was kind of a shock to everyone.
SBN: How did he handle that?
TC: I don't know. That would have been so disheartening to have the best day of your life, second in the draft, and to be booed off the stage. He's resilient though, and it showed throughout his career.
SBN: What happens after the draft? As in, right afterwards? You're a millionaire, and you're loose in New York City.
TC: The owner of the Browns, Al Lerner, was waiting there. He chartered a private jet, and we flew right back to Cleveland. I was back in Cleveland when the second round started, and watched from the war room when they drafted the receiver Kevin Johnson out of Syracuse. We did press row, got on a plane with my parents, and got to Cleveland as soon as possible.
SBN: Your mind's completely shattered at that point, yes?
TC: Yeah. It's a whirlwind, and you're completely mentally exhausted. I got back to my hotel room that night, and my parents asked "Do you want to celebrate?" I just wanted to go to bed.
SBN: What was the one thing you got with the first check?
TC: The first car I bought myself was a Hummer, like a big H1 original. Took two parking spaces. I retired my parents and paid off all their debts, but then I got the car. I'd always thought they were cool. Turns out they weren't. You could not have a conversation in the car. If it got over 60, you couldn't hear anything because the engine was right there in your ear in the middle of the car. Turns out it was horrible.
SBN: What else?
TC: I had this big house, and no furniture. It looked like a dorm room. There was a computer on the floor, a bigass couch, and an old gigantic TV. That was it. My mom had to come up after the first season and take me furniture shopping.
SBN: Like every other American male, your mother decorated your first house.
SBN: What are the three things you would tell any high draft pick?
TC: The number one thing is learning to deal with failure, because it's gonna happen. The number two is to find someone who played for your team who was really successful. I went to Bernie Kosar because he's still so beloved in Cleveland, and said "How do I handle this?" That's important. The third is just being one of the guys in the locker room. There's guys who've been playing 10, 12 years in the league who've never seen the type of money you've made, and you haven't done anything. There's a certain way you have to act in order not to rub those guys the wrong way. Just play up to your potential and it will work out.
SBN: And buy steaks for the O-line.
TC: And yes, buy steaks for your O-line.