Tim Couch returned to Cleveland for the first time in 15 years this past week, but the Browns have never been far from his mind.
Couch, the former quarterback and first-overall pick in the 1999 NFL Draft, visited with his former team Thursday afternoon after it was announced he'll help call three of the Browns' preseason games next fall.
It was something of a homecoming for Couch, who hadn't been back to the Cleveland's Berea headquarters since 2003, his final season with the club.
"It's kind of surreal. It's great to be back. I have lot of good memories, but it all looks so different," he said. "When you haven't been somewhere in 15 years, it changes. The facility is different, where I used to live over in Westlake is different with Crocker Park and all that stuff. But it's awesome, I loved living here. I really did. I loved playing here. It's great to be back."
Couch, who now lives in Lexington, Kentucky, played five seasons for the Browns and led them to their last playoff berth in 2002. During that span, he started 59 games, passing for 11,131 yards and 64 touchdowns, the most of any quarterback since the team resumed operations in 1999.
Following a playing career marred by injuries, Couch — the former Kentucky Wildcats star signal-caller — returned to his home state and has worked as a color analyst on SEC regional broadcasts for the past five years. When word officially got out he was reconnecting with the Browns, Couch said he was blown away by the support from head coach Hue Jackson, general manager John Dorsey and, perhaps most importantly, the fans in Northeast Ohio.
"I met the coaches today, met most of the people in the front office, just get a chance to shake these guys hands, get in front of them and let them know who I am and let them know I'm excited about working with them," he said. "It's been a long time since I've been around, but the fans have been incredibly welcoming to me since the announcement yesterday and those kinds of things. You just never know, when you haven't been here in a while, you're just like, 'I don't know if they're going to accept me when I come back,' but it's been overwhelmingly good. It's been a good feeling. I'm super excited to be here."
Indeed, formally parting ways with the team had little effect on Couch's appreciation for the Browns and their fan base. He said he's watched the team as much as possible and, having once led the franchise through a tough stretch in the early 2000s, he could empathize with Cleveland's struggles over the past two seasons.
Couch also sees a brighter future. He's been impressed by the Browns' moves in free agency -- notably the additions of veteran quarterback Tyrod Taylor and wide receiver Jarvis Landry -- and how Cleveland can continue helping itself in the upcoming NFL Draft, where the Browns could take their first quarterback at No. 1 since Couch.
"I tell my friends all the time — and they're like, 'How are you going to be a Browns fan for how you career ended there?' and 'They're a bad team' and this and that," he said, laughing. "I'm like, I will always be a Browns fan forever."