Former Cincinnati Bengals offensive line coach Robert Couch is the new man in charge at Windermere High School.
Just a little over a mile down the road from Windermere High School, Robert Couch is getting in some workout time with his team at the off-campus football field.
There, at Deputy Scott Pine Park, six different pods of Wolverine football players practice — some on the football field, some on the soccer field — while keeping in line with social distancing and other guidelines.
His team has been participating in these practices for a few weeks now, and to say it’s been a strange experience is an understatement. Although it’s been nice to get back to the field, it’s also been challenging, said Couch — who recently was named the program’s head coach.
“I haven’t even met the team yet,” Couch said. “I’ve met the nine guys that are in my socially distanced pod — I’ve gotten to know them really well — but I’ve got another 120 kids I’d like to get to know.
“It’s very weird; it’s very difficult,” he said. “The problem with pods is I don’t think we get anything out of it — other than we can cheer each other on and get in good cardio. What’s fun about playing football is hanging out with your buddies — your band of brothers — and you suffer together and fight together, and that’s what makes football great.”
FROM ‘NO WAY’ TO A WAY OF LIFE
Couch never planned to coach football.
During his time playing on the offensive line for the Vanderbilt University football team, he saw how little money was made on the journey to being a coach and how the time commitment could be unforgiving.
Ironically, it was there at Vanderbilt, however, that offensive line coach Hal Hunter mentioned to Couch that he should consider coaching. Couch shrugged off the notion and continued playing football — which included a short stint in the NFL. A few years later, though, following his time playing, Couch found himself back in the game — this time coaching.
“I’m at church in 2001, and there is a private school at the church,” he said. “The coach … calls me at midnight on Friday night, ‘Hey, we’re 0-2, and I’m going to lose my job. … One of the church members said you played football in the NFL, would you come out and help?’
“I was like, ‘Sure — I’m single, I don’t have anything else to do,’” Couch said. “That was it — from that day on, the rest of my life has been, ‘OK, I have to go to work so I can hurry up and do what I want to do, which is coach football.’”
Couch has devoted much of his life to the game of football. He coached in multiple aspects at the high school level in Texas before taking a role at Celebration High School in 2015. Then, the Cincinnati Bengals came calling. Couch spent the next three years as an offensive quality control and offensive line coach. There, Couch learned from Frank Pollack — who now coaches the New York Jets offensive line — before returning to Celebration as an assistant last season.
“To just sit in a room and watch that and absorb that — shoot, that is a multi-million-dollar education that I couldn’t beg for,” Couch said about his time in Cincinnati. “I learned so much from that.”
NO TIME TO SPARE
Couch’s arrival comes just weeks after Derrick Bumpers resigned after five months on the job — and just in time for the start of the 2020-21 school year.
Originally, Couch was one of a handful of coaches interviewed for the job following the retirement of former head coach Fred Priest, so the resignation of Bumpers offered him another shot at taking on his first head-coaching role.
“As far as the high school — you don’t have a better situation,” Couch said. “You have a brand-new high school, you have one of the premier communities in the metro area, and you have a down program that has 125 kids coming out — wait until we start winning some ball games. It’s really a perfect situation.”
It’s the perfect situation, but at the moment, there is much work to be done before the start of the season — which in itself is in question.
Currently, practices are scheduled to begin Aug. 24, although that still could change. The pandemic also canceled football earlier in the year, so there’s a lot of time to make up for over the next month, Couch said.
“We’re behind, but nobody had spring ball, so I guess we’re not that far behind,” Couch said. “Right now, we are just scrambling to write a playbook. I’m using my playbook from the Bengals, and I’m down-writing that a little bit to adjust for kids in high school.”