By TOM WITHERS, AP Sports Writer

BEREA, Ohio (AP) - Jeff Garcia's only previous experience at replacing an NFL quarterback was when he inherited Steve Young's starting job in San Francisco.

After that, taking over for Tim Couch in Cleveland won't seem so tough.

Garcia signed a four-year, $25 million contract on Tuesday with the Browns, a move that ends Cleveland's yearlong quarterback controversy as well as Couch's rocky five-year era.

Browns coach Butch Davis, who spent the past year waffling between Couch and Kelly Holcomb as his starter, has handed the job to Garcia.

"I think it's going to be a perfect fit," said Garcia, a three-time Pro Bowler released earlier this month after five seasons with the 49ers. "The Browns showed a real belief that if I came here I would make a difference."

Garcia got a $5 million signing bonus and will carry a $500,000 salary in 2004. He'll make $4.5 million in 2005, and his deal includes two voidable years at the back end in case he or the team wants out.

However, the 34-year-old intends to give the Browns a strong return on their investment.

"I'm thinking about a contract until they drive me out of town," Garcia said. "I want to be here as long as possible."

Couch felt the same way when the expansion Browns selected him with the No. 1 overall draft pick in 1999.

However, it appears his time in Cleveland -- five years beset by injuries, a love-hate relationship with Browns fans and Davis -- is up.

Davis said it's possible the Browns could keep Garcia and Couch on their roster next season. But it's more likely the club will trade or release Couch.

Team president Carmen Policy said Couch has not yet asked for his release, and that the team would try to work out something beneficial to the QB and the Browns.

Davis met with Couch for 25 minutes Tuesday morning to tell him that Garcia signed.

"It hasn't been the easiest year for Tim," Davis said. "But as he did this past season, he handled it with class."

Couch did not return numerous phone messages from the AP seeking comment.

However, he told The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer that Davis asked him to be Garcia's backup and he told him no.

"I told him I wanted to go somewhere and play," Couch said. "I think he's pretty aware that I want to move on."

Couch said his agent, Tom Condon, would work with the Browns over the next few days on a trade. He said he's intrigued by trade rumors involving the Dallas Cowboys.

Couch is also excited about a chance to jump-start his career elsewhere.

"I'm a little nervous, a little anxious and a little excited because it almost feels like going into the draft all over again," he said. "I don't know where I'm going to be this time next year, but I'm looking forward to a new opportunity."

Garcia passed for 2,704 yards and 18 touchdowns last season, but missed three games with injuries. He hurt his back lifting weights before training camp and never returned to full strength during his least productive season since 1999.

Garcia became the 49ers' starter in '99, taking over when Young retired. He twice led the club to the playoffs, earning a reputation as a tough, scrappy competitor and leader unafraid to speak his mind.

That background prepared him for anything, so he's unfazed by his new start in Cleveland.

"I just came out of a situation where I was following legacies (Young and Joe Montana) at the quarterback position, Hall of Famers," he said. "You talk about having to step into some big shoes. I don't fear competition."

Garcia's deal with the Browns came together following a whirlwind weekend in which he visited Cleveland, Atlanta and Tampa Bay. At one point Monday, it appeared he was about to sign with the Buccaneers. His father, Bobby, even told one newspaper that Garcia was joining the Bucs.

"I didn't read the article, all I know is that he has been suspended from talking to the media," Garcia joked about his dad. "He has been grounded for the next 12 months."

Garcia eventually decided on Cleveland after he was assured he would start immediately. He said money wasn't a factor.

"The difference was the fact that there was that job available and the organization treated me with respect and fairness," Garcia said. "If there's one thing I can bring to this game it's a lot of heart and dedication and so much perseverance."

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)