When David Culley was a freshman quarterback at Vanderbilt, a high school player arrived on campus for a visit. Culley hosted the young tight end and tried to convince him to enroll at Vanderbilt.
That young tight end was Ozzie Newsome.
“I couldn’t get Ozzie to come to Vanderbilt, but I think he’s done alright for himself,” said Culley.
Decades later, Culley has finally reunited with the Ravens’ Executive Vice President. Culley is the team’s new Assistant Head Coach/Receivers/Passing Coordinator, and in just a few months on the job, Culley has made a fast and positive impression.
This is what Head Coach John Harbaugh said about Culley following an OTA practice last week.
“David Culley, for us to get him is a coup,” Harbaugh said. “It’s something that we’ve been trying to get done here for a number of years, and we finally pulled it off. That’s the kind of coach he is.
“The thing I would emphasize about Coach Culley, more than anything, is what an amazing teacher and communicator he is. He’s probably the best - I would say he’s the best straight-up teacher, communicator, that I’ve seen coaching football one-on-one, not just because he coaches it so well, but because he’s so relentless and he coaches the important things. You can be relentless, but if you’re coaching things that don’t matter, then that’s just a lot of hot air. He’s coaching the things that matter, and you see the guys getting better every day within his position group.”
Culley was brought in not only to coach wide receivers, but to coordinate the passing game and to assist Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman with the weekly game-plan. The coaching staff rebuilt the offense with quarterback Lamar Jackson as the centerpiece of the design.
The 63-year-old Culley has been an NFL assistant coach since 1994, most recently with the Buffalo Bills, where he was quarterbacks coach the past two seasons. He was happy in Buffalo, but the opportunity to work with Harbaugh, Roman and Jackson was too good to pass up. Harbaugh and Culley spent nine years together with the Philadelphia Eagles as assistant coaches under Andy Reid.
“That’s what got me here - John, being a direct part of the game-planning, working with Greg, (Quarterbacks Coach) James (Urban), and the whole offensive staff,” Culley said. “For me professionally, I’ve been an assistant head coach with Andy Reid, but I’ve never been a coordinator. In order for me to one day run an offense, or be a head coach, it was a move I had to make. I’m thankful to John Harbaugh that he had enough confidence in me to put me in this position.”
During practices, Culley is easy to spot, and to hear. His voice projects. He talks - a lot.
“My wife has told me the same thing,” Culley said. “That’s who I am. That’s how I do things.”
Players have noticed, and they like it. They know Culley has worked with Hall of Fame wide receiver Terrell Owens and Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson, a proven deep threat whose style has been compared to Ravens first-round pick Marquise “Hollywood” Brown. Culley knows what top wide receivers look like, and the Ravens’ veterans and young receivers will benefit from Culley’s presence.
“Culley has been awesome, man,” Ravens wide receiver Willie Snead IV said. “He’s brought a lot of knowledge, a different viewpoint this year. He has so much wisdom. He’s been around the league for almost 25 years, and just that experience in itself can definitely transform a room and it can obviously make us look at the game differently.
“How he sees offenses, how he sees routes, how he sees scheme, those types of things, you can’t take for granted. So, when he brings up points or nuggets, as I like to call them, I don’t take it with a grain of salt. I take everything in. A lot of guys take it all in, and when you transfer it out onto the field, that’s when you see his wisdom really kick in.”
There is high anticipation in Baltimore about the how the Ravens will look, and how Jackson will perform in the passing game. Culley is a strong believer that Jackson will blossom as a passer and all-around quarterback as he gains experience.
“He’s a guy you can build around,” Culley said. “I’ve seen it already. Are we where we want to be already? No. But we’re headed in the right direction. And Greg is doing the right things with him, in taking this offense where we want to go. I know Greg has a plan. My thoughts are in line with what his thoughts are.
“They’ve won a Super Bowl here with Joe Flacco. I have the utmost confidence we can do so the same thing with Lamar, in a different way.”
Culley is a coaching lifer, having coached for eight different colleges and six different NFL teams. He credits his wife, Carolyn, for raising their two children and giving him the freedom to move their family from place to place, never once complaining.
“I got l lucky and married the right girl,” Culley said. “All she’d say is, ‘Where are we going, when are we leaving?’”
Culley’s main ambition after he graduated from college was to become the head coach at his high school, White County High School in Sparta. Tenn. Before he’s done coaching, Culley says he might return there.
“The principal told me anytime I want to come back, I’m welcome,” Culley said.
But before that happens, Culley wants to help the Ravens win a Super Bowl. He and Harbaugh were assistant coaches with the Eagles when they lost Super Bowl XXXIX to the New England Patriots. That’s as close as Culley has come to winning a Lombardi Trophy, but he believes this group of Ravens can give it a run.
“Every time I walk through those doors and see those two deals (Super Bowl trophies), I know what they’re chasing,” Culley said. “The Ravens have been there, done that. They have a culture here from top to bottom. I love being part of it.”