HOUSTON -- Growing up in segregated Sparta, Tenn., as a highly recruited football player, Houston Texans coach David Culley had his choice of several schools.
Ultimately, Culley chose Vanderbilt University over Middle Tennessee State, Tennessee, Notre Dame and other schools and he became the first Black starting quarterback in the history of the Southeastern Conference university.
For Culley, 66, being recruited by Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells to Vanderbilt launched an important relationship that continues to this day. The first-year head coach of the Texans texts with Parcells and he met with him prior to the season at Saratoga Springs, N.Y., where the former NFL head coach and general manager lives and tends to his horses.
Parcells engineered turnarounds with several teams and earned two Super Bowl rings with the New York Giants. The former NFL Coach of the Year had an all-time record of 172-130-1, Known as the “Big Tuna,” Parcells displayed an ability to build winning programs with the New England Patriots, New York Jets and Dallas Cowboys. He’s the only coach in NFL history to lead four different teams to the playoffs and three teams to a conference championship game.
“I text him every now and then after a game just to say, ‘Hey, tough loss today, Coach, but we’ll be alright,’” Culley said. “And he’ll text back and say, 'You’re right.’ The reason I spent the day with him was first of all, he recruited me out of high school. I played for him for two years when I was at Vanderbilt. Once I got into coaching, he’s always been someone that I talked to and consulted with about a lot of situations, because he’d been in the league for so long. But the reason I spent the day with him, I went this summer, was simply because three times in the NFL he’s taken franchises and turned them around. He’s been the best in the history of doing that, three different teams.
“I respect his ability as a coach and I respect who he is as a person. I called him up and asked, ‘Could I come up and talk to you about some things about how you went about it?’ And he said ‘sure.’ I went up and had a day with him and I just kind of picked his brain. Now, while I was up there picking his brain, I had to go up to the racetrack, to the horses, and watch his trainer because he’s up there. He’s in Saratoga because of horse racing, because he owns some horses. I just found out when he was up there, he treats his horses just like he did players in coaching. It was a good experience for me.”
The essence of Parcells’ hard-nosed advice is to stay the course and to select a path and stick with that detailed plan.
“Do what you believe in, do what you believe in,” Culley said. “You are the leader. You have a plan. Implement your plan. Make sure everybody is on the same page with your plan. He says follow it through to the end.”
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Culley is 2-8 in his first season as a head coach at any level, but the former Philadelphia Eagles, Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens assistant snapped an eight-game losing streak with a 22-13 upset victory over the heavily favored Tennessee Titans. It marked his signature win so far as the leader of a rebuilding team. Working in tandem with general manager Nick Caserio, Culley knows there’s a lot more heavy lifting ahead.
“I think I’m getting better, I’m getting better at it, I’m staying the course,” Culley said. “They all know in this building what my plan is, and we’re staying the course, so we know it’s a process. I still feel like that we’re still on the same path right now with that. Well, the plan, it’s a big plan. I can’t give you all that information.”
As for his meeting with Parcells, it brought back a lot of memories for Culley and imparted a lot of valuable knowledge.
“Tremendous, because he’s the guy that turned three different teams around, the Giants, the Jets, the Patriots, took two of them to a Super Bowl,” Culley said. “He’s the guy that knows it. He’s been there and he’s done it, only one that has done it three different times at three different teams. I happen to have a relationship with him. He was gracious enough to let me come up. Of course, when I came up to it, I kind of got flashbacks of when he was coaching. He treated everybody like crap, but he always treated you fair. He did the same thing when I was up there this time.”
Parcells gave Culley a nickname back in high school that stuck with him.
He called him “Double Cross,” because he signed letter of intents with multiple conferences before Parcells landed him at Vanderbilt.
“When I was being recruited by him, at that time in college you could sign a letter of intent in December with a conference, but when you sign that letter with that conference, that conference got eliminated, anybody else in that conference couldn’t recruit you, but every other conference could,” Culley said. “At the end in February, there was another letter that you sign, which was the national letter of intent, that way people could still be recruiting you. After I signed that letter of intent, I signed a letter of intent with somebody, I don’t even remember who it was—MTSU.
“Everybody else kept recruiting, so along the way I actually committed to like three or four people after I had already signed the letter of intent with Middle Tennessee. When he came in and started recruiting me, the thing was when he convinced me to come, he had also heard that I told Tennessee that I was coming, I told Notre Dame I was coming and I told this team I was coming. He nicknamed me ‘Double Cross’. He calls me ‘Double Cross’ still.”