As the Chiefs’ wide receivers coach, David Culley has to be a lot of things to a lot of different personalities.
He has to be equal parts psychologist, teacher, father figure, disciplinarian and confidante. Every day.
Wide receivers are often a team’s divas, and Culley manages all their egos.
“It’s part of those guys’ mentality,” said Culley, who is also the Chiefs’ assistant head coach. “First of all, guys who play that position don’t get to touch the ball a whole bunch. But they always think they should be touching the ball all the time.
“Part of that mentality is what makes them very good. I’ve been fortunate enough that I’ve been around some guys who wanted the ball all the time, and they let you know they want it all the time. And I’ve also been around some guys who would love to have the ball in their hands but would never say one thing about it.”
Culley, 58, is in his 21st year as an NFL receivers coach, including the last 15 under Andy Reid at Philadelphia and Kansas City. In Philadelphia, he coached the tempestuous Terrell Owens during 2004-05, which included a trip to Super Bowl XXXIX.
He also tutored mercurial DeSean Jackson, who earned Pro Bowl berths in his first two seasons under Culley in 2009-10 and former Missouri receiver Jeremy Maclin, whose 189 receptions in his first three seasons were more than anyone in Eagles history besides Keith Jackson’s 194.
“You understand that these are guys who have high personalities, they’re type-A type guys, who, say if they were running backs, they’d be 1,000-yard rushers,” Culley said. “But for the most part, they just want to play. You have to let them understand: ‘Here’s your role. This is what you have to do.’
“And the overriding thing with those guys is winning. That’s the most important thing. Not how many balls they catch, but winning. When you get the good ones, that’s all they’re concerned with is winning.”
Now, Culley is trying to find the right combination of young receivers to team with Dwayne Bowe, a three-time 1,000-yard receiver who has taken a subordinate role in the offense to game plans that have featured screen passes to running back Jamaal Charles and intermediate routes to tight ends Anthony Fasano and Travis Kelce.
Bowe has caught just 14 passes for 195 yards and no touchdowns in four games, but Culley hasn’t heard a peep.
“Dwayne Bowe is a heck of a player,” Culley said, “and in the two years I’ve been here, not once has he complained about how much he gets, or if he gets the ball or doesn’t get the ball, and that’s unusual at this position.
“Bowe is, personality-wise, probably is the first guy I’ve ever had where everybody in the locker room and on the team loves the guy because how he is every day. He is the same guy every day … and I love him for that, too.”
The respect from Bowe is mutual.
“He is definitely a players’ coach … he’s high energy, like a player,” Bowe said. “He gives the kind of effort you want a player to give on the field. He gives it every morning, every practice … the meetings after practice. He never stops. Sometimes I question whether he ever goes home. Does he sleep in the office like Andy Reid?
“But when you want perfection, you have to do it the coach Culley way. He understands how to coach players at this level and to get guys fired up. To be in my eighth year and have a coach like that, I thank God every day.”
Culley, who played quarterback at Vanderbilt during 1973-77 before embarking on his coaching career, has a knack for relating to the high-maintenance receivers.
“Those guys want to be the best they can be,” Culley said. “They want to make sure I’m keeping them at a level where they can succeed. If they trust you, and they trust what you’re telling them is going to help them stay where they are, then they’ll do anything in the world for you, and they’ve done that.”
Especially Owens, who for all his antics, caught 23 touchdown passes in 29 games in his two seasons playing for Philadelphia.
“Everybody says ‘T.O.’ when they talk about him,” Culley said, “but when I had him, he was Terrell Owens, not T.O. There were two different guys. I coached Terrell Owens, I didn’t coach T.O.
“He was the best practice player I’ve ever been around in my coaching career … the very best. He loved his job, took pride in what he did, and the T.O. guy you saw in the media, I didn’t see that guy in practice.”
As the Chiefs’ assistant head coach, Culley has a supervisory title, meaning another team can’t pry him from the club without offering him either a job as a coordinator or head coach.
Chiefs Hall of Famer Emmitt Thomas, who as the Chiefs’ secondary coach works against Culley’s unit every day in practice, believes Culley has the attributes of a head coach.
“He has great people skills and is very knowledgeable,” said Thomas, who served as an interim head coach in Atlanta in 2007. “Wide receivers and defensive backs are the hardest two groups to handle in the NFL. To be in that position in this day and time with the younger generation and different personalities, you need someone who is a people person and very organized.”
Culley has interviewed for coordinator jobs in the past few years, but the right opportunity has yet to arise. He realizes at his age there may not be too many more chances to realize his dream.
“I’m fortunate enough to be working for the guy I’m working for,” he said of Reid. “He’s been ultra-successful. I’ve seen how he does things. My itch is some day to be in the same seat that he’s in. If that itch never comes, I’m happy. But that is my goal; it’s always been my goal.
“Whenever it comes, it comes. If it never comes, it never comes. To this point, I couldn’t have asked for a better guy to work for or a better career. In this business, it’s all about timing. If it doesn’t happen, I’m fine with that.”