The Chiefs hired Cullen as their new defensive line coach, and he brings an intangible to Steve Spagnuolo’s defensive staff that should boost the 2022 Chiefs defense – he is a true Football Guy.
Chiefs Focus @ChiefsFocus Charles Robinson @CRob5769
Look at the photo above. That is a man who could not be more uncomfortable in a dress shirt. That is the look and body language of a man who knows exactly how much time he has until he can get out of that shirt and back into his natural attire – a team dry fit shirt or hoodie, and behind a screen either studying film or on the practice field screaming until he’s hoarse at 3 techniques who don’t play with enough leverage. Low man always wins.
This is a football guy. This is new Chiefs defensive line coach Joe Cullen. Kansas City hired Cullen on Friday to replace Brendan Daly, who will be shifting gears and coaching linebackers in 2022 after Matt House took the defensive coordinator job under new head coach Brian Kelly at LSU. Cullen brings over 30 years of coaching experience, some pretty good stories, and a massive track record of success to Chiefs Kingdom. He will be an integral part of getting the most out of a unit that some criticized (most due to their share of the salary cap) in 2021.
So where did Joe Cullen come from? Well, most recently he served as the defensive coordinator for the Jacksonville Jaguars, but over the course of his career spanning back to 1990 he’s made numerous stops at both the pro and collegiate ranks. His first break in the NFL was with the Lions in 2006. Those teams were atrocious under head coach Rod Marinelli, but Cullen coached up his defensive line well – in 3 years he coached 4 different players to career high sack totals. After a brief stint at Idaho State he picked back up with the Jacksonville Jaguars as their defensive line coach from 2010 to 2012 and sculpted a defensive front that ranked sixth in rushing yards allowed and fifth in yards per carry.
When Cullen took the defensive line job in Cleveland is when his career really started to take off. While he was only there for one season, the Browns 41 sacks and 3.9 yards per carry allowed were the best the franchise had recorded in nearly two decades. In Tampa, the lone stop where Cullen coached a 4-3 defensive scheme (the Chiefs scheme) the team ranked seventh in the NFL in combined sacks and tackles for loss in his first season. In his second, the rush defense improved from seventh in the league (2014) to second in yard per attempt. He was responsible for Gerald McCoy’s career skyrocketing as a Buccaneer when he led the team in sacks in back-to-back seasons and made back-to-back Pro Bowls. In Baltimore, his defensive lines were top 5 in rush defense every season except for 2017. He’s coached guys like McCoy, Timmy Jernigan, Brandon Williams, and Shaun Rodgers to the best individual seasons of their careers. He developed Josh Allen (Jacksonville) into one of the league’s best pass rushers this past season. Jacksonville’s defense this season was not one of the best in the league, but he was able to improve the unit from 27th before he arrived to 16th overall as the defensive coordinator. They also ended the year with 32 sacks as a team compared to 18 in 2020.
If he can do the same in Kansas City with the likes of Chris Jones, potentially Frank Clark, Melvin Ingram, and Jarran Reed, and whomever else the Chiefs may add in the draft and free agency, the front 4 will look much much different and be a much-improved group in 2022.
While his impact on the field is measurable and by all accounts massively successful, the impact he’s had in his players lives, on them as men, has been even more impactful. When the Jaguars fired Urban Meyer last year, and the season drew near it’s close, it was evident that there would be sweeping changes made in Jacksonville heading into 2022. There was an outcry from the Jags defensive players – no matter what we do, keep Joe Cullen. He is a players coach. When defensive players were ruled out on the COVID-19/reserve list, Cullen would call them every day to check in on them. Not just one or two guys – every guy. Myles Jack and Josh Allen were particularly vocal about their connection with Cullen, with Jack going as far as to say “He’s a leader of men. He can get people to do things and you believe what he says. I have his back 100%. I love coach Cullen and everyone has a great relationship with him.”
Part of this probably comes from where Cullen came from. There’s a reason he had to jump to Idaho State after a successful start with the Lions. I’m not going to go into great detail about it, but if you want to find it you can. He’s a changed man, and he appreciates what he has in the NFL, whether he’s a defensive line coach, defensive coordinator, or a ball boy. In a lot of ways, back in 2006, football saved Joe Cullen. He’s grateful to the game, players love him, and he’s got a track record of proven results everywhere he’s been. That’s what makes a football guy a football guy. The Chiefs made a great hire to lead their defensive front into 2022 and (hopefully) beyond.