Culliver, who played his high school football at Youngstown Cardinal Mooney with Mark ‘Bo' Pelini, began his coaching career at his high school alma mater in 1991. He coached there as an assistant for one year before he got married and moved to the Cleveland area where he eventually became an assistant coach at East Cleveland Shaw High School in 1995. He was the defensive coordinator there from 1995 to ‘98 before he became the head coach of the Cardinals in 1999.
After four years at the helm at Shaw, Culliver moved on to Warrensville Heights where he had a three-year stint as the head man of the Tiger program before he moved on to his current position at Harvey.
"The Harvey thing sort of just fell into my lap," Culliver said. "I was teaching out at Harvey but I was still coaching at Warrensville when the coach at Harvey, John Buskirk, found out that he had cancer so he resigned and they immediately offered me the job on the spot. He's still battling with that disease right now and he's doing pretty well off-and-on."
Harvey finished the year 4-6 last season. Warrensville Heights was 6-4. But Culliver took over the program at Harvey to help provide more than just wins.
"They were right on the brink of trying to get over the hump as far as the wins go," Culliver said. "But one of the main issues at Harvey was the scholarship deal, helping the kids go on to college. There's a lot of good athletes in Painesville but they weren't getting any scholarships. So that was, pretty much, one of the main reasons why the AD jumped on me so fast. He saw a need that I could help fill."
While he was at Shaw, Culliver helped guys like Sean Coffey, a prolific wide receiver at Missouri now with the San Diego Chargers, and others get scholarships. Ronald Bailey, Shaw's all-time leading rusher, got a full scholarship to Bowling Green; Scooter McDougle, currently the starting tailback at Toledo; and Reggie Smith, who signed with Ohio State but no longer plays for Ohio State, were other prominent recruits he helped get scholarships. And at Warrensville, Culliver coached Chris Rowell (pictured, right), who signed with Iowa in 2005. Both schools combined, Culliver helped send a whole host of his kids to other MAC, Division I-AA and Division II schools.
And in the wake of his departure at Warrensville, Culliver helped send a group of his former Tigers off to Glenville High School. Players like Lebron Daniel, Shawntel Rowell - Chris' younger brother, and Otis Merrill are just three of the big names that went on to become Tarblooders for this upcoming season.
"I would go further and say it was more than just my blessing, it was an action that I put into place," Culliver said. "When I left there, speaking to the AD at Warrensville, I told him that I wanted to make sure the kids that I left behind were going to be with a coaching staff that was going to make sure they got the exposure to get them into school like I had been doing with them.
"They sort of drug their feet in hiring somebody and I didn't want to wait. So I sort of picked the four or five best guys who I knew were going to be Division I kids if they were playing for me and I, pretty much, convinced their parents into making a move - however they had to get down to Glenville - whether it was a custody change or they had to actually get up and move into the Glenville area so they could play for Ted Ginn."
Coach Ginn is somewhat of a mentor to Culliver.
"I take it as a compliment when people say that I'm another version of Ted Ginn because he's doing a lot of stuff for kids and I love kids just as much as he does," Culliver said. "That's my whole goal, to help my young kids get into school. I've watched Coach Ginn build up that program from nothing and he bases his whole program around helping kids. I think that's why I've been able to get high school football jobs so easily because I come in thinking kids first and wins second."
But the Harvey situation that he now finds himself in is almost too good to be true.
"It's funny because when I started working there before I became the coach, I would see all of these kids walk around the halls and I'd watch all of these athletes run up and down the court and dunk a basketball and I saw they really had some athletes out here," Culliver said. "So I started to do a little research on the program and they've always had Division I-type athletes in the city of Painesville, black kids and white kids, and nobody sort of new about these kids.
"So when I went out there, knowing all of the college coaches that I know, it was sort of a blessing in disguise that I could take this small town and expose it to the whole world and help expose all of those football players to the college football world."
And according to Culliver, the facilities at Harvey, a Division III school, are second to none.
"They probably have some of the best facilities I've ever seen at a small high school," Culliver said. "I have a full-time coaching staff, there's a full-time grass crew and I have nearly an unlimited budget. They have a great booster club at Harvey, they make all of their booster money off of bingo. Every Sunday night there's a bingo and they make thousands of dollars every Sunday night, every Sunday of the year. The only thing the coaches have to do is go help sell the bingo tickets and as long as we go and sell those tickets, the booster club will get us anything we want.
"Whatever I tell them I need, they get it for me. That's the first time this has ever happened for me. It was really a blessing in disguise that I fell into this place."
And the players that were already at Harvey when Culliver took over are starting to garner some recognition in the recruiting circles already.
Jeff Spikes, for instance, a 6-7 and 315-pound tackle, is one of the best athletes that Culliver has ever been around.
Offensive tackle Jeff Spikes
"This kid has been a basketball player for a couple of years but he missed football last year because he broke his foot," the coach said. "We went to about 10 colleges this summer and every college we went to loves him. They just need to see some game tape on him."
Ever since Culliver took Spikes to the Browns Elite Combine at Cleveland Stadium in the spring, everything has been going great for the big linemen with regards to recruiting. The University of Pittsburgh is one of the biggest offers that Spikes has already landed.
"I only had to take him to one place, the Browns combine, on April 23, it was a Tuesday afternoon, and the next day he was all over the Internet," Culliver said. "That was the first time that he had done anything since he got the cast off his foot. And ever since then he's been one of the most highly-recruited, unknown lineman in the state. Everybody is calling me about this kid and he didn't even play last year."
Spikes started as a freshman on the varsity at Harvey and again for half of the season in his sophomore year until he sustained a knee injury. He finished the basketball season in his sophomore year but at the end of his sophomore year, at a track meet, he was throwing the shot put, and his foot really started to bother him.
"The doctor told him that he was playing on a broken foot for the past year and a half," said Culliver, who said he broke the fifth metatarsal bone (the small toe) on his right foot. "He said he always felt pain in it but he didn't want to stop playing. So he missed his whole junior year football season and the whole basketball season and this is the point where we're at now. But I have to give the kid some credit for playing on it for a couple of years when he didn't even know it was broken."
Some of those schools that Spikes visited have promised him everything but a scholarship. He attended Ohio State's senior camp as well.
"A lot of the college coaches who have seen him don't even want a game tape on him, they want a scrimmage tape on him," Culliver said. "If the kid is blocking and he's moving around, then they'll offer him and make him a project. That's sort of the program that we have him on for now. I just want him to do enough to get that free ride and get out of the city of Painesville. Anything else is a bonus."
And having a young play maker already in the program like Chris Fields (pictured right) in your first year is also a bonus.
"Chris Fields, in my opinion, is one of the best athletes that I've seen come around since Teddy Ginn and Ray Small," said Culliver of Fields, a 6-0, 175-pound sophomore wide receiver and defensive back this season. "He's got all of that ability that you can't coach. All he needs to learn is the finer points of playing football which is my job to coach him. He should take that league, the NEC, by storm and without a doubt be the player of the year there for the next three years.
"And he plays baseball. He's one of the best baseball players in the state."
And Culliver has a solid supporting cast at Harvey led by David ‘The Rat' Garrett and Marlin Portis, two transfers from Glenville.
"David Garrett is one of the top defensive back prospects in the state and Marlin Portis is an up-and-comer," the coach said.
Both Garret (pictured below) and Portis were stuck somewhere in the middle in the aftermath of the shooting death of Anthony Gordon of Glenville at a Cleveland night club a few months ago.
"David and Marlin were pretty good friends with the kid that got killed but they were also good friends with the accused guy who did this crime. So they were sort of caught in the middle," Culliver said. "Since me and Teddy Ginn are friends, he called me and told me that he was concerned about a safety risk for them there and he didn't want the two kids to be in a situation where they would have to choose sides or have to choose who they're going to show their allegiance to.
"So he sent them out to me. And since I had already sent him those kids from Warrensville it was just like he was returning the favor. But again, this was done in the best interest of the kids. If he leaves those two kids at Glenville, not only might they get hurt but every other kid at Glenville and in his football program is at risk. So in a situation like that he could have easily sent them off to any school but he chose to send them to me because he knows that I'm in it for the kids and not for the wins. And of course having those two on my team is going to help us win."
The returning starter at quarterback, Micky Mohner, is going to help Harvey win a few games also.
"He'll be a junior this year and he threw for over 1,000 yards last year," said Culliver of his 6-2, 175-pound signal caller. "He's a real good baseball player and the athletic director is his father. He's a real smart kid and he's getting looked at right now by some of the Ivy League teams.
Junior quarterback Micky Mohner
"He wants to go to Bowling Green because his parents went to BG and right now his top D-I school is Bowling Green. But he's definitely a scholarship kid. It's just going to depend on what level."
Culliver insisted that all of these guys, along with some other talented prospects on the roster, will help this Painesville school add to their proud history of football dating back to the 1940's when Don Shula played for Harvey.
"It wasn't until probably 2000 where they sort of tapered off a little bit and hit a little stale point of having a few losing seasons," Culliver said. "But they've always had winning teams at the school."
And they have a great built-in rivalry game as well. It's called the ‘Battle of Painesville' and it's contested with neighboring Riverside High School.
"They've been playing that game for over 50 years and nobody knows about it in Ohio except for the people out that way," Culliver said. "Right now Riverside is winning by about four games but Riverside has beaten Harvey for the last 12 years. Riverside is the school for the stereotypical richer kids while Harvey is supposed to be the poorer kids. There's a lot of drama built-in. I'm sort of like Jim Tressel when it comes to rivalries. I'm talking about it all the time. I was pumping it up the first day I got there."
For that reason and others, Culliver is clearly excited about the opportunity in front of him.
"I'm excited about this season because it's another chance for me to coach football and a chance for me to help some kids that are in tough situations. And that's how I look at it every year," he said. "But this time around I can tell that it's really going to be something special here at Harvey."