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South names Scotland County assistant Joe Cullen as new football coach

Joe Cullen talks about his plans for the South Davidson football program on Friday afternoon at the school after being named the as the new coach. (Photo by Mike Duprez/The Dispatch)

DENTON | Joe Cullen has done a lot of things in his life ranging from being a college athlete to a long career in broadcast media and, finally, as an assistant coach in high school football.

The 43-year-old Missouri native decided recently he wanted his own program and now he has it. Cullen was formally introduced Friday afternoon by South principal as the Wildcats’ new football coach.

“It provided me with a smaller opportunity,” Cullen said. “The reason I went into education was to coach. I wanted to find a smaller community school where we could really put together a program and become a fabric of the community and work to develop a program from the ground up.”

Cullen spent the 2012 season on the staff at Scotland County, a traditionally powerful 4-A school. The head coach of the Fighting Scots’ junior varsity, Cullen was a quarterback coach for the varsity.

Considering that Scotland went 12-2 and won 11 straight games before losing 23-6 in the semifinals to eventual state champion New Bern, that was more than enough to put a big smile on Lawson’s face.

“We’re getting someone who has a winning attitude and has been around a strong program,” Lawson said. “We’re excited about that.”

South has mostly struggled in football over the years. The Wildcats were 1-10 in 2012 and are 18-86 over the past nine years. South was dealt a tragic blow when head coach Mike Crowell died in 2012. Kevin Bowers was interim coach for the last month of the 2012 season.

South has first rate facilities lauded by many, but participation in football has been low. There were just 43 players on the varsity and JV combined. But Cullen believes he will change that.

“It’s in the expectation,” Cullen said. “If I do my part, go out and talk to the middle school kids, the pee wee youth kids and create an environment where the expectations are the program is going to be successful, the kids will participate. If the kids feel like they have an opportunity, they will come out.”

The wait won’t be long. Cullen starts at the high school on Jan. 22. He will teach career management and multimedia web design. A weight training program for the football players will begin in about two weeks, Cullen said.

A further boost will be provided by one of South’s own, Chris Simpson. Currently the strength coach at South Robeson, Simpson will also start on Jan. 22. Simpson was a state championship wrestler for the Wildcats and attended UNC Pembroke on a wrestling scholarship.

“It’s not just me that’s coming,” Cullen said.

Cullen’s path to Denton took many turns.

An all-state quarterback at St. Clair High School, Cullen was a two-sport letterman (football and track) at Arkansas State, where he graduated with a bachelor’s in communications. Cullen spent 20 years in broadcast media advertising, sports marketing and was a color analyst for high school and college football and basketball broadcasts.

Cullen was on the staff at Victory Christian in Charlotte as an assistant football coach and head softball coach before he went to Scotland in 2012.

“He’s got a lot of experience in a lot of areas,” Lawson said. “He’s a big character guy and that’s the No. 1 thing. He’ll be a great role model for our kids. He has played the game at a high level. The kids will look up to him.”

Going from a 4-A conference regarded as one of the best in the state to the 1-A Yadkin Valley Conference doesn’t faze Cullen even though he won’t be facing the likes of Richmond County and Hoke County anymore.

“If you haven’t seen Richmond and Scotland play, it’s like going to a small college game,” Cullen said. “But the Yadkin Valley is a strong conference. They’ve got Albemarle and South Stanly.”

Cullen and his wife, Jennifer, have been married for 21 years. They have four daughters.

Mike Duprez can be reached at 249-3981, ext. 218 or