ELYRIA — Devlin Culliver’s resume “jumped off the page,” according to Elyria School Board member Kevin Brubaker, and he skyrocketed to the top of the list of candidates.
Elyria settled on Culliver, 51, as its football coach, and he was introduced by athletic director Heather Beck on Wednesday night at a board meeting. His appointment was approved unanimously.
“It’s a big opportunity for me,” said Culliver, who replaces Sean Arno, whose contract wasn’t renewed after two seasons. “It’s a big Division I school. That’s always been my goal to get to the biggest school I can get to. When this job opened up, it was a good opportunity for me so I jumped on it.”
“No doubt, we’ve hired the right gentleman,” Superintendent Dr. Thomas Jama said.
“He just rang to the entire committee through our conversation of having like experiences of a high schooler himself as our students and kids have,” Principal Tim Brown said. “Being that kid that kind of sat on the bench and finally someone noticed him and gave him a chance and the opportunity that led to him having the opportunity to play at a collegiate level.”
Culliver, who played four years as a defensive back at Ohio University, is an art instructor at Maple Heights. He’ll join the Elyria High staff as a visual arts instructor. Culliver has been a classroom teacher for 25 years and a football coach for 20.
“I’ve been an artist since I was a little boy,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to be an artist and teach art. That’s what I do well. Love teaching kids how to draw and paint. It’s a little strange because nobody ever sees a football coach being an art teacher. I sort of broke the mold a little bit with that.”
He was an assistant under Maple Heights coach Shaq Washington this past season after being the head coach for six seasons. He compiled a 32-29 mark with the Mustangs.
Previously he was the head coach at Painesville Harvey, going 15-15 in three years, including a pair of Northeastern Conference championships. He played his high school football at Youngstown Cardinal Mooney.
“There were a lot of positive articles about him and things that he’s done for his former players,” Beck said. “Helping them achieve their goals of attending college and playing football. Even when I spoke to his references, they said if they could still coach with him, they would. Everyone spoke very fondly of him.”
Culliver wants Elyria to be a winner on the field, and he wants to develop relationships and trust on the way. He’s excited with the new Ely Stadium and facilities and is looking forward to the new venture.
“Everybody wants to win state championships and league championships,” Culliver said. “I want that just as bad as the next coach but I don’t want to do it compromising the character of a young man.
“In today’s society, these young guys have so much to deal with. I always try to look at football as two different phases. One phase is building the character of a kid and the other phase is building a football player. They are two separate things and we have to concentrate hard on both of them.”
As for getting to know the players, Culliver is trying to get a jump-start.
“Coach Arno and his staff did a good job of laying some detailed bricks for us to build from,” he said. “I know the team was young so we want to take those young guys and take them to the next step. The GCC (Greater Cleveland Conference) is a tough league, but we can’t use that as an excuse. Elyria’s a big school. In a big conference, you have to play big.”
Culliver is the author of the book “Winning the Toss,” in which he chronicles his experiences with his father and all the kids he’s been involved with over the years.
“It turned into how I deal with young men using football to make them become better people,” he said.
Culliver will begin the process of selecting his staff. He didn’t want to do anything official until the board approved his hire.
“I wanted to make sure I got here first,” he said with a grin. “Starting (today) I’ll start getting guys in line and getting the staff all in order.”
Given his background at Cardinal Mooney, Culliver understands the legacy of winning programs.
“I’m big on tradition,” Culliver said. “I want to carry on the tradition here and add to it. That’s one of my football goals.”