What words describe former Tampa Bay nose tackle Brad Culpepper, who was one of the most engaging and entertaining Buccaneers we have ever interviewed? Intelligent. Outspoken. Witty. Brash. Confident. Disarming. Sincere. Blue collar. And brutally honest.
It was with great pleasure that Pewter Report caught up with Culpepper, whose hard-working ways and Florida roots made him a fan favorite next to Warren Sapp, for this two-part PR Conversation. So what has Culpepper been up to since leaving football behind around the turn of the century? With his law degree in hand, he worked his way to the top of the prestigious Morgan & Morgan law offices in Tampa. But after five years of honing his craft, Culpepper is branching out and starting his own law firm, Culpepper Kurland.
In part one of this PR Conversation, Culpepper tells Scott Reynolds why he became a lawyer, how he used humor in the locker room to help Tampa Bay’s D-line come together and discusses the future of Bucs head coach Jon Gruden.
Brad, you’ve been out of football for over half a decade. What are the best and worst things about not playing the game today?
“When you play football there is always a lot of moving because of the instability. I went from Tampa to Gainesville to go to law school in the offseason. I had also moved from Minnesota to Tampa Bay and then from Tampa to Chicago. Even though I ended up starting over 80 games and playing nine years, I was never that comfortable with any team. It seemed like they were always trying to draft somebody to take my spot, so I always rented instead of buying a place. If I would’ve known that I would play six years with the Bucs, I would have bought a place on the water. The uncertainty of the future was the part that I didn’t enjoy. Now, I really like that my roots are in Tampa and I can plan my summers and spend time with my kids. I know what’s happening around me. I don’t miss the uncertainty at all. What do I miss? Everyone says the camaraderie, but I still have that because I stay in touch with a lot of the guys. I was at a DeBartolo function the other night and I was talking with [ex-Tampa Bay Devil Rays player] Wade Boggs and [former NFL linebacker] Bill Romanowski. We were making fun of Wade because he played that baseball sport and he has to actually swing a bat around to get his aggression out. Obviously, Romanowski has had his share of vicious hits, like the one to Kerry Collins. And we were just talking about those. You just miss that explosive … I don’t want to say violent … it was fun to play the game. Sometimes it wasn’t fun playing somebody if they were really waxing you. But when you had things going well and you’re making sacks and tackles for loss and winning games, you are really playing well. It’s fun. It’s like a drug high. Not that I know, but it has to be like that kind of a high. It’s hard to replace that. You miss making that play and having the fans go crazy.”
For the fans that don’t know, you spent your final offseasons with the Bucs going to law school and getting your law degree. Now you are a legal eagle – I would say at Morgan & Morgan – but you just started your own practice on March 1. What prompted you to want to pursue law, and why after a couple of years at the top law firm in the state of Florida would you want to leave the nest and spread your wings?
“My NFL career lasted far longer than anyone, including myself, thought. I knew I was going to have to do something when I was done playing. You can only play golf and watch Oprah so many times. I could retire in my mid-30s, given my situation, but I have a long way to go before I die. What am I going to do? So I started planning in 1996. The Bucs allowed me to go to law school in the offseason. It was hard. It certainly wasn’t easy, but it was the best thing I ever did. Coming out of college football I was a 10th-round pick. Coming out of the NFL with my law degree I was like a first-round pick. I had an unbelievable opportunity to work right away with the Morgan & Morgan firm. Actually, it was Morgan, Colling & Gilbert back then. I was able to cut my teeth for five years with those guys. It was an excellent firm, but it was a large firm. Make no mistake. It’s the largest in the state of Florida, but I kind of had a Jerry McGuire moment to go out and do my own thing and maybe have more of a personal relationship with clients – more so than to be a part of a big machine. I have nothing but respect for Morgan & Morgan. It is an outstanding firm, but I am ready to spread my own wings.”
Brad, I paid you a visit last year at Morgan & Morgan to catch up on old times. You were one of my favorite guys to interview because you were always dishing out great quotes and had such a great knowledge of the game. If my memory serves me, you had a pretty nice high-rise office with a great view of downtown Tampa and were one of the top three lawyers in the entire firm. You certainly have been able to translate your success from the football field to the legal arena.
“It has gone extremely well. They did a great job of embracing me and teaching me the ropes. If I didn’t think I was prepared to do this, I wouldn’t do it. There was certainly some security there, but it is too easy to take the easy route in life. I’m very confident in myself. I would never bet against myself. I know the business and I know how it works. I can take it to the next level as the boss and make sure everything is done how I want it done with integrity. I’m real excited about it. I’m going out with my law partner, Brett Kurland, who is actually married to my sister. I’ve been with Morgan and Morgan for five years. He had been there for seven and he’s been in the top three producers for the firm for the past five years – if not number one. I’ve been in the top three for the past two years. We’re bringing some of the best people that work there with us. It’s exciting. It was really just like Jerry McGuire, too. We got up, picked up our fishbowl and said, ‘Who’s with us?’ Five of the best girls said they were with us. We’re called Culpepper Kurland. We’ve got a great office in the Bank of America building with a great view of downtown. So to all your readers, if they ever need to get a hold of me if they are in an accident, they can call me at 1-888-994-BRAD.”
Now wait a minute, why 99?
“You mean instead of 77? I couldn’t get 77, so I called up Warren Sapp and asked him for his blessing for 99. It’s a given that 77 would be in demand, so the next best thing would be 99!”
Of course. Now you’ve worn mini-dreadlocks in the past, Brad, and have been known to have an eclectic fashion sense, yet here you are with a suit and tie on. I can only imagine what you wore to your first job interview with your old firm.
“Being a Floridian, I never wear socks. When I went in for my first interview with John Morgan, I had a khaki suit, shoes and no socks. After I gave him my spiel, he looked at me and said, ‘You are going to come here and interview for a job with a suit and no socks? What kind of impression do you think that’s going to make?’ I said, ‘Hey John, it is what it is. That’s kind of the way I roll!’ Then he lifted his feet up onto the desk … and he wasn’t wearing any socks, either. So it was quite funny.”
I know you are still working in personal injury law. Is being a lawyer all you thought it would be when you were going to law school?
“There are so many areas of law. I really enjoy plaintiff work or personal injury law, which basically is trial work. Someone gets in an accident through no fault of their own and they are injured or there is a general liability situation. Sometimes there are squabbles between insurance companies as to the extent of someone’s injuries or who is to blame. I actually enjoy the dialogue between myself and my clients, and also the negotiation tactics that are involved with other adjustors or attorneys. It really is a game within itself and the battlefield is either negotiation mediation or a trial itself. The majority of our cases are settled prior to trial, but the only way to maximize the situation is to have your ducks in a row and understand what happened, understand the treatments, the pitfalls, the hurdles, etc. I like explaining the map of someone’s case to them. When it comes to conclusion and everybody is able to agree on something it is quite rewarding for people in our field because we get a percentage of whatever the settlement is. The other reason I like it is because you can work smart. I’m all about working smart. I got out of football because I was on a team – the Bears, after I left the Bucs – that was working hard, but not smart. I don’t want to dig a ditch just to dig a ditch. I’ll dig a ditch to find gold every day of the week. I just want to work smart. [Former Bucs defensive line coach] Rod Marinelli taught me the difference between working hard and working smart. During the season – win, lose or draw – we worked on our fundamental skills every day. But do you know what? I was getting better. If you get into a game and you aren’t quite sure what is happening when the bullets are flying, you can always fall back on your fundamentals. How do your fundamentals stay strong? By busting your butt every single day. It just wasn’t happening in Chicago. With this law practice, I like to work smart. I’ll work hard, but I’ll also work smart. With my cases, instead of billing by the hour like some law firms that will just bill you $300 an hour and fill up their day billing you by the hour, I’ll work smart. If I don’t do a good job and am not productive and efficient with my case, I’m not going to get paid. I like the fact that this is intrinsic to me giving my best to each case and working hard and working smart at the same time.”
What is your take on the Buccaneers, Brad? This is a big year for Jon Gruden and Bruce Allen. If they don’t right the ship in a hurry and either get to .500 or get to the playoffs, it may be their last in Tampa Bay.
“That’s the nature of the business. Jon’s been here and he’s won a Super Bowl. People need to quit giving Tony Dungy credit for that team. I love Tony. Would he have eventually won a Super Bowl here? Maybe, but he didn’t. He won one in Indy. He didn’t win it with the Bucs. He just didn’t. I give 100 percent of the credit to Jon Gruden. He took whomever he took, however that team was built – and I think Rich McKay deserves some credit too, because he was the G.M. – and won it. But it’s not about what you did yesterday, it’s about what you are going to do tomorrow. I think Jon is a great coach, I really do. As a pre-game analyst for Fox 13 – and I know this is against the grain – I swear the more I watch the game that a lot of it comes down to luck. Chris Simms played horribly the first two games and I think that was the key to their season going off so unexpectedly. I think Chris is a good quarterback and him getting hurt was unfortunate because I think if he could have stayed healthy all season the team would at least have gone 8-8 or maybe 9-7. Perhaps even 10-6, who knows? He was the key person to get injured, even though people would argue that he wasn’t playing very well. He was doing better against Carolina in the third game of the year and then he got hurt. If one key guy goes down the whole team can be altered.”
Especially at the quarterback position on Gruden’s team because his offense is quarterback-driven, unlike Mike Shula’s offense, which was more running back-driven.
“That’s right. If one of our running backs went down in Shula’s offense then that hurt us. Everybody can win every Sunday, but if a ball goes out of bounds instead of staying in bounds, or if there is a caused fumble instead of an incomplete pass it changes the whole complexion of the game. Is this team that went 4-12 that much different than the team that went 11-5? I don’t know. I don’t think so. If you look at film it comes down to one to two plays that decide wins or losses. But at the end of the day for Gruden, that’s what it comes down to – wins and losses.”
But if you look at 2005, the Bucs were healthy and they went 11-5. They were really injured last year and went 4-12.
“And if the Bucs lose this year – whether they stay healthy or not – he’s out. Gruden is gone. That’s just the way it goes. That’s not a dig on him, and firing him may not be the right thing to do, but sometimes that is the way that it goes.”
In your playing days, you embraced your role as the locker room jester with the team. Part of that is just your effervescent personality, but you also took it upon yourself to keep the egos in check in the locker room and keep the chins up through humor, didn’t you?
“You are absolutely right. I can be dry. I can be funny. It comes naturally to me, and I’m not tying to pump myself up here. People either get me, or they don’t. I can turn off plenty of people who don’t get my sense of humor. But I never tease anybody that I don’t like. Some people are very serious in life and I try not to tease them. It was just natural for me to goof around and lighten the mood. There were times when I did try to lighten things up because things would get mundane. I also had a lot of pranksters with me. We taped up guys to goal posts and we used to beat Sapp up. He would hide from me and Santana Dotson and we would go looking for him.”
How could he hide at little old One Buc Place? That place was so small.
“It was so funny. He used to go hide in the equipment room, which was always a mess and was really small. Do you remember the movie E.T. when E.T. hid in the closet with all of the stuffed animals? Sapp would hide underneath all of the jerseys and footballs and you couldn’t see him. You could smell him, but you couldn’t see him. We would laugh our butts off looking around for him. We also used to have the A.P. poll, for former defensive back Anthony Parker. We would do a locker room poll for Best Looking Buccaneer, or Most Know-It-All Buccaneer, which was total B.S. because I came in second to Sapp. But I really did know it all and should have been number one! I was very offended by that! We had one that was Most Buc Likely To Be Gay. I drummed up about 30 votes for John Lynch and he was so mad that he wanted to fight me! Trent Dilfer and I told him, ‘Hey John, we didn’t know!’ Of course, he isn’t gay. It was just fun to clown around, but it was hard to keep the peace between Chidi Ahanotu and Sapp. But that’s a story for another time.”
You actually saw how being funny and being a prankster was part of being a leader.
“We were 1-8 in 1996 and we weren’t playing real well. We weren’t having much fun and we really weren’t a group as a D-line. So I took it upon myself and told the guys that we need to go out and have some drinks every Thursday night, eat some pizza, have some fun and get to know each other. We started doing that, we won in San Diego and it just took off. That was really the beginning of my relationship with Sapp. Sometimes we had to meet at Rachel’s, which was a gentleman’s club, because Sapp said they had the best burgers in town. Yeah, right! Sometimes we had to go there to bond and to satisfy Sapp’s urges. Other times, we would go to a nice restaurant like Malio’s, which was a little less problematic. I just took it upon myself to keep the group together. I learned that from the veterans I played with up in Minnesota. Believe it or not, as outgoing as I was with the Bucs, I was just as introverted with the Vikings. I was very quiet. I was a 10th-round pick who was keeping my mouth shut and playing as hard as I could. I played with Jack Del Rio, Mike Tice, Greg Manusky, Chris Doleman, Johnny Randle, Mike Merriweather, Randall McDaniel, Rich Gannon and Cris Carter. That team was full of superstars. They were amazing and I learned so much from them. When I kind of became the guy to bring the D-line together in Tampa, I incorporated a lot of that wisdom from my Minnesota days. When some of the Vikings would see me raising hell out on the field they were a bit surprised.”
You saw how the stars became stars up in Minnesota and you knew how to help mold the guys like Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks and John Lynch so that they would be stars the right way.
“Correct. I roomed with John Lynch for six years on the road and in camp. I saw the maturation process. I saw him when he was about to get cut because he wasn’t big enough to be a linebacker for us. Now he’s an All-Pro. We had a good time together. All of us did. We had a great bond and we still do. People don’t understand that football is such a tough job and the pressure that goes along with being judged every day by the people whose opinions matter, like coaches and players, and by those whose opinions really don’t matter, like the media and sports radio. A lot of people that call in to talk radio have no idea what they are talking about. But you guys do – without a doubt, and you can put that on the record. Your publication is phenomenal and I think that just about every player read it – or at least they did when I was there at One Buc Place. We read your publication. A lot of the newspapers we wouldn’t even read. You did have the stuff that everybody read, and I’m not blowing smoke up your butt. Of course, we all hoped our picture was in your magazine. Actually, it was better when somebody else’s picture was in it because then you could draw Groucho Marx faces on it! I remember when I was on the cover looking all fashionable with my red velvet shirt and my white belt and my white patton leather shoes. That was a dartboard for a long time in the locker room!”
I do remember that. Speaking of One Buc Place, you got a chance to view the new team facility as part of Buccaneers Alumni Weekend. I got the chance to take the tour in February. What did you think of the Bucs’ new team facility?
“It looks like the remodeled Halas Hall in Chicago. I was talking to Derrick Brooks, and he said it is going to take a while for them to get used to it, especially the older players. At the old One Buc, we were on top of each other, but it built us stronger. We had a lot of fond memories of jackassing around that old place. Your showers are literally on top of each other. The steam room is on top of the toilets. It forced bonding and family fun. Now, hell, you have to get on an intercom if someone in the weight room wants to talk to someone in the bathroom. ‘I’ll send a shuttle down to get you!’ Back in the old days, you could be doing the bench press and talking to a guy in the hot tub at the same time! Derrick misses that. But in this day and age of free agency, you have to have a new facility. New players that come in, they aren’t going to know or care about the old One Buc. They are only going to know these top-notch facilities. But for us that played back in the day, we kind of relished the old ‘Woodshed.’”
This article originally appeared in the Free Agency Issue of Pewter Report in March. Visit PewterReport.com on Sunday, March 24 for Part II of the Pewter Report Conversation with Brad Culpepper.
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