Former Bucs DT Brad Culpepper has opened up his own firm, Culpepper Kurland, with his brother-in-law, Brett Kurland. Now the outspoken attorney opens up to Bucs fans about his playing days in Tampa Bay, his friendship with Warren Sapp and why Culpepper is the right legal eagle for you in the second part of the Pewter Report Conversation.
In last month’s installment of the Pewter Report Conversation, former Bucs defensive tackle Brad Culpepper discussed his departure from the famous Morgan & Morgan law firm and the grand opening of his own Tampa-based law firm, Culpepper Kurland. Culpepper founded the practice in March with his brother-in-law (literally) and fellow Morgan & Morgan ace attorney, Brett Kurland.
In part two of this Pewter Report Conversation, Scott Reynolds discusses Culpepper’s gig as a Bucs analyst on Fox 13’s pre-game show with Chip Carter, gets his thoughts on the player who replaced him, Anthony “Booger” McFarland, and his views on the interesting relationship Culpepper has with former Buccaneers defensive tackle – the vociferous and volatile Warren Sapp.
Would Culpepper have liked to have played for Jon Gruden? Did he get more satisfaction from the Bucs winning the Super Bowl in 2002 or from his Florida Gators winning the national title last year? What makes him a great lawyer? Continue reading for the answers.
You’ve stayed connected to Bucs football by being on Chip Carter’s Tailgate Sunday pre-game show on Fox 13. What’s the best part of being an analyst and a member of the dreaded media? “Well, the worst part is that now I am a member of the media! It’s difficult sometimes to give an honest, unbiased opinion because I am contemporaries with a lot of the players.”
But you are really honest, though. That’s one of the things I appreciate about you as an ex-player turned analyst. You tell it like it is and I your analysis is spot on. “I try to tell it like it is. I’m a big fan of Chip Carter. I like Chip a lot. I’m a big fan of his and have a lot of respect for him. He is a really brilliant newscaster. He’s witty and funny. I really didn’t know Chip four years ago when we started out, but I’ve really grown quite fond of Chip. He’s really at the top of the game. I’m not just saying that because I work with him. He’s a good conduit for me to be myself. He’s not rigid. I’m smart enough to realize what I can and can’t say, but I enjoy being honest. I like to be humorous. In one key to the game last year, I said the key to the game was to ‘Lower your expectations, Buccaneers. You’re not going to win.’ Sometimes it’s hard. We all knew that Anthony McFarland was not living up to what they paid him and it was a little hard for me to express that because it would come across as sour grapes because I got cut because of Booger. Do I think he was as good a player as me? No way. Do I think cutting me was a bad decision? Yes. I wish they didn’t, but do I understand the Bucs’ thought process? Yes. I think it was a mistake to get rid of me that year. They could have waited a year or two. I think it was a mistake to get rid of John Lynch. But in this business, you win some and you lose some. As a G.M. or a coach, you have to make future decisions. Sometimes you have to take a step back to take a step forward. It’s a gamble. My most beloved coaches and the ones I respect the most are the ones who got rid of me. I love Tony Dungy. He was the greatest coach besides my high school coach I ever played for. But Tony, Monte Kiffin and Rod Marinelli – those are the three that got rid of me. I have the utmost respect for them even though they cut me. I don’t hold a grudge. It was a business decision. Now back to McFarland, I respect him as a player, but I don’t think he necessarily fit the position the Bucs asked him to play. He’s not a Warren Sapp and he’s not a Brad Culpepper, either.”
I think McFarland was quick and was a good athlete, but I think his instincts were average at best. He can’t handle the responsibility as a three-technique tackle and he’s better off as a nose tackle. His best years in Tampa Bay were at the nose. He was shipped to Indy and he was put back at the nose. I also think the guy might love golf more than football. What say you? “Look at his stats. How many sacks did he have [20 sacks in 7.5 years]? I had 33 sacks in six years here. I was a nose guard. There was only one other player that had eight sacks and 80 tackles in a season. I had over 80 tackles two years in a row. Guys don’t get that many tackles now along the defensive line. I had 8.5 and nine sacks two years in a row.”
Your sack total was impressive because of the position you played. As a nose, your job was to draw the double team. “Correct. I think Chris Hovan is a good nose guard. He plays the nose well, but he doesn’t get the sacks. Why is that? Is it because I was better than these guys? I don’t know. Probably not. I was a great football player, but I wasn’t overly talented. I was pretty quick. I was pretty strong. But I could close my eyes and play nose guard. I knew the position inside and out. I was a damn good nose guard.”
And you were 277 pounds? “At best. I weighed in at 256 pounds after the Bucs-Packers playoff game in 1997. I weighed in at 256 pounds after that game. I don’t apologize for anything I did in the game of football. I played as hard as I could and I got the most out of my abilities than I ever thought I could.”
But given your size – you’re 199 pounds right now – you really won a lot of your battles mentally. It was just as much mental as it was physical, right? “Absolutely. I knew what was going to happen on offense. I was able to put Warren Sapp in the best position to make a play. I knew which direction the center was sliding to. I knew which running back was chipping. I knew what Chidi Ahanotu’s best move was and I would call the best play so that we both could be successful, whether it was him slanting down and me going around, or me going first and him coming around behind me. I knew how to put Sapp in a one-on-one against a guard where he could run a ‘game’ with Regan Upshaw. I would put them into positions to be successful. Do they do that now? I don’t know. I really haven’t seen that. I think I brought a different aspect to the position. I think the guys looked to me as a … I don’t want to say leader because Sapp did so much on the field to lead us. But mentally, they came to me. Sapp was our barbarian. He was Achilles. You put him out front and let him go kick some ass. I was more of a field general. When we played Minnesota in 1998 they were undefeated and we weren’t playing real well, although we were playing well that day. They were the number one passing offense and we had used up every single rush game that we had by the fourth quarter. Well, there was one left. It was called ‘Nasty.’ We ran it on jack-around Fridays at practice when we were goofing off. We never ran it in the game. The way it works is that Chidi and Sapp are on the left and I’m at the nose on the right side of the center. Sapp and Chidi run a TEX game (tackle-end-cross) with Sapp going first. Normally, the tackle goes up the field and then the end comes up underneath him. That tackle has to have outside contain. He’s going outside where the end is looping around and coming underneath. You can’t have Randall Cunningham breaking contain. Well, the ‘Nasty’ call was designed to give the offense the false sense of security that Sapp was washed inside and that outside of the right tackle was open. Chidi slants downward, Sapp slants downward and all of a sudden, Randall thinks he has a clear opening to run to the right. But on the snap of the ball, I take off running to my left behind Sapp and Chidi. I had outside containment. Cunningham runs into me, I sack him, end of game. We were killing them on our TEX games earlier in the game, so we fooled their right tackle, Korey Stringer, and I came around and got the sack. I loved the mental part of football. I remember running over to the sidelines and seeing Monte shaking his head saying, ‘Pep, I can’t believe you won the game on a ‘Nasty’ call.’ The players loved that. I still have a picture of me and Sapp hugging after that game.”
Tell me about your relationship with Sapp. You guys seemed like the Odd Couple from the outside looking in. “Sapp and I had a great relationship. He’s a difficult egg to crack. I had to earn his friendship and I did. When I first got there I was just a punk-ass white boy. But I played football. He respected my ability. He respected my mind. He respected the fact that I respected him. Sapp is smart. He’s very perceptive. He’s a bright guy. He respected the fact that I was a baller. I came and played hard every Sunday. He would look at me sometimes and say, ‘How did you make that play?’ Sometimes I didn’t know myself. We would be arguing at the line of scrimmage when we were down in our stances. I’d tell him to run a certain ‘game’ and he would say, ‘Hell no! I ain’t running that!’ I would say, ‘Just shut up and run it!’ Then he would and get a sack. After a couple of those times, he would tell me, ‘Whitey was right! Pep, I’ll never doubt you again!’ We would have a lot of fun during the game. Those Coca-Cola ship races up on the JumboTron during timeouts in the games – we would bet on those. He’d put down $20 on Coke and I’d pick Diet Coke. We’d laugh about that. Those are memories you can never replicate and I cherish them. I know he does, too. Whenever we see each other, we always laugh about old times.”
You were a key contributor on one of the best defensive lines in Tampa Bay history. How surprising was it see Monte Kiffin’s defense fall out of the top 10 for the first time in 10 years? The pass rush was always something that the Tampa 2 was predicated on and it didn’t materialize last year under new defensive line coach Jethro Franklin. “They had the talent with Simeon Rice, Dewayne White and Greg Spires, who I like and I think is a lot like Chidi Ahanotu. Did Booger have the talent that Sapp had? No. But Booger had the talent to have six sacks per season. It all comes down to coaching, and this is why I loved Rod Marinelli. When we had a bad game we all would blame ourselves. When we played during the pewter days, we generally played pretty well every game. Some games were tougher than others. But if we lost, Rod would stand up and say, ‘This is my fault. It was my fault you guys didn’t play better.’ And we bought into that and performed. We would go out that next Wednesday and we would bust our ass. He would make us better because he said, ‘Next week, it’s not going to be my fault. We’re going to win. We’re going to dominate.’ They didn’t have that last year with Jethro Franklin. That was clear as day the first time I met the guy. I know how to read people. Looking at performance, because that’s how you are judged as a coach, they were not motivated and they didn’t have the skills to get the job done. This new guy [defensive line coach Larry Coyer], I don’t know him but he needs to take a page from Rod’s playbook. He might have his own style because he’s been around a lot, but he needs to connect with these players and make them be the best they can be. That’s easier said than done.”
How frustrating was it dealing with the Bucs’ struggling offense when your defense was so dominant? I’ve always had a theory that you defensive guys terrorized the offense so much during training camp that by the time the regular season came the offense didn’t have any confidence. Any truth to that? “You really don’t go against the first-team offense that much in the regular season, so yeah, it would have to be in training camp if we terrorized them. Yeah, I guess we did! Tony Dungy’s style was just to be very conservative on offense and build up the defense. To be honest with you, the offense just wasn’t very good to begin with. Trent Dilfer was young and he tried to do too much. When somebody figured out what his skills were and how to get him to play within himself, he won a Super Bowl with Baltimore. I loved that about Trent. He has a lot of confidence, but now he knows how to best play quarterback and help teams win games. I don’t think he knew that at first with the Buccaneers. We probably terrorized Trent more in the locker room or the training room than we did on the field. Maybe that put too much pressure on him.”
You played for Tony Dungy. Would you have liked to play for Jon Gruden? “I would have loved it. They are different, but they are both passionate. They are different, but I could play for either of them. I loved Tony, but Gruden’s style is more my style. He’s kind of ‘in your face.’ He reminds me a lot of Urban Meyer, to tell you the truth, and I like Urban Meyer a lot. Urban’s my guy.”
Well of course, especially after he led your alma mater, the Florida Gators, to the National Championship. “No, no, no. He was my guy before the season. I actually spoke to the team before the season. I spoke to them during the middle of two-a-days and asked the Gators, ‘Are you better at the end of the day than you were at the beginning of the day? If you are not, then you are wasting time. Quit jacking around!’ It was an X-rated speech, man! The players loved it! Urban asked me back to speak to the team before LSU, before Alabama and then against FSU. He should have had me speak to them before the Auburn game! I actually got an award at their end-of-year banquet for Former Gator Player of the Year for 2006. I got a trophy and everything. I would have loved to play for Urban or a guy like Jon Gruden. I wonder if Jon’s style is not better suited for college sometimes. I would have enjoyed playing for Gruden because I played hard. He would have loved me.”
The draft is approaching. What were your draft day thoughts when you were coming out of Florida? You were a highly decorated All-American. You even won the Draddy Award for the smartest football player in college, yet you were a 10th-round pick. “Man, I didn’t get invited to the Combine. Nobody wanted a 6-foot-1, 250-pound nose guard. I wasn’t even home when Dennis Green called me to let me know I was a Viking. He left a message. I called him back and told him that I was getting married the weekend of the first mini-camp. I was basically a holdout as a 10th-round pick! That wasn’t very good. Dennis Green said, ‘You can’t cancel that?’ I said, ‘My wedding?! Uh … no!’ I think they drafted me just because of my boat accident in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico. Our boat sunk and my dad and I survived out in the water for about 12 hours. We got rescued in the middle of the night. They figured if I survived 12 hours in the Gulf of Mexico treading water that I could survive training camp and give the starters a rest. That’s the only reason they drafted me. I actually led the entire NFL in preseason sacks with 5.5 in four games.”
Tell me about when the Bucs called you in and let you go in 2000. “Neither Rich McKay nor Tony Dungy called me. It was little Mark Dominik. He was the ‘Turk.’ I guess Mark is some big shot over there now, but he was a little kid when I was a Buc. No, I like Mark a lot. He does a great job. Hopefully he becomes a G.M. one day. Then I can say it was actually a G.M. who cut me. I was surprised that Tony didn’t call me because that’s not his style. Dick Jauron called me when he cut me in Chicago. I think it was such a hard cut to make that he didn’t want to do it. I don’t think Rich had much to do with it. It was Tony, Monte and Rod. I was shocked, but I wasn’t violent about it at all. I did go back into One Buc Place and stole some pictures of me off the wall. Hey, they were going to throw them out anyway! No, they actually gave them to me. They were my going away present in lieu of the gold watch.”
What was better for you – watching the Buccaneers win the Super Bowl during the 2002 season, or watching your Gators win the National Championship in January? “Do you want me to be honest with you? I thoroughly enjoyed watching the Gators beat Ohio State and win their National Championship a lot more than the Bucs winning their Super Bowl. I do like the Bucs, but when they won the Super Bowl, it was too close to me being cut. To tell you the truth, I was a little bit jealous, which is only natural. I said, ‘Dangit, I could have been on that team.’ I was happy for John and Sapp and all of my guys, but the human element of it was there. I wanted a Super Bowl ring. It was somewhat bittersweet. I’m just being honest with you and I think the fans that read this would appreciate that. I would probably enjoy the Bucs winning a Super Bowl more now. I’m much more of a Buccaneers fan now that time has gone by. It was just hard. As for the Gators, I got to know that team and spoke before them quite a bit. I had my kids in the locker room and got a game ball after the LSU game. I got an award at the end of the year banquet and I was over at Urban Meyer’s house after the banquet talking shop. I really enjoyed getting to know that team and I took great pride in watching them win a championship.”
I know what made you a great football player. It was your intelligence as much as it was your physical ability. But it was also your attention to detail on the field and in the film room. But what makes you a great lawyer? “You’re going to find people that know law more than me. There are plenty of bookworms out there that can cite every case there is. I can do that, too. I know how to work smart. If I need to figure something out, I can figure anything out. But I understand people and I’m a good listener. I know how to correspond with another attorney or a claims adjustor in a way that is respectful. Much of what I do in this type of practice is dealing with people. At times I need to be firm, and boy, can I be firm. I can grit my teeth, pin my ears back and bring it like a pass rush. However, I think in this business you can do a lot more with honey than you can with vinegar. I always start out treating everyone – opposing lawyers and adjustors – fairly and with respect. I’ve given extensions to other lawyers and have been cordial to adjustors, even though we are clearly at odds. But I am at my best listening to my clients and understanding their needs. In the end, you are able to usually have a result that everyone thinks is fair. I want it to be on my side of fair, but I want it to be fair. When somebody becomes unfair, incredulous or bombastic, then I can tap into my football days as a Buc and bring it all day long. That’s a long-winded answer to your question, but I love what I do and I’m sincere about what I do. I like being successful, but I like helping people. In my business, there aren’t winners and losers. If someone gets injured, they are not really going to put their life back together the way it was – even if they win a settlement or a trial. But hopefully I can help them make it better than it was when they first got injured. I’m pretty good at it.”
This article is set to appear in the Pewter Report 2007 Bucs Draft Preview in April. Visit PewterReport.com Part I of the Pewter Report Conversation with Brad Culpepper.
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Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org