Interview with new Northwood football coach Cullen Homolka

by Gene Galin

Pittsboro, NC – Northwood high school brought on a new football coach, Cullen Homolka, about a month ago. I had an opportunity to sit down with him after his first “Meet and Greet” event. I learned a little bit about who he is and what his expectations and plans are for the Northwood Chargers football program.

Below is the transcript and video of the interview held in the school cafeteria on Monday, March 11, 2019.

Gene Galin: Hey, Gene Galin here with the Chatham Journal, and I am with the new Northwood football coach, Mr. Cullen Homolka. I think I got that right.

Coach Homolka: Yeah.

Gene Galin: You just started, what, a couple months ago?

Coach Homolka: Actually I started like three, this is my third week.

Gene Galin: Third week, alright. So we’re going ask him some questions. Coach had a meet and greet with the students and parents here at the Northwood just a little bit. He went through a whole bunch of stuff. We’ll have that available on YouTube and probably some stuff on our Facebook page as well as the website.

Gene Galin: Now you come from Clayton High School, is that correct?

Coach Homolka: Yes.

Gene Galin: Okay. And you were the offensive coordinator there?

Coach Homolka: Correct.

Gene Galin: Alright. Tell us about why you decided to leave Clayton and why you decided to come here to Northwood.

Coach Homolka: We played Northwood in the playoffs in 2017 in the first round, and you saw the talent they had on the field and all those things. So they were a great team then and you know, when I saw the opportunity come I had to jump on it. But obviously it was hard leaving Clayton. The people there are awesome. I enjoyed working for Coach Jenks. He taught me a lot about being a head coach and all those things. So, I thought it was my time to go do it myself and see what kind of program I could develop and this is the perfect opportunity to do that.

Gene Galin: Okay. Now you have been a head coach in Ohio, is that correct?

Coach Homolka: Yeah. I was head coach for a short stint one season, but we did some great things while we were there. We made the playoffs the first time in a while. I don’t know the exact stats on it but it was a playoff bid against, really we played a team that was really good the first round unfortunately. But it is what it is. But it was fun. I had a lot of kids buy in there and I started with 22 kids and ended up with like 40 something kids on the team. So, it was great experience, a great learning experience I definitely enjoy and always look back on.

Gene Galin: Now when you were there as a head coach, you concentrate more on defense because you had a good offensive coordinator, is that right?

Coach Homolka: I did. I had an offensive coordinator there that hopefully comes with me here. He’s an incredible offensive coordinator that I would love to bring with me here. And he gave me no concerns offense so where I could focus all my attention to defense and special teams.

Gene Galin: Okay. So and this … Well when coming from an offensive coordinator as a head coach where you’re defense, so you pretty much have both sides of the ball covered.

Coach Homolka: I’ve done everything. If you pointed at an area in football, I’ve tried it.

Gene Galin: That can be a good thing. Now when you were in Ohio, you said you focused, you led the Fairland High School dragons to the 2013 Ohio Valley Conference Championship. And also birth in Ohio division 5 playoffs.

Coach Homolka: Correct.

Gene Galin: Now you mentioned in the meet and greet with the parents that at that point you opted to leave, which is a little bit unusual.

Coach Homolka: Yeah.

Gene Galin: For a coach to leave after just a year.

Coach Homolka: It wasn’t, you know I took the job. At the time, I thought that was where I needed to be. And you know, it was a situation where my wife and I were about to have a, we did at the end of the season have my son Ritter. And I just wasn’t in a financially well off I guess in that position, to where … You know and working for Coach Doeren, I loved doing it at NIU, and when he called me and gave me the opportunity to come work from an NC state and we love Raleigh, I just couldn’t tell him no. So that was the real reason why and I did love being a head coach there, but unfortunately financially we thought it was best if I took this opportunity and better for our family and all that stuff.

Gene Galin: And you’ve got three kids, what, boy, girl, boy?

Coach Homolka: I got two boys and a girl. The two older ones, one’s in college, one’s a senior at Leesville High. And then my youngest is a five year old at Frankie Lemmon.

Gene Galin: Okay, great.

Coach Homolka: Yeah.

Gene Galin: And you mentioned you went to work for Coach Doeren, for those of you know. I know you guys all know this, he’s over at NC State. And you went over there in 2014 as director of player personnel. What’d you learn during that time with Coach Doeren that you feel you can bring to the table here at Northwood?

Coach Homolka: I’ll say this is my situation, there was so much different than any other time I ever coached in my life. I was really removed from the field. I was more of behind the scenes. I was really behind a desk and so I really got to watch high school football all day every day. And that’s really where I got more of my mind and you know so. I could sit there and I really could start picking out kids and what they’re doing here. And then you start noticing the whole scheme of what they’re doing. And then you start watching films of teams that are traditionally powerhouses and they always have division one or [inaudible 00:05:02]. You start seeing what they’re doing and how consistent they are in what they do. So if there’s something I can take from on that part of it, it would be just overall evaluation of how high school programs should be run and how the little things matter and you don’t need to do a ton to win.

Gene Galin: Right.

Coach Homolka: And then you know, from Coach Doeren’s perspective, just his organization. He always knew what you were supposed to do, he always knew where you were supposed to be. And I thought he did great with managing the players. They love playing for him. And I always thought he treated his staff awesome. So, if there’s something I can take from that, I think the whole picture of what he does is really, I wanna reflect that in my own philosophy here.

Gene Galin: So it sounds like you did some, you were involved in the recruiting portion as well at state.

Coach Homolka: Yeah. That’s really, director of player personnel, that was kind of like, I wasn’t the recruiting coordinator but I was the one that would sit there and try to find talent while they were trying to get ready for a game.

Gene Galin: Gotcha.

Coach Homolka: So.

Gene Galin: One of the things you mentioned in your meet and greet is that if you have a player and his parents who feel that, “Hey, my son could be playing at a higher level in college,” you said you’re willing to help them get to that point-

Coach Homolka: Absolutely.

Gene Galin: What do you see, and you mentioned this in the meet and greet. What do you see as the important elements for someone who plays for you and then wants to play in college? What do they need to do to be, follow that path to success?

Coach Homolka: Hopefully they have a great work ethic. I mean ’cause if you wanna play college football, great work ethic is everything. And they have to have a love for the game. Like if they wanna just go play college football to say they played college football, the writings on the wall, you see that as a coach. Because they’re love for the game at the high school level probably isn’t as high as it should be.

Gene Galin: Right.

Coach Homolka: But if the kid believes and he’s always around, he’s always asking questions, he’s always in the weight room, he’s always trying to work to make himself a better player, I’m gonna help that kid. There’s no question about it. Why not? They’re fun to be around, they’re fun to work with. When you’re gonna put a stamp on a kid, you wanna put a stamp on their character and how hard they work. And I think that’s, as a college coach, that’s what they want to hear too.

Gene Galin: And I think one of the things too, you mentioned it and some coaches kind of emphasize hey it’s all division one or nothing else. But you seem to imply that hey, maybe the right fit for you isn’t division one. It might be division two and division three.

Coach Homolka: Yeah. You know I don’t wanna label a kid on the level. But I do believe there’s a place for every kid. You look at some states where they got more universities than they know what to do with and every one of them has a football program. Like my home state, they got tons of football programs. And there’s a place for every kid. If they wanna go play college football, there’s an opportunity there. And I believe in this state too. The D3 programs are awesome. And so if a kid wants to go play and hopefully he has the athletic ability to go do it at that level, then I’m gonna help him do it.

Gene Galin: Now you grew up in Kansas, went to high school in Kansas. And you were a running back on Kansas.

Coach Homolka: I was a full back.

Gene Galin: Full back, okay.

Coach Homolka: Yeah I was a place biscuit pulling guard in the back. I don’t think you would label me a running back.

Gene Galin: Well I must’ve gotten my information wrong-

Coach Homolka: No you’re right. You’re right.

Gene Galin: That’s okay.

Coach Homolka: We labeled it that but to be honest, I don’t know if I’ve touched the ball once in Kansas.

Gene Galin: Actually you’ve touched it several times. I looked up your stats.

Coach Homolka: Garden City. In Garden City I did.

Gene Galin: You did touch it. And actually the other thing too is you mention success in Ohio, you were co-coach of the year in 2013.

Coach Homolka:               Yeah I had a few accolades. But you know, it was an experience. I think there were three or four things I was able to do. And I was able to go coach in the North South Ohio, or is it East West Ohio all star game. I didn’t get to do that because I took the job at NC State but that would’ve been a great experience. So. Yeah I was given, I mean it was an incredible experience. I actually, you know leaving there might’ve been, leaving there and leaving Clayton were probably the two hardest things I ever had to do. Seeing and telling and the kids and just being honest with them and leaving was difficult at those two places. And that sucked, but sometimes you just gotta move on to see what you can do somewhere else and see who else you can help and be more impactful somewhere else.

Like a program like this, I hate to see an area that’s been successful at football not be successful. And if I can go help them do that, then I feel like I’m still doing what I’m supposed to be doing. So that’s, that’s kind of why sometimes you move on.

Gene Galin: What do you see at Northwood that is kind of like hey, here’s the potential I see and here’s what we can work on? And what are the things that situationally you need to work on improving a whole bunch?

Coach Homolka: Improving a whole bunch, I don’t know what to say there. I mean probably football knowledge is always something you can improve on. Football technique, different stuff like that. But really you know, the culture is, you’re trying to build your culture. And so I’m a guy that’s, I’m a grinder. I’m a show up early and leave late and we’re gonna work hard and we’re gonna be in the weight room and we’re gonna be on the practice field and we’re gonna learn and do all those things appropriately to be successful there. Give me the rest of that question again.

Gene Galin: Yeah it was, you know, well you know it’s like one of those job interview questions. What’s the strengths and weaknesses that you see?

Coach Homolka: Well coming in here, like I’ll tell you this much, we got athletes. And we got size. We got everything, we got every piece of the puzzle that we can be successful with. Now do we have a ton of depth right now? That’s the thing I’m trying to figure out. But it’s watching and encouraging kids to come out because I’d love them to be a part of the team. Any way if possible. Managers, even on down from there. We need them all. And once we start building depth they’ll see more and more success. But there’s no question we can go out and be successful next season. We have all the talent in the world to do it. It’s just getting the kids out there, getting them up there on a regular basis and that’s where we’re working right now is to change that culture. Get them in weight room. Get them around me more. Get them around the idea of learning more about football. What it takes to be successful. Those things.

Gene Galin: That leads into my next question. Actually, you stated this quote. “Be simple and try not to complicate the game.” What exactly do you mean by that?

Coach Homolka: Oh. Well it’s amazing. So I’ve been, I’ve seen it at … And the most successful, if you go watch like Alabama play football right, everybody’s like, “How do they do it?” Obviously I don’t know how he does it. Nick Saban is a genius obviously. But I will say offensively, they do some stuff that anybody can do. And it’s not overthought. Now do they do some great things that probably really mess with the safety’s reads or a line back should, probably. They probably do a lot and [inaudible 00:11:50] completely. But the obvious stuff is they love their own power. And power is a play anybody can run.

Coach Homolka: And we’re gonna run power here and we’re gonna be great at it. Inside zone, they run inside zone just as good as anybody. We’re gonna run inside zone. I’m very honest about those. It’s gonna be pretty obvious once you see us do our jamboree. We’re gonna get successful at those type of things and those aren’t hard to teach. It takes a lot of reps. A lot of doing it over, and over, and over again to get very good at it. And so that’s what I say. You don’t have to be complicated and you can keep it simple. And there’s a lot of different things that you can do that are very successful things that don’t take a lot of thought. It just takes a lot of reps.

Gene Galin: Right.

Coach Homolka: And that’s where we gotta get. We just gotta rep the stuff over and over again to get good at it. We don’t need to keep adding, and adding, and adding. We just gotta get good at a few things and figure out ways to put a little window dressing to make it look different.

Gene Galin: That leads into next question. And you brought this up in the meet and greet with the parents. Basically, you feel that developing off-season program involves weight training and conditioning is very important to the success of a team. Can you elaborate on that more and mention some of the stuff that you’re planning to do or have started doing here at Northwood to accomplish that?

Coach Homolka: Yeah. You know obviously the first day I was here I met with as many players as I could and I said the weight room’s open at seven AM and I hope most of you guys can be there. For the most part I’ve had success in the weight room already. So the young kids are buying in. I got freshmen and sophomores that are gonna be rising sophomores and juniors. They’re coming in most mornings and lifting with me. And so they understand that if they, and I feel like some of them already see this is helping them. And I’ve got some kids coming in the afternoon doing the same thing. The weight room is open to them, I do believe that. And conditioning I think, if you don’t have those two elements going into fall camp, we’re gonna be behind big time.

Coach Homolka: If you go back to where I was and Coach Jenks, what he’s doing there, we’re gonna, you know. He’s got a program there that’s first class in that regard. I mean, nobody’s probably outworked him in the entire triangle. So I mean if I can replicate that here in the next couple months, then I think we’re onto something big.

Gene Galin: Last year Northwood was 4 and 6. They’re in a Big Eight which is a 3A conference. And I believe Clayton was 3A as well.

Coach Homolka: Correct.

Gene Galin: What’s your sense of the overall conference? I mean, a couple schools dropped their varsity programs but what’s your feeling overall of the whole conference at Northwood’s…

Coach Homolka:  You know I think there’s some talent in the Durham area. Obviously Northern Durham did great last year and thank god Hillside’s, ’cause they were a beast. But you know Southern Durham’s always got athletes. So there’s no question every game’s gonna be a challenge. Do I think we can go into every game and be successful? Absolutely. Do I overlook an opponent? Never. We’re gonna out, try to do our best to out coach them and out athlete them, and do our thing out there to be successful. That would obviously be a huge goal for us to get those things done.

Gene Galin: Alright. During again, meet and greet, you mentioned that you’re gonna run whatever offense and defense works for you. So, sounds like you have a bunch of flexibility yet, do you have any taste right now as to … ‘Cause I think in Ohio you did an open run, open …

Coach Homolka: Yeah we’re pretty wide open. We spread it out a lot. And you know. And the concepts we’re gonna bring will be similar. We’re gonna do a lot of, depending on the type of talent we have. So if we’ve got some bigger bodies that can run, obviously we’re gonna put some tight ends in the game. If we gotta a lot of just athletes, and I know we have some receivers. If anybody came and watched the basketball team this year, we have some dudes that are gonna come out and hopefully I can get them the ball. And I know I have a quarterback that can throw a little bit. We’ll spread it out, and if we have to do that, we will. But obviously everything’ll be based off the run game and we’ll work from there.

Gene Galin: It was interesting because as I was watching people come in, one of the things one of the moms mentioned was that you’re known for not having a smart phone.

Coach Homolka: Yes. Well I mean to be honest, this is pretty recent. I had a smart phone for a while. I can’t say I didn’t. But I’ve realized not having one has actually simplified a lot of things. I don’t worry about the stupid stuff anymore and I worry about what matters. So, it’s helped me focus in on what matters and when I’m home I’m not on my phone in front of my son. And I think that’s important.

Gene Galin: Well getting back to what matters, any successful program also has to have a whole bunch of community involvement, community contribution. What kind of things are you hoping to get from the Northwood community, the Chatham County community, to help you reach that pathway to success with the team?

Coach Homolka: The first thing is I just need to get more involved. Hopefully I can get more involved through community outreach and all that stuff myself to where I can get to know them. And then hopefully, with success brings interest. And this first year might be a slow process but I think we’re gonna see success early and hopefully that brings the community closer together.

And if there’s one thing I learned, when I was in Ohio, I mean I still think about that, it brings chills. I mean what I did around there was fun. And that community came together through success, through belief in what we were doing. And it wasn’t that we did anything complicated. We just outworked them, we had fun doing it, the kids love being there. I hope I bring that same thing to this because with it, I think those kids start talking and that community starts coming together. And it’ll be a positive outlook on it all. I don’t want a negative outlook on our football program. And hopefully the kids carry themselves in a professional manner to where the young kids wanna come up here and play at Northwood and they all talk about it. And that’s the ultimate goal.

Gene Galin: Now you mentioned you live in Raleigh …

Coach Homolka: I live, yeah I live right outside the airport.

Gene Galin: Okay. So it’s not, it’s not a long commute-

Coach Homolka: No, no. It’s easy to get here.

Gene Galin: Yeah. Just like down the road.

Coach Homolka: Exactly.

Gene Galin: You mentioned fundraising. If anybody’s watching this, what would be the first thing you’d like them to contribute to be able to upgrade or get your … What do you need, what are your priorities-

Coach Homolka: I walked around out there and obviously, I would like to upgrade some of the practice stuff we have. Like our five man sled needs reconditioning, stuff like that. Then maybe add a couple racks in the weight room. Squat racks and all that stuff just to get more kids in there lifting at one time. Those are some ones I noticed right now. And then, you know, the football offices obviously need upgrading but I think what the players got going on matters more and I can upgrade the football office probably on my own a little bit as I go.

Gene Galin: Okay folks. You heard that. And I know there’s folks in the community that love to help out. And I’ve seen what you’ve done with the baseball facilities here. I’ve seen what you’ve done with the softball facilities out here. So look. The coach needs some assistance. He wants to get some more, or upgraded football equipment as well as racks for his weight room. Anything else? Hey, since we’re talking wish list, what else?

Coach Homolka: Oh heck, everybody has a wish list now. A wish list can go miles and miles long now. No, I’m not a, as I go, I’ll figure that out. But obviously I’ve got a lot of stuff and I’ve gotten rid of a few things and all that stuff. But, you know we’re on the right path here and I don’t think that a bunch of glitz or glammer’s gonna get it done. Really right now, if you’re listening, getting those kids out here to play for me. Getting to know me and I think we go from there.

Gene Galin: Right. And one of the things coach also mentioned is academics is a priority. What was your top goal on the academic side?

Coach Homolka: Highest GPA in the conference.

Gene Galin: Highest GPA in the conference. So folks, not too many coaches, high school coaches, will say that kind of stuff.

Coach Homolka: It’s possible.

Gene Galin: It is possible. We can do it in this county and look. Come out and watch the Chargers play in the fall. I guess jamboree will be sometime in August.

Coach Homolka: Yeah I think it’s the 16th.

Gene Galin: Okay. And coach has got a lot of good plans. We’re not gonna reiterate everything coach mentioned in the meet and greet. Take a look at that. Coach’s email address. Take a look at the video. I’ll post it on the bottom of this video. You can email him, see what kind of assistance he needs, what kind of help you can provide. If you got a kid at Northwood, hey, you know what? I’m a firm believer that sports is important and also turns boys into men and it’s also something that keeps a lot of kids in school and makes them successes in life. So anything else you’d like to say to close out coach?

Coach Homolka: No. I look forward to meeting everybody and go Chargers.

Gene Galin: Alright, thank you.

Coach Homolka: Thank you.