Women’s soccer coach, John Cullen, has begun his 10th season with the Charlotte 49ers. To begin this season, he and his team reached his 100th win as a coach at Charlotte early on.
“It was a nice feeling; I’d forgotten all about it until you brought it back up actually, I’d already moved on to the next one. But I jokingly said, ‘It took more games than I realized to get there.’ It’s always a nice honor, ya know, you try and take one game as they come, and eventually, if you’re here long enough, you start to get those moments, those monumental games,” said Cullen. “I was proud of it, I was happy for it, and want to thank all the players and the staff that I’ve worked with currently and in the past.”
Cullen graduated from Charlotte in 1993 after spending his four years on the men’s team as a Niner himself. In 1991, he was a member of the very first NCAA tournament team in Charlotte history, making it to No. 4 in the national rankings. The team repeated as a tournament team the next year and moved up to No. 2
During his time as a Niner player, he earned a spot on the NSCAA South Region Scholar-Athlete Team as well as on the Sun Belt Academic Honor Roll.
“I had a great experience here as a player. I thought the Charlotte administration, the University, faculty, staff and athletic department treated me with great respect and I just had a wonderful experience here,” said Cullen.
Cullen spent some time with the Olympic Development Program and during that time, he managed a 46-4 record. Included in that record was a 16 game undefeated and unscored on season with the ’90s NC ODP team. In 2010, he coached the NC ODP ’95 team with formers Charlotte Assistant Coach Sarah (Judy) Denton to go on to the regional championships and in the next year, to the national championships.
Amidst the years between graduating and returning to Charlotte as a head coach, Cullen also spent several years with the Catawba Indians from 2001-08. In his run as coach at Catawba, he tallied a 113-33-16 record to leave as the school’s career win leader.
He led the team to four NCAA Division II Regional appearances including twice to the regional finals, and in 2005, he was named the NSCAA Regional Coach of the Year when the team finished the season 16-4-1. In January of 2009, though, Cullen would return to Charlotte to begin his stint as Head Coach at his alma mater.
“I knew when I graduated from here, I wanted to come back here in some capacity, not sure what it was, but I was fortunate enough to get named as a coach in 2009. I had wonderful memories, great relationships, great fondness of the place, and I just wanted to come back and create more of those, not only for myself, but the players I’m coaching,” said Cullen.
Having been awarded many accolades, such as Regional Coach of the Year or Charlotte Youth Girls Coach of the Year in Dec. 2015 for his time with the Charlotte Soccer Academy, Cullen remains humble and reminded of why he reaches those heights.
“It kind of validates some of the work you’re doing. I want to stay true to myself as a coach; I never want to shortcut how I believe a team should prepare and play. So, I’ve always approached every season as a new season, as a new chapter, as a new opportunity to prove myself and for the team to prove themselves. I always look at the work I do as trying to improve as a coach every year,” said Cullen, “but I never look beyond the next game, and I know that’s an old cliché, but they stack up over time. The years go by quickly, but anytime you’re fortunate enough to break a record, it validates to me the work I’m putting in and the preparation I’m putting in.”
Not only does he work hard to push himself and his team to get better but he values sharing that journey with his players a great deal. Awards are great and all, but they might just be more fun when there are people to share it with.
“Most coaches will tell you the biggest part of what we do is for the players, and I’ve had a wonderful connection with players currently and formerly with the alums. You know, a win or a trophy doesn’t mean anything unless you can share it with people that you truly care about, and I care about my players. I’d like to think that’s my number one attribute: I’m there for every player and I hope they’ve enjoyed playing under me,” said Cullen. “But at the end of the day, you don’t want to just experience success on your own, you want to share with a lot of people and that’s why you drive on to be better and be ambitious. It’s the next group of players through the door, you know, so it’s: can I give them a good experience? Can I give them good memories?” said Cullen.