Jeff Culhane remembers sitting in the press box at Lucas Oil Stadium during the second half of Nebraska’s blowout loss to Wisconsin in last year’s Big Ten Championship game wondering how he was going to get through 2 ½ hours of phone calls from irate Cornhusker fans.
Right before his mic turned hot to begin the "Big Red Reaction Show", Culhane pulled off his headsets and looked over at his co-host Steve Taylor, a popular Cornhusker quarterback in the 1980s, and said - in not exactly these words - that it was time for them to strap it on.
Then he took his first phone call. Then he took another one. And another. Thank you sir, may I have another ...
“There have been a few times when it’s been a little dicey when people are not happy and they are looking to you for answers,” laughs Culhane, the Mountaineer Sports Network from IMG's newest on-air talent.
It doesn’t take long to realize that Culhane, 30, is wise beyond his years. He first started broadcasting at his uncle Kevin’s radio station in Mitchell, S.D., when he was 14 years old and kept right on going through college when he was playing defensive back for the Dakota Wesleyan football team.
“My first-ever radio job was on AM-1490 KORN; The Talk of the Town, oldies station, news, weather and sports,” said Culhane. “I’m reading the news and doing the overnight weather reports and I had no idea what I was doing. It was just rip and read.”
While in high school, Culhane added play-by-play to his résumé and continued calling football and basketball games in college when his football seasons ended in the wintertime. High school hoops in Mitchell, by the way, is a really big deal. The Kernels have produced several outstanding players though the years, including 2006 NBA rookie of the year Mike Miller, who now plays for the Memphis Grizzlies. Mitchell, incidentally, is also the hometown of the late George McGovern, former Democratic presidential candidate in 1972.
Three and a half years into college, Culhane was making a name for himself around the state and people were beginning to ask him if he was going to stick with the broadcasting thing.
“I didn’t want to do a desk job. I didn’t want to work at a bank. I didn’t want to sell insurance and I didn’t want to have a 9-to-5 job,” said Culhane. “I started to ask the questions that I had to ask. I thought about going to grad school. I thought about Syracuse and Nebraska and I thought about USC.
“I talked to a lot of guys who have been doing this forever and they said I already had what I needed. I already had eight years of experience. They told me I didn’t need to go to school; go get a job.”
So Culhane went back to work for his uncle Kevin right out of college, doing sales during the day and talk radio and more play-by-play at night. Two and a half years later, in 2007, Huskers Sports Network sideline reporter Lane Grindle asked Jeff if he wanted to come down to Lincoln to produce his Sports Nightly Show.
“He needed a guy who could produce, help out on the air and co-host, so it worked out perfect,” said Culhane.
His role on the network expanded each year, from taking over the Sports Nightly Show two years ago to helping call Cornhusker baseball games. Culhane also developed, produced, sold, and hosted a popular high school football scoreboard show from 10-11 p.m. on Friday nights.
Then out of the blue, he got the call a few weeks ago from IMG to come across the country to Morgantown, W.Va., to do the Mountaineer football pre and postgame shows, while continuing to hone his play-by-play skills with women’s basketball and baseball. It was an offer he couldn’t turn down.
“It was about a two-week process and I was gone,” said Culhane, who says he still gets tweets from Nebraska fans asking him about the Cornhusker football team.
“I think half the people in Nebraska think I’m still there,” he joked.
About a week before West Virginia’s Aug. 30 season opener against William & Mary, Culhane packed up a couple of suitcases and drove his SUV across the country to his new job. The rest of his stuff just got here the other day.
“It’s been a whirlwind and there have definitely been some stressful times,” he said. “The first week couldn’t get here fast enough for me. I just wanted to get on the air and start to get to work with these guys.”
But before he could do that, Culhane crammed about 120 years worth of Mountaineer football history into a couple of days in advance of his first pregame show.
“My biggest challenge has been to get up to speed as quickly as possible on what West Virginia is all about and what Mountaineer athletics are all about – the traditions, the sayings and all of the little things that are so important,” he said. “There are a lot of people out there who listen to the broadcast who know a lot more about it than I do right now, and I’m very cognizant of that.
“But my job is to get up to speed as quickly as possible and radio is still radio – to put together a good show that gets people ready for the games and I know how to do that. And I’ll do that every week.”
As an example of how eager Culhane is to learn about Mountaineer football, he recently spent an entire afternoon watching the 1982 Oklahoma game on Youtube before last week’s game against the Sooners.
“Watching Jeff Hostetler, Don Nehlen, Willie Drewery, Darryl Talley, Curlin Beck and those guys, it was great,” he said. “To go in there and win that game was a cool memory and I really enjoy getting in there and digging into that stuff and I’m looking forward to learning more about West Virginia’s great sports history in the future.”
He’s also looking forward to meeting as many Mountaineer fans as he can.
“Tent City is a lot of fun,” he said. “I hope people can get out here to see us as we do our pregame show during every home game – just stop over and say hi to us.”
And when those tough phone calls begin to roll in after a difficult loss - which is bound to happen at some point - Culhane says he will be ready for them.
Be sure to tune in to Jeff, Jed Drenning, Dale Wolfley and Amanda Mazey for the Mountaineer Tailgate Show
this Saturday on Mountaineer Sports Network from IMG stations across the state beginning 2 ½ hours before they hand the broadcast over to Tony Caridi and Dwight Wallace at 11 a.m.
And once the game is over, Jeff and Jed will be back at it once again ready to take those calls.