Bill McCullen is in the midst of his 27th season coaching at DeWitt, taking the helm of a girls basketball program in 1996 that had struggled with a 28-37 record (14-22 in league play) over its three previous seasons.
Reaching 500 wins is an incredible achievement, as only 14 other girls basketball coaches have done so in the state of Michigan. He led the Panthers to that 500th win Thursday against East Lansing, and after the 61-40 victory he sits sixth among active coaches on the MHSAA girls basketball coaching wins list.
The Panthers currently sit 17-2. McCullen has posted a 242-38 league record (.864 winning percentage) with 19 league championships as DeWitt eyes a rematch with Capital Area Activities Conference Blue leader Holt coming up Tuesday. The Panthers also have won nine District and five Regional championships and reached the MHSAA Semifinals four times and finished Class A runner-up in 2014-15.
Before COVID-19, he had averaged 19 wins per season (to just 3.96 losses) in a sport that had a 20-game regular season before this winter. McCullen reached his 100th win in just five seasons, averaging an incredible 20 wins over that early span. DeWitt has posted 10 20-win seasons in the program’s history; McCullen is responsible for nine of them.
The expectations of McCullen’s student-athletes are just as high in the classroom. During his first 26 seasons, the Panthers have averaged a team GPA of 3.52, earning the state’s top honor three times. McCullen has seen 28 of his student-athletes earn academic all-state recognition.
McCullen has dedicated 30 years as an educator, teaching social studies classes at DeWitt High School for the last 29. Above all the wins, McCullen is an exemplary role model for coaches, players, and parents. His behavior on the sidelines and how he talks to officials and players exemplifies what is expected of coaches.
He has taken teaching and coaching beyond the classroom and hardwood and has created a “basketball family” within his program. McCullen is quick to give credit to his assistant coaches (Sam Dalman, Annie Jenkins, and Marcy Uyl) and longtime friend Scott Palmer, who served as his varsity assistant for two years and JV head coach for another 24. The support of his wife (Denise) and two grown sons (Carter and Jerod) are paramount to McCullen’s success and passion for teaching and coaching.
Perhaps his greatest influence was Jim Lutzke. Then DeWitt’s director of human resources and athletic director, Lutzke hired McCullen in 1994 as a teacher and to coach tennis. Lutzke mentored McCullen for five years before succumbing to cancer in 1999. That relationship has had a profound and lasting impact on McCullen as a husband, father, teacher, and coach.
PHOTO DeWitt girls basketball coach Bill McCullen talks things over with Gabbie Brya during a game. (Photo by TCP Photography.)