When Kerwin Bell took over as the head football coach at Jacksonville University, he began changing the culture in the program – preaching that his teams would compete for championships.
After a rough 3-8 campaign his first season, Bell led the Dolphins on a Cinderella run to the school’s first Pioneer Football League title in 2008 and a 9-4 record – setting new marks for the most wins in program history and longestwinning streak (7).
For his efforts, Bell was named PFL “Coach of the Year” and was a finalist for the Eddie Robinson Award which goes to the top coach in the Football Championship Subdivision each season.
“We had a great group of seniors who were determined to change this program,” Bell said. “That group really came together and created a family atmosphere that everyone rallied around to play for each other. When you do that, you can do special things.”
While racking up wins, the Dolphins also piled up records. JU set a new school records for most passing yards (2,995), points (401), completions (218), total offense (4,976) and passing touchdowns (28).
The magical season saw the development of thenfreshman Josh McGregor at quarterback, taking over as the starter in the second game and throwing a school-record 2,444 yards and 24 touchdowns – earning FCS Freshman of the Year recognition.
This came after Bell’s first season with the Dolphins, which saw wholesale changes on both sides of the ball, giving JU fans got a glimpse of the explosive offensive numbers which are sure to be plentiful for years to come.
The offense racked up numbers at a dizzying pace, putting up more than 2,700 yards passing to set a new school record.
Senior quarterback Chris Horton became the school’s alltime leader in career passingyards with 4,868 - recording more than 400 yards in a game twice, a first in JU football history.
Aiding the efforts of the air attack was wide receiver Geavon Tribble, who set the school record for most receiving yards in a game with 229 - including two touchdowns of 90 and 82 yards against Morehead State.
JU’s turnaround isn’t a surprise for those who have followed Bell’s career. A standout at Mayo High School, he walked on at Florida and eventually became one of the top quarterbacks in the SEC – becoming a Heisman Trophy contender. He went on to play professionally in the NFL and CFL, becoming an offensive coordinator in the CFL before building a state powerhouse as the head coach at Trinity Catholic.
Along with his experiences, his “never say die” attitude has been a strong influence on the studentathletes. And to steal a phrase from Steve Spurrier, he has an innate ability to “coach ‘em up.”
“Kerwin is a proven winner and a leader with a vision of winning championships for JU football,” Verlander said. “We have seen the community of this great city come out and support our efforts in building a toprate football program.”
His collegiate career began as a walk-on at Florida. All he did was step in as a redshirt freshman in 1984 after an injury to the starter and rewrote the Florida passing record book. By the time his career as a Gator was finished, he had become the all-time leader in passing yards in the Southeastern Conference.
A true gamer, Bell battled through injuries both in his collegiate and professional career. There is one injury that may have been the most important of his career - an ACL injury in 1990 that sent him to the sidelines for a year to rehab.
During that 1990 season, Bell got his first taste of the coaching bug as a graduate assistant at Florida under Spurrier.
“I wasn’t excited about coaching until I got involved with Coach Spurrier,” Bell said. “While I was there, I really got into it because of attaining perfection on the field. I’ve seen it with him, the way he coached, implemented his plays and strived for perfection. That’s what I try to do, execute to perfection.”
After mending his wounds for a year, Bell landed with the Indianapolis Colts and saw his only game action in 1995 - completing 5-of-5 passes for 72 yards and a touchdown against the Philadelphia Eagles in week 15.
A coaching change and the drafting of a new rookie quarterback, Peyton Manning, sent Bell’s playing career in a northern direction - to the Canadian Football League in 1998.
It became a great opportunity for Bell, not only as a player but in his development as a coach. After signing with the Toronto Argonauts, Bell went on to set a team record with 5,000 passing yards in his first season in the CFL.
A year later, he was traded to Winnipeg after a midseason coaching change in 2000, he was brought back to Toronto and reunited with former teammate Mike “Pinball” Clemons - who had been named head coach.
Under the CFL-legend Clemons, Bell helped redraw the offense in midseason after a 1-7-1 start to the year. With the new offense installed by Bell, the Argonauts went 6-3 to finish the season and missed the playoffs by just one game.
“Mike wanted me to come back and be the offensive coordinator and the quarterback, despite other offers to play for other teams,” Bell said. “My wife asked me why I always took the tough job, because I had an offer to play at Calgary and win a Grey Cup. When I came in, we put in a new spread offense, went 6-3 and I really began to enjoy coaching more than I did playing that season.”
So what does a retired quarterback do? He starts a football program at Trinity Catholic High School from scratch and builds it into a state power. In five seasons, he led the Celtics to a state championship and just missied out on a repeat this past season - finishing his high school coaching career with a 45-15 record, with just one losing season - his first.
“We built something special at Trinity,” Bell said. “Because there wasn’t anything there before, we created an atmosphere of expectation which really boosted our program. We wanted the kids to excel at everything on and off the field.”
2009-10 FOOTBALL COACHES