Q & A with JU head football coach Kerwin Bell

Aug. 16, 2007


Alright, I want to welcome you all to media day for JU football. I want to start things out by saying we started our fall practice and we really feel good about where we are right now. We're well on our way to our one goal, and that is to win the Pioneer Football League Championship.

Our guys are on board with us and we really believe we can accomplish that goal. If you've been to our practices, you can tell the team truly believes and are trying their hardest to make that goal a reality this fall. We're okay with a winning season and we want to play well in every game, but as a staff, we want our guys to believe they will win a PFL Championship here at Jacksonville University this year.

I know you have heard this motto before, and it is trendy, but with the talent base in the state of Florida and the athletic ability we have on our football team, we feel this is our time to win a championship. This will be the 10th year of football at Jacksonville University and after looking at video of our previous games against teams in the PFL, we feel athletically and talent wise, we can compete with those teams. There is no reason why, in our 10th year of existence, that this should not be the year. We have a lot of seniors returning and a good freshmen class coming in to compliment those guys.

Since the first day I got here, we always end practice with a break down that states - "Our Time". It is our time to win a championship. Are we going to take advantage of that? Or let it slip by? Everything is in place to do it. There have been a lot of great teams who had their time to win a championship and they took advantage of it. Teams like the Indianapolis Colts last year in the NFL. It became their time to win a championship and we feel like we're in that same position right now. We have to become a family. Everybody has to believe in that same goal, and we feel we are well on our way to reaching that goal.

I want to thank all the sponsors who have bought into the program so far. I know you can see some new sponsors behind me in our backdrop. First Atlantic Bank is going to be a big sponsor of ours. Burt Watson is here today and we want to recognize those guys for jumping on board. They are going to be a great sponsor for our program at Jacksonville University as we take it to another level.

How do you gauge the excitement level at JU? Do you have people coming up to talk to you on campus?

The excitement level really has grown. You can already tell by our need to add a JV Football program due to the amount of phone calls we are getting from prospective athletes that just want to play football. We did this due to the tremendous response from players that want to play for our program. In the past, we had to turn those guys down but with the addition of the JV football program, we are able to open those doors back up. People in the community feel the excitement and are seeing the vision we have here. Alan Verlander (JU Director of Athletics) started with his vision, I have added my vision as the head football coach and everyone in the community is starting to say this could happen here, this could be a reality. They are starting to get behind us and people really want to contribute. Not just by donating money, but with time, effort and support. You can see that within the last three or four months and it has really built to the point we are at today.

There is always pressure for a coach to win, but do you feel that there is more pressure now that the level of expectation is high? I put myself out there, now I better perform?

I love it, I love it. I want to set the expectation level. One thing I wanted to change here was the expectation level. It is not acceptable to go .500 around here. We want to win the PFL championship. If we don't win it this year, we are going to be disappointed.

When I became a head coach five years ago at Trinity Catholic, I had a bunch of kids who couldn't walk and chew gum at the same time. But I said we were going to win a state championship and nothing less would be satisfactory. I want to put that expectation level out there again. Put it out there for JU. If you feel like you can accomplish something, you can, if you put your time, hard work and effort into it. You have to believe it, but you have to expect it first, and we are going to expect it. If you ask our team what our goal is, the one thing they will say is winning a championship. They want to be a championship football team. They each want to be a championship player. That is what this whole game is about. If you aren't in it to win championships, there is no reason to play this game.

The one thing that helped me as a player, and later when I became a head coach, is that I was a quarterback. I played in a lot of tough environments. I played in Canada where I was booed week in and week out. When I was traded to Winnipeg, I was supposed to be the savior of the franchise after they went 2-16 the year before. I go up there and we won five or six games but my wife and my kids had to endure booing from the crowd after every tough loss. They would boo me during the games, if I didn't make a big play, because I was supposed to do everything right. All those different situations I went through as a player, has helped me mature as a person. Criticism doesn't bother me. Expectation levels don't bother me. Pressure doesn't bother me.

We're going to call plays wide open. If they fail, I will get the wrath from it, and that is fine with me. I know who I am. I have been in those situations and I know I can handle it. I have seen several coaches who have been in those situations and can't handle it. You have seen it before. A career assistant coach gets his first head coaching job and, all of a sudden, the pressure, booing and criticism begin to take its toll. They start getting in a shell with their play calling. You will never see me do that because I have been in those situations since I was a player. We are going to throw it out there on the line. We are going to try to win on every snap. We are going to be aggressive. I want my team to understand that I will take the wrath. We are going to be aggressive and whatever happens happens.

Do you think your connections with the University of Florida will also increase the pressure? People will know you are here, they have followed your career and know you have some talent at JU.

I hope they feel like that. People will come out and watch the games to see how we are going to do. There is going to be struggles week in and week out. There will be times where we struggle as a team. In order to counter that, we have to know where we are, we have to know where we are going and we have to keep a positive attitude, no matter what happens. We may look ugly one week but I know what this team is capable of. I wouldn't be saying we are going to be a championship team this year if I didn't think we were capable. I keep telling the team, I wouldn't be pushing them so hard if I didn't think they could be a good team. I think we can do it. After watching film and talking to other coaches, I feel like we have that opportunity. Now our guys have to put the time and effort in order to make it happen. I believe they are doing everything they can to make it happen.

How much does the off the field stuff - such as tickets, sponsorship, and increased attendance - figure into success in the season? Or are you just looking at strictly wins and losses?

I believe a football team has to be focused as a group on what they have control over. We are going to be the best football team we can be. We are going to try to win a lot of games. If that means more people will come out and get excited about the program, then that is what we expect. We expect to do well. It may not happen every Saturday, but we are going to get better every week and we are going to play good football. I think people are going to see our focus and the excitement will begin to build when we start getting results.

This is the only program here in Jacksonville, how do you use that to your advantage when it comes to recruiting?

I believe we have one of the best places to recruit in the state of Florida. Jacksonville is a beautiful city and there are a lot of resources. We are the only I-AA program in the state and there is a lot of talent to go around. If a kid doesn't have the opportunity to go to a Florida State, Florida and Georgia, then we have the opportunity to keep those kids here. The new guys know they can set a precident here. We can all get a lot of publicity by building a winner here and that will be known throughout the state of Florida. If you want to stay in the state of Florida and be successful, I am a prime example of what it can do for you. If you play college football in the state of Florida, you have a lot of doors that will open for you. In a big city like Jacksonville, you can have a lot of doors open for you by being a good student-athlete here at Jacksonville University and playing for a great program.

What should the fans look for in that first game as far as standouts? If you are going to have a wide open attack, then obviously you are looking for a lot of offense.

I just want to win. We want to be exciting and we are going to be very aggressive. I never want my players to feel like I am holding something back. I never want them to feel like we are on our heels, or playing not to lose. I have been on the sidelines as a frustrated player when a coach says we are going to try to win, but you could tell by his play calling, that he was really scared and trying not to lose. I want my team to feel the aggressive nature in my play calling. I'm going to do this on offense and Ron McCrone (Defensive Coordinator) is going to do the same on the defensive side on the ball. We want to put our players in the best position to make aggressive plays. Hopefully, by our play calling, we will give ourselves a better opportunity to win games.

In the first couple weeks of practice, how have the players responded to the various coaching styles of your staff?

It's tough on them. We have had some physical practices since we've been in pads. Even though I'm a quarterback, I want to have a physical football team. That is the key to winning football games. One of our mottos is to hit from daylight to dark, and love it. When we go to Bethune-Cookman for a 4 p.m. game, we are going to hit from daylight to dark. We want to be a physical football team when it goes to the third and fourth quarters. When you are tired, beat up, and bloody and wanting to quit. Are you going to stand up to the guy on the other side of the line and say "I am going to take your will; you are not going to take mine." In most games, one team places imposes their will on the other. We want to be the team that does that. We want to be the team that physically beats their opponent in the fourth quarter. When you are able to physically beat your opponent, the passing game and all the other beautiful things you create, will thrive. But if you aren't physical enough, you are not going to be able to win any tough football games.