USF football announced the hiring of Kerwin Bell as its new offensive coordinator on Thursday night, replacing Sterlin Gilbert, who left USF to take the head coach position at McNeese State.
It’s tough, and maybe even a little ridiculous, to try to evaluate a coaching hire before a single practice takes place. But, at least on paper, this looks to be a home run hire.
“I have known Kerwin for more than 30 years and have a great deal of respect for what he has done in his career both as a player and coach and the success of the football programs he has led,” coach Charlie Strong said in a statement released by USF on Thursday night. “He has directed some very explosive, high-scoring offenses and consistently puts his players in position to reach their highest potential. We are very excited to have Kerwin joining our staff.”
“Explosive, high-scoring offenses” might be an understatement considering what Bell accomplished as head coach in 2018 at Division II Valdosta State. The Blazers’ 728 points scored in 2018 broke the Gulf South Conference scoring record and led all of Division II on the way to an undefeated, national championship season.
That already sounds like a breath of fresh air for a USF offense that finished seventh in the AAC and tied for 69th in FBS in points scored.
But perhaps the greatest thing about Bell’s hire is his strong, successful ties to the Sunshine State.
Bell, a native of Mayo, Florida — the only incorporated municipality in Lafayette County — starred at quarterback for Lafayette High School, where he earned the nickname the “Throwin’ Mayoan.” After not receiving any scholarship offers, Bell walked-on at Florida in 1983.
Bell went from eighth on the depth chart in his freshman season to the UF Hall of Fame in 1997 thanks to a four-year career that saw him throw for 7,585 yards and 56 touchdowns.
Following a career that earned him No. 26 on a ranking of greatest Gators by The Gainesville Sun in 2006, Bell was drafted in the seventh round of the NFL Draft by the Miami Dolphins and spent time with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the World League of American Football’s Orlando Thunder.
But Bell’s greatest contributions to Florida football have come after his playing days were over.
After serving as offensive coordinator — and quarterback — of the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts from 2000-01, Bell returned to Florida, serving as head coach of Trinity Catholic High School in Ocala, leading it to the Florida 2B state title in 2005 and a second-place finish the following year.
Bell then took over FCS Jacksonville and guided the Dolphins to a 66-35 record and three conference championships over his nine seasons in Duval.
Looking over Bell’s resume, it’s hard to find a place he wasn’t a winner as a coach. In fact, the most impressive thing is he’s continued to find success no matter what level he’s coaching.
That’s not to say there’s no chance for growing pains at USF. This will be Bell’s first experience under the bright lights of FBS football — at least as a coach — and it’s safe to say defenses are better up here than they are in Division II or even FCS.
Of course, Bell never had talent even remotely comparable to Blake Barnett, Jordan Cronkrite, Mitchell Wilcox, Randall St. Felix and the rest of the USF offense at any of his prior stops. For all the improvements in the defenses he’ll face at this level, he’ll have improved weapons to fight with.
All in all, it’s a pretty good hire — a semi-local product who was beloved at the school 90 minutes up the road from Tampa and has proven success at every level he’s coached. This is exactly what the USF offense needed.
Bulls fans, be happy. This is the guy you want in charge of your offense.