The persistent visionary
It might be fair to say USF’s offense wasn’t persistent enough when it had the football last season.
After all, the Bulls finished seventh in the 12-team AAC and 69th in the 130-team FBS in total offense.
Fortunately, USF’s new offensive coordinator has been persistent his entire career.
Meet Kerwin Bell, the persistent visionary.
Bell came to USF after leading Division II Valdosta State to an undefeated national championship season in 2018. In the process, the Blazers broke the Gulf South Conference’s scoring record with 728 points.
His success didn’t start in southern Georgia, however.
Bell was the star quarterback at Lafayette County High School in his North Central Florida hometown of Mayo, leading his team to a state championship in 1981.
However, he did not receive any collegiate scholarships out of high school.
Ever determined, Bell walked-on at Florida — and found himself eighth on the quarterback depth chart his freshman season of 1983, when he wound up redshirting. Bell eventually worked his way to the top, finishing his collegiate career as one of the most decorated Gators of all time, throwing for 7,585 yards and 56 touchdowns in his four years.
Bell’s never-quit mentality has served him well, not just during his time at Florida, but in all his stops since, including coaching stints in the CFL, Trinity High School in Ocala and now at three different levels of college football.
“That’s sort of been my m.o. is that I’m not probably the most talented guy, not the smartest guy, not the best looking guy,” Bell said. “I’ve always told people how I’ve made it, really, is I’ve just been persistent.
“I’m a visionary, I believe. I’ve always been a visionary guy … I can see a goal way off, and I can focus on that goal. And I’ll do whatever I had to do to reach that goal with persistence.”
If you ask anyone who knows Bell what they think of him, you’ll get nothing but praise for the persistent visionary.
“He’s everything you’d want in a coach in terms of he’s fair,” quarterback Blake Barnett said. “If he’s going to be hard on you, he’s hard on everyone the same … There’s give and take. We’re going to be coached really hard, but that’s what we want. We didn’t come out here to be told that we’re great at everything.”
Bell’s competitive spirit can be traced to his playing days, according to head coach Charlie Strong, who has known Bell since they were both at Florida in the mid-80s — Bell the eventual starting quarterback and Strong a graduate assistant.
“Kerwin is positive and the guys know that he’s a competitor,” Strong said. “Anytime you play quarterback, you’re going to be a competitor. And it’s just how he goes about it. How he and the relationship that he has developed with our players — not only on offense, but on defense, as a team. He’s done a great job of coming in and just setting us up in place, which has been really good.”
Like Strong, Bell served as a graduate assistant with the Gators. However, Bell had the opportunity to work under one of the most legendary coaches of all time — Steve Spurrier. If not for the “Head Ball Coach,” Bell may never have entered the coaching realm.
“I had never seen a guy coach with such great detail,” Bell said. “His whole thought process when he went to practice or when he was trying to develop a system or with his players, it was trying to obtain perfection on the field. And I had never seen that before … And that intrigued me. I didn’t even want to be a coach until I was around him and seeing that kind of detail and that kind of coaching … that’s what triggered me to become a coach.”
Since the spring, Bell has been installing his offense for the third time at the collegiate level — prior to Valdosta State, he led FCS Jacksonville for nine years, leading the Dolphins to a 66-35 record and three conference championships.
Installing an offense is not an easy task, though, but thanks to his unlikely rise, Bell knows to trust the process and keep things in perspective.
“Just don’t get frustrated,” Bell said. “Understand that there’s a lot of work. Understand the detail that you’ve got to coach at every day … As I’ve gone through my career, that’s sort of been my philosophy is that you get knocked down, just get back at work a little bit harder and things will work their way out.”
But there are sure to be setbacks at USF. There always are when something new is tried. But don’t worry about Bell if and when those failures happen. After all, despite all the success he’s had, it’s not like he hasn’t experienced falling down before.
“I’ve been a failure a lot more times than I’ve been successful,” Bell said. “I got cut seven times by NFL teams and kept getting back up and giving it another try. I just believe the big thing about if you’re trying to obtain a goal and you have the vision of where you want to take this offense, there’s going to be a lot of failures along the way.
“But you can’t be afraid of those failures. If it happens, you’ve just got to continue to grind and eventually good things will happen.”
That’s just the kind of thing you’d expect to hear from the persistent visionary.