Bell to coach Jacksonville University


Published: Monday, January 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 1, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

OCALA — Trinity Catholic High School head coach Kerwin Bell reached a tentative agreement to become the new head football coach at Jacksonville University on Sunday night.

"It's looking good," Bell said in a phone interview Sunday.

JU assistant athletic director for media relations Joel Lamp said the school is "still in discussions" with Bell, as the two sides are "hammering out the details."

"If everything goes as planned, we'll have everything tied down by (today)," Lamp said Sunday.

If the remaining details are settled, a news conference to announce the deal will be held Tuesday at Jacksonville. Lamp declined to discuss the length and amount of the contract, though the deal was believed to be for four years.

Trinity Catholic athletic director Gary Belger could not be reached for comment Sunday.

When and if the deal is finalized, Bell will have made the rare jump from high school head coach to college head coach.

"It was too good of an opportunity to turn down," Bell said.

JU felt the same about hiring the former Florida star quarterback (1984-87).

"(Bell) brings a lot to the table," said Lamp, lauding Bell's work in building Trinity into a state champion and the impact his prominent name could have on the recruiting circuit.

Bell said he began talks with Dolphins athletic director Alan Verlander with the expectation that he would return to Trinity. But negotiations heated up over the last week as Jacksonville consistently met Bell's demands.

"My gameplan was, we're going to ask for a lot because we want to make sure we have the resources to get it done," Bell said. "If they're not willing to go along with what we want, I have the best high school job in the state of Florida.

"It got to the point where it was going to be hard to turn down."

Bell takes over an NCAA Division I-AA Dolphins program that has done little to distinguish itself since its 1998 inception. The school just completed a 4-6 season that saw head coach Steve Gilbert fired.

Bell said he'll have to build the program "from the ground up."

"It's going to take a lot of hard work," he said.

In that way, Bell drew similarities between his new job and his old one.

"I feel like, right now, I was just happy to try to build a program (at Trinity) in five years to where it is now and be a part of that," said Bell, the only head coach in Trinity's brief history. "Right now my goal is to see if we can go into JU and see if we can built that into a great I-AA program."

Bell said he received assurances from Verlander that he would be put in a position to succeed.

"They came through with a lot of things," he said. "They're ready to go to the next step."

Bell led the Celtics to a 40-13 record after five seasons, including a 27-game winning streak, the 2005 Class 2B state championship and a second state championship game appearance in 2006.

Bell believes the Celtics are poised for more success.

"That's what been so tough about this decision," Bell said. "I think we could have made another run."

Bell denied that the timing of the decision was tied to the exit of John Brantley IV, the star quarterback who led Trinity to a state championship as a junior and earned Gatorade National Player of the Year honors and another state title game appearance as a senior. Brantley, currently in San Antonio, Texas preparing for the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, will attend Bell's alma mater Florida next year.

Brantley's father John Brantley III, who served as running backs coach under Bell the last two seasons, said Sunday night that now was the time for Bell to move on.

"He's just taking an opportunity to get to the next level," said Brantley III, who said he spoke with Bell regularly throughout the decision-making process. "I think he's got some goals that he wants to attain as a coach, and he feels like this is one of them.

"He's been a great friend and will continue to be a friend. We'll support him any way we can."

With Bell and his son leaving the program, Brantley III, also a former Gators standout, said his own future with the Celtics is undetermined.

"I'm indebted to Trinity for what they did for our family," he said. "I hope to stay involved in some capacity."

Bell had planned to finally move his family to Ocala from his hometown of Mayo after commuting for the past five years. Instead, he will move his wife of 21 years, Cosette, and his three children, Kade, 13, Kolton, 10, and Kimberly, 6, to Jacksonville. Eldest son Kade would have been a Trinity freshman and football prospect next year, and Bell expressed regret that he would miss the chance to coach his son.

Bell was drafted by the Miami Dolphins in the seventh round of the 1988 NFL Draft, played in a variety of pro leagues and spent time with the Atlanta Falcons, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Indianapolis Colts as a backup quarterback. His only regular-season action was a one-half cameo for the Colts in 1996; Bell completed all five passes for 75 yards and a touchdown. He also served as a graduate assistant under Steve Spurrier in 1990. He last played professionally for the CFL's Toronto Argonauts, spending the 2000 season as a quarterback and offensive coordinator.

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