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Kerwin Bell hired as USF offensive coordinator

The former Gators quarterback led Valdosta State to a Division II national title this past season.

TAMPA — USF announced Thursday evening it has hired Valdosta (Ga.) State coach and former University of Florida quarterback Kerwin Bell as its new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.

Specifics of the deal weren't immediately made available. Blazers offensive line coach Jeremy Darveau, a former quality-control assistant at UF, reportedly also could join Bell in Tampa, but the school hasn't confirmed it.

Bell, who led Valdosta State to a 14-0 record and Division II national title this past season, replaces Sterlin Gilbert, named coach at I-AA McNeese State in December. Former Bulls offensive line coach Matt Mattox joined Gilbert's staff as offensive coordinator.

"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," Bulls coach Charlie Strong said in a statement released by USF.

"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."

The hire represents a coup of sorts for Strong, a Gators graduate assistant when Bell emerged from depth-chart anonymity as a walk-on in 1984 to lead UF to a 9-1-1 record.

In three seasons at Valdosta, Bell compiled a 27-7 record. His 2018 Blazers squad finished fourth among Division II teams in total offense (523.9 ypg) and led the nation in yards per play (7.89). The Blazers were 28th in passing offense (261.3 ypg) but first in yards per completion (15.2) and touchdown passes (50).

Additionally, third-year sophomore quarterback Rogan Wells totaled more than 3,800 yards (including 3,075 passing yards and 38 touchdowns) en route to finishing as runner-up for the Harlon Hill Trophy, the de facto D-II Heisman. Blazers senior C Jeremy King was runner-up for the Gene Upshaw Award (top lineman in D-II)

Before arriving in south Georgia, Bell compiled a 66-35 record in nine seasons at Jacksonville, a non-scholarship program. His contract wasn't renewed following the 2015 season after a philosophical dispute with administrators regarding the program's future.

He began his coaching career as an offensive coordinator with the CFL's Toronto Argonauts in 2000, then started the program at Ocala Trinity Catholic in 2001. Four seasons later, the Celtics were Class 2B state champions.

But to many middle-aged Gator fans, Bell remains an orange-and-blue folk hero.

A graduate of Lafayette County High in Mayo, Bell was thrust into UF's starting role days before the 1984 season opener when Dale Dorminey suffered a knee injury, and led the Gators to consecutive 9-1-1 seasons.

He was named SEC Player of the Year in 1984, when the Gators won the conference title on the field but later were forced to vacate it due to violations uncovered during the Charley Pell era. In four seasons, Bell threw for more than 7,500 yards and 56 touchdowns, leading UF to a pair of wins against Georgia and three against FSU.

He followed that with a journeyman pro career that included five passes (all completions) in the NFL and nearly 20,000 passing yards in nine CFL seasons.

He inherits a USF offense that returns its No. 1 quarterback (Blake Barnett), top two rushers (Jordan Cronkrite, Johnny Ford), a Mackey Award candidate at tight end (Mitch Wilcox) and four starting offensive linemen.

Contact Joey Knight at Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.