The story of South Florida and Charlie Strong getting Kerwin Bell as offensive coordinator begins with this simple point: Sterlin Gilbert did have to go.
Few USF fans would argue with the claim that Gilbert, who helped Strong at Texas and did a good job with Quinton Flowers, lost his fastball and needed to find a new place of employment. His timid and unimaginative approach to the biggest game of the year, the Nov. 23 game against UCF in which the Knights were highly vulnerable due to the McKenzie Milton injury, sealed his fate.
USF did not perform well in its bowl game against Marshall, but games against Marshall don’t define seasons at USF. Games against UCF do. Gilbert flunked that rivalry game, and Charlie Strong needed to change his play-caller.
We can all (or almost all) agree with that.
That meant the Bulls needed find someone to lead an offense that sputtered it’s way to six straight losses.
Here is the problem: Charlie Strong has a history of not choosing elite offensive coordinators. More precisely, he has a history of having to make second hires of OCs, as a head coach.
Strong hired Mike Sanford, Sr. (not Jr.) at Louisville. That didn’t work out. Strong pivoted to Shawn Watson, who benefited from nothing more — or less — than the simple fact that Teddy Bridgewater was the quarterback during his tenure as Strong’s second offensive coordinator at Louisville. When Strong moved to Texas, he took Watson with him.
Spoiler alert: Bridgewater did not play at Texas. Texas did not perform well on offense with Watson as the play-caller.
Strong went to Jay Norvell (now the head coach at Nevada) to replace Watson as the offensive play-caller at Texas before he then endured the public humiliation of begging Gilbert to leave Tulsa and join him at Texas. The protracted drama underscored how much Strong had struggled at UT, and how far the Longhorns had fallen.
When Gilbert did improve the Texas offense (but not enough to help Strong stay at Texas, due to many defensive lapses), Strong felt a sense of loyalty to his assistant, enough to take him to USF. The Quinton Flowers offense largely did what it was supposed to do, including the game at UCF which turned into one of the classic games of the entire 2017 college football season. This year, though, the house fell down.
“Charles in Charge” means that Charlie Strong had to replace yet another offensive coordinator, and to be more specific, for bad reasons, not good ones.
Nick Saban constantly has to replace offensive coordinators at Alabama because they get NFL OC jobs or college head coaching jobs. Safe to say, Strong replaces his offensive coordinators for different reasons.
What to make of Kerwin Bell? He is a name older football fans in the state of Florida remember well — and fondly — due to his years as the Florida Gators’ star quarterback. Had Florida not been hit with NCAA and SEC penalties due to various violations under Charley Pell (whose tenure preceded Bell’s playing career) and then Galen Hall, Bell might have led Florida onto the field in one or more Sugar Bowls He was robbed of that opportunity, but the quality of his performances spoke for itself.
Bell, as head coach, led Valdosta State to an unbeaten season this past year and the Division II national championship. He has been around the block, coaching at various levels of college ball plus the CFL and high school. He is 53 years old and a true survivor in the football industry. In addition to his many stops along the way as a coach, he also carved out a professional playing career which lasted over a decade — not bad for a seventh-round pick at No. 180 in 1988.
Bell could be really, really good, and personally, I am cautiously optimistic about the move.
Yet, Kerwin Bell isn’t really the main story here. The main story is that Charlie Strong had to replace another offensive coordinator for the wrong reasons.
Strong can only hope that this offensive coordinator will stick. He needs it to happen.
Otherwise, his head coaching career will end before too long.
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