Edmonton Eskimo quarterback Kerwin Bell is trapped in the back field by Calgary Stampeder Marvin Pope 91, backing up Pope is Will Johnson 91. C
Photograph by: BILL HERRIOT, Calgary Herald
EDMONTON - The current reality of any football team is connected to its past like a series of hand-offs that link one era to the one before and the one before that, and so forth.
So it is that the Edmonton coaching search touches, among a cluster of probably 10 candidates, Kerwin Bell, a journeyman CFL quarterback who led the club to a 13-5 won-lost record, including a six-game win streak to close the 1995 regular season, and a berth in the West Final. Doug Flutie’s Stampeders blew the Eskimos off the McMahon Stadium turf in that one, 37-4, but the run was fun while it lasted.
“Edmonton was probably the best place I played in (in the CFL), I had a great time, the year I was there.” Bell said, in a telephone interview from Florida, where he coaches the Jacksonville University Dolphins. “It’s a beautiful city and a great organization.
“A lot of people down here don’t know much about the CFL, and I always let them know that Edmonton is (like) the Dallas Cowboys of the NFL. It’s the model franchise, I think, in that league.
“Having been in that league for seven years and having watched how they do things from Hugh Campbell on down, when I was there, they always ran things first class.
“It would be a great place for a person to want to coach.”
The Eskimo Way has become more than a bit scuffed and battered since 2006, when Campbell stepped away from the franchise, but Bell certainly qualifies as a candidate who knows what it was like in its heyday, which is important.
The 1995 season was his only year as an Eskimo for Bell, a star quarterback at the University of Florida in the 1980s, who also played for Sacramento, Toronto (twice) and Winnipeg in his seven-year CFL career.
Bell also played for two seasons in the old World League of American Football (WLAF) and spent time in the NFL with Atlanta, Tampa Bay and Indianapolis.
For the last seven seasons, Bell has been head coach at Jacksonville. He has been the Dolphins’ offensive co-ordinator and quarterbacks coach as well as head man for the last four seasons. His son, Kade, plays quarterback for the Dolphins, who concluded their 5-6 season with a 45-24 victory over Stetson.
“I was contacted and my AD (athletic director) knows, I wanted to make sure he understood the situation that this was somewhere I’d played before and I wanted to have an opportunity to talk (about a job).” Bell said of his initial contact with Eskimos’ GM Ed Hervey. “Right now, I really don’t know more than I’m going to be talking to Ed and go from there.
“I’m sure it’s just a preliminary deal, he’s probably talking to a bunch of different people. I’ll gauge his interest and he’ll gauge mine and we’ll see if there’s any kind of interest, after we talk, and see what’s best for both parties.”
It may be that the Eskimos see Bell more as an offensive co-ordinator or even as a quarterbacks coach than as the head man. Hervey was vocal about his dissatisfaction with the Eskimos offensive coaching staff during their 4-14 season. For his part, Bell has impressive portfolio as an offensive mind.
Bell counts the likes of Steve Spurrier, the 1966 Heisman Trophy winner and legendary Florida Gator passer, and Lindy Infante, among his key coaching mentors. Current San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh cites Infante, who coached him when he played quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts, as a key influence on his coaching career.
Bell, who was backup to Harbaugh for a couple of seasons in Indianapolis, calls Infante, “one of the sharpest minds I’ve ever been around.”
Bell, like any college coach, is all-in on his own team during the season, so he has not really seen Eskimos starter Mike Reilly. He is well-versed in the Canadian game, obviously.
“The other guy I really modelled my coaching career on is Don Matthews,” Bell said, of the CFL coaching legend and former Eskimos assistant and head coach. Bell played for Matthews both with the Argonauts and with Orlando of the WLAF. Bell also played under and coached with Mike (Pinball) Clemons with the Argos.
He has, literally, been around.
“I told people when I was going around playing everywhere and moving my family, I didn’t know I was getting all this experience as a coach, but it really is what happened,” Bell said. “You’re young and just running around playing — I loved to compete.
“I wasn’t a great player, by any means, but I really was like a player-coach out there.
“That’s how I got by, playing so many years, understanding the game and attacking weaknesses, things like that. I wasn’t a fabulous athlete.”
He has become a career coach, one with an obvious expertise on offence, a need Hervey has identified for his club. So, they’ll talk and explore a fit, whatever that might mean.
“The one thing I regret ... I just wish we (the Eskimos) could have won that Western Conference Final,” Bell said. “That’s probably one of the most disappointing times of my career.
“(Doug) Flutie was coming off an injury and boy, he played an unbelievable game. That was the one chance for me as a player to get to the Grey Cup and we didn’t get it done.
“That was a disappointing time for me. But, other than that, I had a great time up there.”
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