TAMPA — Kerwin Bell is headed back to Florida.
After a national championship in his third season at the helm of Valdosta State, the former Lafayette High standout is leaving VSU, sources told the Mayo Free Press on Thursday.
Bell will now be the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at South Florida, a move the school announced Thursday night.
The move to USF comes after Bell led the Blazers, an NCAA Division II power, to their fourth national championship in December. VSU held off Ferris State 49-47 in the championship game, completing a 14-0 season, the first unbeaten campaign in school history. The Blazers went 27-7 in Bell’s three seasons.
"We certainly wish Kerwin the best as he moves to South Florida for the next phase of his career," VSU athletic director Herb Reinhard said in a school release. "I am proud of the success Blazer Football has enjoyed under his leadership. We will immediately start a search process to find our next coach."
Bell will not be the only coach VSU will have to replace.
Defensive coordinator Danny Verpaele has left for an assistant coaching position at Kennesaw State, the Free Press was told. It's also been reported by WTXL-TV in Tallahassee that offensive line coach Jeremy Darveau will be accompanying Bell to USF.
The title came on the strength of a record-setting offense, which Bell will now try to replicate with the Bulls, who lost their final six games to finish 7-6 last season.
The Blazers, with Kade Bell calling the plays under his father’s guidance, averaged 52 points per game with 728 points for the season, setting new school and Gulf South Conference records for both. VSU also set new school records for rushing yards (3,676 yards total and 262.6 yards per game) and total offense (7,334 yards total and 523.9 yards per game), while closing. The total offense yardage also set a new GSC record.
USF, meanwhile, averaged just shy of 30 points per game while rushing for 208 yards per game with an additional 240 yards per game coming through the air. The Bulls were held to 20 or fewer points four times during the season-ending losing streak, including the final three games.
"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," USF coach Charlie Strong said in the school's release. "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."
A high-powered offense is nothing new for Bell and his teams, though. VSU averaged nearly 35 points per game during Bell’s first season in 2016 while throwing for more than 300 yards per game. The Blazers, despite not making the playoffs in 2017, closed with a flourish, averaging 39.4 points the final five games of that season, serving as a springboard for the big 2018 campaign.
That came after a nine-year stint at Jacksonville where Bell led the Dolphins to a 66-35 record.
Four times under Bell's watch, the Dolphins averaged more than 400 yards per game offensively, topped by the 522.7 yards per game it produced per game in 2013. That year, Jacksonville averaged 331.5 yards passing per game and averaged 41.8 points per game. The Dolphins also threw for more than 300 yards per game in 2014 and three other times averaged more than 290 yards passing per game. Jacksonville averaged 42.2 points per game in 2010, the highest mark under Bell.
Prior to his coaching career, which began as an offensive coordinator while still playing with the Toronto Argonauts before becoming the head coach at Trinity Christian in Ocala, Bell quarterbackEd Lafayette High to its lone state championship in 1981.
Bell, the “Throwin’ Mayoan” then walked on at Florida before becoming a star with a stellar career in which he threw for 7,586 yards and 56 touchdowns in earning Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Year accolades in 1984 and, ultimately, induction into the UF Athletic Hall of Fame in 1997. Bell played professionally in the National Football League as well as the Canadian Football League and World League of American Football.