Current Date: Fri, 07 Mar 2014 19:56:12 -0500
On Saturday, if you look closely enough at the North Carolina football team’s sideline, you’ll probably see a guy going crazy flailing his arms.
That’s Walt Bell, the tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator.
It wasn’t that long ago – seven years to be exact – that Bell was on the other sideline playing wide receiver for Middle Tennessee State. Between those two stops in his career, Bell has worked his way from the bottom as a graduate assistant at Louisiana-Lafayette to a position coach at a major BCS school.
Of course, Bell doesn’t take too much credit for his ascension. That’s just not his style.
“By no means was I a good player,” Bell said. “A lot of it has to do with being in the right place at the right time. I was very fortunate to be on the front of the offensive explosion. Everybody wanted to go to the spread, and what we were doing was valuable. It’s not because I’m that great. It’s because I’ve been really lucky.”
Bell doesn’t get a whole lot of press, but he’s been an integral part of UNC’s high-tempo offense.
To junior tight end Eric Ebron, he’s “that piece of the puzzle that makes everything work.”
He doesn’t make in-game decisions. He doesn’t make the play calls. He’s not even the one making the plays. But with his responsibilities and impact on the coaching staff, he might deserve a second glance.
The man on game day
Some schools, like Oregon, get play calls in using large signs with symbols ranging from the Burger King mascot to an outline of Louisiana.
UNC opts for the more traditional play call method rom While offensive coordinator Blake Anderson surveys the play from the press box, Bell acts as his eyes and ears on the field.
“With me being up in the box, you have to have somebody down there that can get in front of the quarterback when need be and explain things in terms of what is happening in the game,” Anderson said. “We don’t click well without him.”
With technology nowadays, opposing coaches could steal his signals and thwart the offensive game plan, but Bell doesn’t worry about protecting his craft.
“There was a time in our lives when we did (care), but when we were doing that, we looked to the sideline a lot more,” he said. “Now, it’s if you can steal our signal, we’re not playing fast enough.”
For more than five years, two of them at UNC, Bell has held this job as game day signaler . Of course, his job — particularly in the midday fall heat of the South — gives way to ribbing from the players. Ebron said he and his teammates give Bell flack for how silly he looks.
“He’s going absolutely insane every game. We love it — it fires us up,” Ebron said. “But after the game or in the meeting room, we are killing him. We talk about the ugly faces he makes, how red he is outside.”
But Bell doesn’t worry about looking pretty. He’s only worried about making faster calls.
Bell’s relationship with Anderson began at Middle Tennessee State where he was a young receiver under the tutelage of Anderson, whom Bell now describes as a stepdad.
“There were times in life I probably should’ve been on his taxes because he was taking such good care of me,” Bell said.
And now as a coach, Bell continues that type of atmosphere with his own players.
Ebron called Bell an older brother with a relationship different than any other coach and player.
“At heart, he’s still one of us,” Ebron said. “He understands in a locker room if you want to talk about other teams, other football schools, UFC fights – that’s coach Bell.”
Bell is one of the best when it comes to mixing a light-hearted personality with his job. Ebron laid out a typical week in terms of Walt Bell moods during the season:
“Monday, you don’t hear from coach Bell,” Ebron said. “He tries to forget about football that day. Tuesday, he’s serious. Wednesday, he’s a little more lenient. Thursday, coach Bell definitely starts showing his goofy side. Friday, before we’re going through our walk through, coach Bell is one of the most hyper coaches because it’s a progressive build throughout the week of his goofy side.”
Of course, Bell isn’t just relaxed all the time. He also has a serious side when it comes to giving full effort and minimizing mistakes.
“You have to cross your t’s and dot your i’s with coach Bell,” Ebron said. “He doesn’t accept laziness, he doesn’t accept anything stupid, he doesn’t accept you not trying as hard as you possibly could. Following those three things makes your life easier.”
And as he takes on his alma mater, Bell will be all business come Saturday. But he remembers where he came from.
“When I got there, coach Anderson was there,” he said. “It ended up him being like a dad to me. We built our relationship there — met a lot of great coaches there, a lot of great people there. Murfreesboro’s a great place.”
Facing his old haunts
Though Middle Tennessee State isn’t a highly ranked SEC team like South Carolina, Bell knows better than anybody that the Blue Raiders shouldn’t be taken lightly. During his time at MTSU, he faced his share of powerhouses in Alabama, Florida and Georgia.
“Trust me, it won’t be a big deal to them,” Bell said. “They’ll come here with a chip on their shoulder and play incredibly hard. They won’t get off the bus if they don’t expect to win.”
The Blue Raiders will be ready to play — ask Georgia Tech, the receivers of a 49-28 drubbing last year. And don’t forget, the Yellow Jackets later went on to beat UNC 68-50.
Bell still keeps in touch with his mentors — many of who, like head coach Rick Stockstill, are still at MTSU.
“We’ve (direct messaged on Twitter) back and forth,” Bell said. “A lot of my old teammates are coming to this game. I told them, ‘Hey if I’m giving you a ticket, you’re wearing Carolina blue.’ If they don’t want a ticket, they can wear MTSU blue.”
After walking on to the football team at MTSU, Bell earned a scholarship after his redshirt freshman year . Though he didn’t rack up the stats, he always worked to learn more.
“(I was) trying to learn more jobs than just yours hoping for the chance that somebody won’t be able to play, and I know that job better than somebody else,” Bell said. “Trying to be the jack of all trades, the master of none, hoping somehow I can weasel my way into a position.”
Sort of similar to how a wide receiver ended up being a tight ends coach.