Florida State trip not much of a homecoming for UMass football coach Walt Bell

  • UMass head football coach Walt Bell makes his return to Tallahassee to play Florida State this weekend. Bell was the offensive coordinator there before being hired at UMass. STAFF FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 10/21/2021 5:24:10 PM

AMHERST — Florida State is hosting its homecoming festivities this weekend against UMass, and it will be one of sorts for Walt Bell, the Minutemen’s head coach.

Bell spent one season as the Seminoles’ offensive coordinator after leaving Maryland in January 2018. It was a trying season for both Bell and Florida State. The Seminoles finished 5-7, their worst record since 1976, and missed a bowl for the first time since 1981. Bell’s offense, which he shared play calling duties with then-head coach Willie Taggert (now the coach at Florida Atlantic) for a time, finished 100th in yards per game and scored 39 touchdowns behind an injury-depleted offensive line.

“It was a tough eight months in terms of wins and losses and expectations. It was a great opportunity for my family and it was great to be at a place with an unbelievable football tradition like Florida State,” Bell said. “I had a really good job at Maryland, but no matter the circumstance it’s hard to say no to a place like Florida State.”

UMass named Bell its 30th head coach Dec. 3 that year, and Taggert was let go in November 2019. The Seminoles brought in current coach Mike Norvell and a largely new staff shortly after. They’ve completely revamped the roster over the past two seasons. Only Odell Haggins, Florida State’s associate head coach and defensive line coach of nearly three decades, worked with Bell under Taggert.

“Anytime you get to work with a guy like Odell Haggins, that’s a blessing in your life,” Bell said. “As many  people as Odell has helped and developed in terms of student athletes and players he’s developed, he’s also been an unbelievable guy for those that have worked with him as well.”

Just six offensive players remain from Bell’s tenure, and he didn’t have much of a hand in recruiting many of the incoming players because he left before the early signing period. But it’s one of the players that didn’t wind up coming to Tallahassee after Bell left that stuck.

Bell had a strong relationship with Sam Howell, then the third-ranked pocket passer recruit in the country, who committed to Florida State to play for Bell. When Bell left for Amherst, Howell decommitted and signed with North Carolina, his home state’s team.

The Seminoles have used six quarterbacks since that time, spread out over the past three seasons. Howell, meanwhile, has started every game of his college career and holds a laundry list of Tar Heels passing records. He’s also been a finalist or semifinalist for major national quarterback awards.

Despite the short stay, Bell looked back on his time in Tallahassee fondly.

“It’s a great place to play, a great football town. They’ve got an unbelievable fanbase. It’s a wonderful stadium. It’ll be a great environment to play,” he said. “Tallahassee’s an unbelievable place. My wife (Maria) loved it there. Great town. Great places to eat. Really good people. We loved it there in Tallahassee.”

As great of a time as he had, Bell had no problem leaving to take over the Minutemen.

“To be a head coach is a big deal. This is a place where we feel like we can build something special on our own,” Bell said. “So no, not hard at all.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.

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