April 20, 2012
When the head football coach of Prince Avenue Christian School asked Richard Bell if he wanted to become a high school defensive coordinator, Bell told him he would need a month to decide. He took a month and a half.
Bell, who spent 12 years an assistant coach at Air Force, including his last eight as Fisher DeBerry’s defensive coordinator, didn’t know if coaching in high school was right for him. He had been out of coaching for three years, and missed it. He was in his 70s, and another job in college football – even after 42 years in college, which included a year as South Carolina’s head coach - was unlikely.
He hadn’t coached high school before, and the small school in Athens, Ga. (“We’re one of the smallest of the small,” Prince Avenue coach Mark Farriba said) was a long way from Division I college football. When Bell finally agreed to run the Prince Avenue Christian School’s defense, he got an apartment in Athens and told his wife Marilyn to stay back at their home in Atlanta. He wanted a clean break if he didn’t like it.
Bell spent his three years out of coaching doing consulting work for high schools and colleges, talking about defensive football and motivation, and even wrote a book titled “Winning Defensive Football.” That was fine, but he wanted to coach again.
“I never felt fulfilled,” Bell said. “I enjoyed coaching.”
Marilyn Bell moved to Athens a few months after Richard took the job.
This wasn’t what Bell was used to, after stops like West Virginia, Texas Tech, Georgia Tech and Air Force, but he was having a blast.
“I think it took maybe 10 minutes into the first practice for me to know this would work really well,” Farriba said. “The biggest thing is our players have total confidence in him. If he says it, they believe it.”
It shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that adding a coordinator with four decades of college experience would help a small high school in Georgia. In 2010, Bell’s first season with Prince Avenue, it went 7-4 and made the playoffs for the first time. Last year the team went undefeated in the regular season and won the Region 8A championship, before losing in the state semifinals.
Bell found out that coaching was coaching, no matter the level.
“The competitiveness in you is the same as if you’re going to Notre Dame or Colorado State for a game, but if you lose a game, you don’t feel it’s life or death,” Bell said. “Here, this is just a fun job. It is great taking a bunch of kids and showing them they can have success.”
He has helped the school, too. Farriba said Bell is maybe the finest man he has been around, and many at the school feel that way. Linda Zeagler, the director of marketing and communication at the school, said Bell encouraged her son Mark – who played for Bell as a senior at Prince Avenue - through his application process to Air Force, and helped him through the first year at the academy too.
"I have worked at the school for over 12 years, and have never seen students and teachers respond so positively to what he has to say,” Linda Zeagler said.
Bell, who is 74, said he is taking it year by year and will keep coaching as long as his health holds up and he is enjoying it. So far, it has been a perfect fit.
“It’s been a real blessing,” Bell said.
Contact Frank Schwab: 476-4891
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