Hiring Bell Put JU on Title Track

Article excerpt

Byline: GENE FRENETTE

Alan Verlander remembers there was "so much sadness" two years ago when, in his first major act as Jacksonville University's athletic director, he fired Steve Gilbert, the school's nine-year football coach and one of the profession's nicest people.

But the cold reality was that JU's football program had become stale. Verlander knew if the Dolphins were to have a consistent winning football program, he had to shake things up.

Not that anyone anticipated JU becoming almost an overnight success. But the hiring of former University of Florida quarterback Kerwin Bell as head coach shows what can happen, even with non-scholarship football, when an administration is willing to dream big.

After a decade of mediocrity, the Dolphins have become relevant on the gridiron. Watching 5,000-plus people at D.B. Milne Field two weeks ago when JU captured its first Pioneer Football League championship, rallying from a two-touchdown deficit to beat Dayton 19-14, it was apparent there's a new mind-set about where this program is headed.

Nobody wants to go back to an endless string of losing seasons. Not when seeing how much a championship energizes the whole campus.

"I remember coming, and the atmosphere was negative," JU senior cornerback Robson Noel said. "When fans don't see you win, they don't want to come out. Now, they're coming up to us between classes and telling us they'll be there. We're on an upward slope. The hiring of Alan Verlander and coach Bell changed everything."

Verlander, a Jacksonville native, believed the program needed an energy boost. Luring Bell from Ocala Trinity Catholic High, a move highly endorsed by president Kerry Romesburg, was like a double shot of chocolate mocha. …