Chuck Bell takes the helm of Buchholz football program after long journey back to Gainesville
Chuck Bell’s dream to be head coach of a football team dates back three decades to the year he shadowed his father, the defensive coordinator at Santa Fe High School in 1994.
Bell, at the age of seven years old, was dressed for his role as the ball boy in his Santa Fe Raiders uniform. He watched from the sidelines as future National Football Leaguers like Mike Peterson, Kywon Ford and Freddy Lucas trained under the blistering Florida sun.
His love for the game only grew as time ticked by. Through a coaching career that has spanned 13 years, Bell, now 36, understands how hard it is to become a head coach. It's a dream that is finally becoming his reality.
“Being a head coach is very, very hard,” Bell said. “It's not even close to the responsibilities you have as an assistant coach, position coach, or even a coordinator.”
For the first time in over a decade, the Buchholz High School football program will have a new head coach in Bell. Former head coach Mark Whittemore retired after the team’s 42-35 loss to Venice High School during the final four competition last season.
Bell described himself as a 5-foot-9-inch, 170-pound guy with a heart that was always for the defensive line. But he had been the team’s defensive coordinator for four years, and he was ready to move upward. As the season came to an end, he started attracting offers from schools in the local area for their head coaching position, including Gainesville High School.
But Buchholz moved quickly to interview Bell. Buchholz athletic director Ron Brooks contacted him for an interview before Bell had the opportunity to interview with Gainesville High School.
Bell is a Gainesville native and since 2018 has been at Buchholz, where he teaches in the academy of finance, a magnet program that teaches students accounting, financial planning and even international trade. It’s a unique job for a football coach, he said.
“When college coaches come in for a recruiting visit, it’s been pretty wide eye for them,” Bell said. “Most coaches — when they come to visit — aren't even teaching, much less teaching an advanced subject for our high scholastic students in the county.”
On the day of his job interview, Bell changed into a suit after class and grabbed his materials. He beelined straight into Brooks’ office. And after a short interview, Bell got in his truck and started heading home, confident that it went well.
While driving, he received a call from Brooks to return to his office. Once he was there, he was officially offered the head coach position for the Buchholz Bobcats.
“I think I opened their eyes in my initial interview for the fact that this is a dream of mine, this is a dream job for me,” he said. “I’m not doing this for the money, but I’m doing it because I love Buchholz High School.”
Once the offer was made and accepted, the emotions started to hit, he said.
“A lot of pride runs through you when that moment hits,” Bell said. “It was a pretty exhilarating feeling.”
Obtaining the offer was just another case of him making a decision and sticking to it, said Bell’s father, Charles Bell.
“He’s always been really good at setting his sights on a goal and seeing it through,” Charles Bell said. “His move into the head coaching position at Buchholz is another example of that.”
Chuck Bell attended Buchholz his freshman year and played offensive guard for the Bobcats. After transferring to a high school in southern Georgia for two years, Bell returned to Buchholz and played as both an offensive guard and a defensive lineman.
Bell was a fundamentally hardnose player at guard and was everywhere on defense, according to his father’s recollection.
Charles Bell remembers how it felt to watch his son showcase his unique talents on the field on both offense and defense. In Chuck Bell’s senior year of high school, he played against Lake City Christian Academy, and despite the loss, his father proudly watched him.
“He just completely blew it up,” Charles said. “For a guy that was only 190 pounds, it was pretty darn impressive to watch. That game sticks out in my mind.”
After graduating from Buchholz High School in 2006, he attended the Naval Academy, where he played football as an offensive lineman.
Bell transferred to the University of Florida after two years in the Naval Academy and finished his education in 2010 with a bachelor’s in sports management. After graduating, he stayed close to home and joined the University of Florida’s football coaching staff.
After former head coach Will Muschamp was fired in 2016, Bell joined Muschamp’s staff and traveled to the University of South Carolina. He stayed in Columbia, South Carolina, for a year until moving to Warner University in Lake Wales, Florida.
He helped coach the Warner Royals to their best season in school history and to a National Christian College Athletic Associations championship in 2016. Then, he moved to Tennessee to coach defensive line at Tennessee Tusculum College.
Nine house leases later, Bell and his wife decided it was time to come home to Gainesville.
“Just the grind in college coaching kind of caught up to us, I think,” Bell said. “When the idea was floated by her — and sort of an idea that had been in my head to possibly think about moving home — I made one call and that was to coach Whittemore.”
Whittemore, the head coach at Buchholz from 2012 until last fall, played a significant role in Bell’s coaching career, giving him advice on how to coach a high school team and teach a class.
Bell was hired as the team’s defensive coordinator in 2018, and he coached multiple defensive stalwarts. His players aided Buchholz to a 42-16 overall record in that time, according to MaxPreps.
He has also helped multiple defensive linemen gain a college education and continue football on the next level.
“Every single kid that has started in our D-line, except for two that I can think of, have played college football or had the chance to play college football,” Bell said. “I’m a D-line guy by trade.”
Bell and his staff will begin their preparation for the new season on May 1. The Bobcats will also play an intramural scrimmage game May 19 at Buchholz and a spring exhibition game against the Bradford Tornados May 25 at Bradford High School in Starke.