Credit - IU Athletics

Tom Allen no doubt hoping Walt Bell still has the magic from early in his career

Walt Bell developed a reputation as a bright young offensive mind at Arkansas State.

As the offensive coordinator there from 2014 to 2015, he broke records and became one of the hottest up-and-comers in the business.

In Bell’s first year at Arkansas State, the Red Wolves broke five school records on the offensive side of the ball. The high-tempo offense posted 6,194 yards of total offense, averaged 476.5 yards per game, ran 1,024 plays, scored 477 points and totaled 65 touchdowns.  In his second season they ranked 14th nationally in scoring offense, averaging 40.0 points per game.

At just 31 Bell had options, and he chose to become the offensive coordinator at Maryland, a logical next step.

But since then, whether due to bad luck, bad career choices, a loss of some of that early magic, or perhaps all of the above, things haven’t gone nearly as well.

A clear case could be made that bad luck defined Bell’s run at Maryland.

He never had healthy quarterbacks in College Park, coaching seven starters in just two seasons.  There were signs that he had the offense ready early in his two seasons there.  Maryland posted 173 points in the first four games of the 2016 season, a program record, and the Terps put up 51 points on Texas in a 2017 season-opening win in Austin. But the quarterback attrition ultimately led to two very average at best offensive seasons.

After two years at Maryland Bell went on to Florida State, the first of perhaps two questionable decisions on his part.  While the Florida State program had obvious appeal and the money was better, he ceded play-calling duties in 2018 to Seminoles head coach Willie Taggart.  Bell was also handed a troubled quarterback in 2018 who was coming off a knee injury and would later be kicked off the team after both drug charges and assault accusations.  Once again, the Florida State offense was a disappointment in his lone year at Tallahassee.

Finally, Bell accepted the head coaching position at UMass, a place often described as the hardest job in the FBS.  The Athletic conducted a poll surveying 60 individuals who work in the college football industry asking them to take a vote on which schools have it the hardest when it comes to doing their job.  UMass was the second-leading vote-getter among Group of 5 programs with 97 points and 11 first-place votes. One agent told The Athletic that it was the only job he ever advised a client to turn down.

Since joining the FBS back in 2012, the Minutemen have had just 20 wins.  Perhaps it was a job Bell, who went 3-23 at Amherst, should have turned down himself.

Now he is headed back to the OC ranks, and clearly Tom Allen believes that Bell, still only 37, continues to be a bright young offensive mind who simply had a combination of bad luck and poor judgment over the last six years.

What to expect from Bell’s offense

The constant throughout Bell’s coaching tenure is a spread, up-tempo offense.  At its best, from a tempo standpoint Bell wants to look like opponents Indiana saw recently — Western Kentucky in September and Ole Miss in January.  But that will of course take time to implement and IU will need to find the optimal personnel that fit his system.

When former Michigan defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin became the Maryland head coach and hired Bell, the thought was that he could perhaps recreate the success with tempo Kevin Wilson had at Indiana, something Durkin knew all too much about.

“Hopefully with our style and our brand we’ll be able to do the same thing [as Indiana],” Bell said in 2016.

Some of Bell’s biggest influences either directly or indirectly are Larry Fedora, Mike Leach and Chip Kelly.

Bell’s offenses typically have one running back, one tight end, the quarterback in the shotgun, and three receivers spread out wide.

But while much of this suggests a heavy pass orientation, most of Bell’s teams have favored the run.  The idea is to spread the defense, wear them out and put them on their heels with tempo, and then use zone run schemes.  It is an approach not unlike what Wilson had success with at IU with Tevin Coleman and Jordan Howard.

Bell run vs. pass play percentages

  • Arkansas State 2014:  Run – 54% / Pass 46%
  • Arkansas State 2015:  Run – 61% / Pass 39%
  • Maryland 2016:  Run – 58% / Pass  – 42%
  • Maryland 2017:  Run – 55% / Pass – 45%
  • Florida State 2018:  Run – 45% / Pass – 55%
  • UMass 2019:  Run – 50% / Pass – 50%
  • UMass 2020:  Run – 52% / Pass – 48%
  • UMass 2021:  Run – 54% / Pass – 46%

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