For Hoosiers, new offensive coordinator Walt Bell a risk well worth taking
At the moment, Walt Bell’s resume doesn’t scream, “Wow! Gotta have him!”
Bell took the most thankless job in the FBS — UMass head coach — and got put through the wringer. The Minutemen typically lived up the their name — 1 minute of being competitive, 59 minutes getting their butts kicked. Bell finished 2-23 in 3 seasons.
But at 37 years old, Bell still has a lot of football coaching ahead of him. Indiana coach Tom Allen recognizes this, and that makes Bell’s hire a gamble worth making for the Hoosiers. Bell will fill a dual role of offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
It’s not like things can get any worse for IU’s offense in 2022.
The Hoosiers were 123rd in scoring offense (17.3 ppg), 113th in passing offense (175.5 ypg) and 113th in rushing offense (114.2 ypg) this season. If you must know, Indiana was also 126th in explosive plays (34 of 20-plus yards), 89th on third down (36.9%) and 108th in turnovers (22).
For Allen, nothing this offseason mattered more than replacing Nick Sheridan, and he has done so with an offensive mind that garnered enough respect to earn a head coaching gig at 35.
The Walt Bell file
Bell’s 2018 stint at Florida State goes a long way in showing just how desperate UMass was to hire anyone with a pulse.
The Seminoles were unremarkable, finishing 113th nationally in scoring. The Noles did finish 28th in the nation in passing, however, averaging 270.1 yards per game. Running the ball behind the junk offensive line Jimbo Fisher left behind before jumping to Texas A&M proved problematic. Florida State was a woeful 127th in rushing yardage and 128th in tackles for loss allowed.
Bell’s results at Maryland in 2016 and 2017 were also decidedly unimpressive. The Terrapins were 94th and 110th in total offense, respectively, in those seasons. But 2017 comes with a decided asterisk.
Maryland opened the season by hanging 51 points on Texas, but a slew of injuries forced the Terps to play 4 different quarterbacks throughout the season. Despite that handicap, Maryland was 19th in the country for fewest turnovers. That penchant for smart football is surely among Bell’s most appealing traits to Allen.
Another highlight from that 2017 stint at Maryland was producing the Big Ten’s wide receiver of the year, DJ Moore. Moore was the only 1,000-yard receiver in the conference that season despite the revolving door of quarterbacks.
Receivers are a strength of Bell’s offenses. According to Pro Football Focus, his wideouts averaged 6.3 yards after catch in his time at Maryland and Florida State.
And when you go back to Bell’s time at the Group of 5 level, his offenses blew the doors off opponents. In 2014, his Arkansas State offense set school records for points and yards per game. The Red Wolves were 18th in the nation in scoring, 20th in total offense and 25th in rushing offense.
Tom Allen’s eye for coaching talent
To this point, Allen deserves a lot of credit for identifying up-and-coming coordinators who are a realistic fit for Indiana.
Based on IU’s place in the college football pecking order, the best the Hoosiers can do is find coordinators who want to flex before moving on to a Group of 5 head coaching position.
He had that in Kalen DeBoer, who has accelerated all the way from Indiana OC in 2019 to Fresno State head coach in 2020 to Washington head coach beginning in 2022. On the defensive side, he identified Kane Wommack as a star on the rise. After 2 years running the Indiana defense, Wommack was hired as South Alabama’s head coach.
Sheridan ended up being a miss, but that would have been difficult to anticipate based on his 2020 performance. The offense just fell so far off the table this year that it became impossible to give him a redemption season in 2022.
Furthermore, Sheridan was an internal promotion when DeBoer left the program. The Bell hire seems to better fit Allen’s wheelhouse of identifying quality external candidates to help the Hoosiers.
2021 was the type of season that only Indiana could pull off. Ranked in the preseason poll for the first time since 1968, the Hoosiers laid egg after egg and put together one of the worst seasons in the program’s not-so-storied history.
Given that backdrop, Allen was going to have to take a bit of a chance on his OC hire. In turn, that offensive coordinator had to be someone with little to lose.
We’ll see how it plays out on the field, but on paper the marriage of Indiana and Bell looks to be an ideal match.