February 1, 2018

Bell a warrior always

DB Joshua Bell during the 2017 Labour Day Classic (Photo by Rob McMorris)

He played the game the way he painted his face.

With a single-minded ferocity worthy of Braveheart.

After 10 pro years of directing traffic, initiating high-claim on-field fender-benders and clogging the air with sound bites, Joshua Bell, at 33, has decided to put away his gear for good.

Along with the face paint.

One of the downsides of his newly minted gig as Calgary Stampeders defensive backs coach is that the self-expressive facial decoration which has become a personal trademark would be, well, somewhat frowned upon.

No matter.

“The paint,’’ says Bell, on the day he segued from the position of Calgary Stampeders’ all-in, flat-out safety to the relative safety of the sidelines, “was only an outward expression of the warrior inside.

“So the paint may be gone. But it was only external, anyway.

“The warrior inside, believe me, is still there. That never changes.”

Owing to Kahlil Carter’s departure from Dave Dickenson’s staff, the job of tutoring the DBs out at McMahon Stadium came open at an opportune moment.

Who better than Joshua Bell to slide into the void?

He’s actually been auditioning for the post since signing on here as a free agent Feb. 12, 2014.


Since then, cramming plenty into four campaigns adorned in red-and-white, he’s won a Grey Cup in 2014, a Herm Harrison Award, a Presidents’ Ring and been named a team co-captain, all the while setting a non-negotiable standard, providing an unflinching example, for any and all newcomers to the Stampeder secondary to adhere to.

“I’ve thought about this for a while; had an eye on a transition into coaching,’’ Bell says from his off-season home in the Dallas area, where he coaches – track – during the off-season. “So I am at peace with the decision (to retire). Some people, in the same situation, lose the thrill, miss the satisfaction, they get from playing week in and week out.

“I won’t.

“I’ll still have the satisfaction of preparing all week, same as always, and winning games. I just won’t have to hurt as much the day after.”

And there’s no better place anywhere across this country to cut his coaching teeth, he reckons, than here.

“As someone who wants to be a head coach one day, I would like to think with Bill Belichick’s brain,’’ Bell says. “To take everything he’s known and learned and experienced into being a consistently successful coach, moulding a consistently successful franchise. “Well, I get to do that now with the CFL version of the New England Patriots.

“I get to do that as an employee under coach Huff (GM John Hufnagel) and coach Dave (Dickenson), inside the Stampeders’ organization. I have access to all the data, the variables, the ins and outs, of what’s required to win consistently.

“I get to watch and learn from the inside.

“I actually get to infiltrate the matrix.”

No different that any other player-turned-coach, Bell expects to be a product of the men who have mentored him over the course of a career that really began at Baylor University and moved from San Diego to Denver to Green Bay to Vancouver and finally here, to southern Alberta.

“When I first got to Calgary, I’d say Tony Missick made a big impression on me. He was one of the men who taught me the Calgary way. I respect how he coached veterans. And I’ll have to implement a lot of what he taught me at the time.

“Coach Mark Washington” – out west-coast way in B.C. – “is a great man, a great coach. I admire his detail, the way he gets the message across to the players regarding assignments, recognizing tendencies. Things like that.

“I’ll probably attempt to lean on his influence the most because he transitioned and played with guys that he went on to coach, great players such as Korey Banks, Dante Marsh, Ryan Phillips.

“He was, to those guys, a peer first and a coach second. Which can be sticky but my perspective is that we’re still working towards something together, same way we were as a unit on the field. We’re still teammates, coaches and players, with a united objective of winning a championship.

“Coach Washington made that jump successfully, which is what I hope to do.”

Photo by Alex Daddese

On game days, you wonder, will someone so invested in his craft miss that visceral, unable-to-replicate feel of physical contact? Of continually pushing his limits physically?

“Maybe so. Maybe so,’’ is the soft, measured reply. “I don’t exactly know what I’ll miss about playing the game just yet. I guess I’ll be finding out soon enough. I do enjoy smacking people and I’ve tended to smack ‘em a little more the last few years, maybe knowing this day was coming sooner than later.

“But, hey, it was all for a purpose. To impose my will on an opponent.

“Now I’ll get satisfaction from Brandon Smith smacking somebody. Let other guys do the smacking now. It’s time for me to put my feet up and relax.”

Only a matter of speech, of course. coaching and relaxation are rarely, if ever, to be found in the same sentence. The next phase, he’s fully aware, will be time-consuming, offering a different set of challenges.

“Football,’’ says Bell, “is my passion.

“I live my passion.

“For some people, football is just a job. They clock in and they clock out.

“Not me. Uh, uh. No sir.

“It’s what I do.

“It’s my life.

“This is the next phase of my life.”