Bobby Bell had always hoped, and believed, this day would come.
From his earliest days with the organization he helped build, the NYCBL’s Olean Oilers, to his tenure as an assistant coach at Division III John Carroll, to his summer in Keene, New Hampshire with the NECBL’s Swampbats, his goal had been equal parts singular and specific: to become a head collegiate baseball coach.
“At one point, it got to where I thought it was going to happen,” he said, “it was just a matter of when.”
That question has been answered.
After five years as an aide at John Carroll, including a stint as pitching coach, Bell was named the program’s new coach head coach Monday. The 34-year-old Olean native, who led the Oilers from their debut season in 2012 through their back-to-back NYCBL titles in 2015 and ‘16, replaces longtime coach Marc Thibeault, with whom John Carroll mutually parted ways midway through the 2019 campaign.
The prospect of Carroll, Bell admitted, “was a bit of a reach,” the reason he’d begun to further pad his resume by working at a Master’s degree. But his appointment Monday only added to a life-altering stretch for the former OHS standout, who was married in mid-June and will have completed his Master’s, from Ashland University, by September.
“When the opportunity came up, I definitely started to think, ‘OK, maybe I have the chance to be at John Carroll, a school that I had fallen in love with the last five years,” Bell recalled. “On top of that, the opportunity to coach the kids I recruited, created relationships with already, just made it a no-brainer for me. I wanted that job.”
BELL WILL walk into his first head coaching gig with a laundry-list of credentials.
Aside from the enormously-talented Oilers teams he put together in 2015 and ‘16, he was part of a Blue Streaks program that boasted 28 all-conference selections in his time as an assistant.
As pitching coach in 2015, his staff set a team record for strikeouts and landed the Ohio Athletic Conference’s Pitcher of the Year award.
But perhaps the biggest attribute he brings into these uncharted waters is the continuity that remains between coach and program.
“It’s so much easier and refreshing to know I’m going into the season with a group of guys who know how I work, know my attitude, know my energy and know a lot of my philosophies,” he said. “I feel like I’m already one step ahead of the game.
“For the most part … we already know each other so well; you get rid of that whole, ‘how do we act, how do we react, what kind of work are we going to be doing?’ You can skip that whole phase because you both already know it.”
For five years, however, he played the role an assistant coach typically might: an authority figure who could also be the ‘good cop,’ one whose relationship with players, by nature, is more easy-going.
His biggest challenge in transitioning to the top spot, he believes, will be reestablishing himself as the boss.
“What will be unique and interesting is them getting to know the difference between Bob the assistant coach and Bob the head coach,” he acknowledged, “because there are things you have to do differently. Your relationship has to change a little bit.
“Whereas (with) an assistant there are some gray areas and sometimes you can play a little bit more friendly than authority, with a head coach you’ve got to make that line a little more black and white.”
IN LIEU of the real thing after his wedding, Bell had his own honeymoon phase as coach at John Carroll.
Bell, who played his final two collegiate seasons at Pittsburgh, where he made 22 appearances as a relief pitcher in 2006 and ‘07, had known for a week that he’d landed the JC job, but was unable to tell anyone as the hire was being finalized.
That time gave him the realization that he’d achieved the goal he’d set before he’d even took first coaching job, with the Oilers, in 2012. But it quickly gave way to this feeling: There’s work to be done.
“What was nice about that was it gave me a moment to step back, reflect and really enjoy the opportunity that I was going to get,” he said. “And now that it’s announced and ready to go, it’s almost like that achievement has come and gone already, and now it’s like, ‘OK, how do I get my team ready to compete at the highest level of D-III baseball?
“Now, it’s go time. Full go.”
Bell inherits a Blue Streaks program that had previously advanced to 10 straight OAC Tournaments (only the top four teams make it), but missed the last two postseasons. His hope is to “elevate the program as a whole.”
“At this level, you try to do your best with everything,” he said. “If we can get back to the tournament and our guys can have a (collective) 3.6 GPA, I’d be thrilled. It’s a standard that’s been at John Carroll before me, and it’s one that I certainly plan to keep and try to keep going with.”
(J.P. Butler, Bradford Publishing Company group sports editor, can be reached at email@example.com)