JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jacksonville's population will grow by the thousands this weekend with waves of orange, blue, red, and black descending upon the River City for the annual gridiron contest held across the St. John's River from Jacksonville University's campus.
Jacksonville's football team will play away from the hoopla in Dayton, Ohio, in a crucial Pioneer Football League matchup against the Dayton Flyers, but the connection to the Florida-Georgia rivalry will still be strong from the Buckeye State.
Jacksonville Head Coach Kerwin Bell is remembered by Gator fans for his offensive heroics, and Associate Head Coach Jerry Odom is known for his hard hits as a linebacker, but both gained some of their earliest coaching experience in Gainesville under a headline name this month, Steve Spurrier. Bell's first coaching gig was as a graduate assistant under Spurrier in 1990 and Odom, whose father played with the former Heisman winner at Florida, played and later served as an inside linebackers and special teams coach under the HBC.
The Head Ball Coach resigned from his position leading South Carolina earlier this month and sent shockwaves across the college football scene. While the College Football Hall of Famer never coached for the Dolphins, his impact is painted all over the Jacksonville program. Both Bell and Odom were happy to trace their coaching linage back to the Spurrier tree.
"I learned that I wanted to be a coach. Coaching was never in my thought process as far as what I wanted to do after playing ball. The way he coached, installed and the rhythm of his offense, and that there was almost a perfection gained on the field got me interested in becoming a coach. I give him all the credit in the world to what I've become because a lot of it leads back to him. A lot of my philosophies that I use here are from him," said Bell.
"He's one of the best coaches that I've ever been around. I've taken a lot of the way that I look at things and learned from him. Coach used to always tell me that you don't win games on Wednesdays, and to worry about the things that win you football games. A lot of coaches sweat every detail, but don't worry about the things that can't help you win. I've always kept that in the back of my mind. We work hard here with long hours, but once we get our work done we go home and that's straight from him. He taught me to prioritize things that win for you and work smart," said Odom. "He did things the right way and told me when he hired me, 'Don't cheat Jerry or I'll have to fire you.' He sold me on his plan, and from him I believe that you have to be accountable and sell your kids on your game plan so that they believe."
Bell worked with Spurrier and the quarterbacks as his graduate assistant, and smiled upon recalling some of the earliest days of his coaching career. Spurrier would let his assistants chime in on any plays they would like to run during Monday afternoon meetings, but the consequences were dire if an assistant couldn't explain his reasoning for the play well enough.
"He took a couple of my plays and ran them in games which I was proud of. One was a red zone play that went to the backside. It didn't hit like I thought it would but we got a completion out of it."
Both coaches recalled how much they enjoyed working with Spurrier, especially his staff meetings, despite some of the negative perceptions from his opponents.
"People have this weird thing where they think he plays golf in the season, and he doesn't play a lick. He's in there grinding until the offseason. He taught me family has to come first, to love your wife and kids, and to take time for yourself so you don't burn out. I think that's why he was able to go for so long until he decided to step away," said Odom.
One coaching trait of Spurrier's that didn't make its way to Jacksonville is the visor.
"I've got thin hair and you've got have a full head of hair to have a visor. He's got the perfect hair for his visor," chuckled Bell.
Spurrier is lauded amongst Gator nation for his turnaround in the rivalry series against the Red and Black with only one loss in his twelve seasons as the HBC. Like Spurrier, both Bell and Odom have fond memories from Jacksonville. Bell's favorite memory of the rivalry game was the 1984 tilt.
"We were up 17 to nothing and we had just held them in a goal line situation in the third quarter and in the fourth, we dropped back and threw that 96-yard touchdown pass to Ricky Nattiel That was very special moment for me as a Gator football player," said the former Gator quarterback. The historic play was Florida's first win in the series since 1977 and one of two Bell-led victories over the rivals from Athens.
Odom's came later.
"1990 I felt like I played my best game and we played great on defense holding them to 2-14 on third downs with like 160 yards of total offense. We beat them 38-7 but should have been more than that. As a coach I was 4-0 in that game so I'm proud that I never lost to the 'dogs as a coach," said Odom.
While the memories for Odom are fond, the reality of today's game isn't the same.
"College football is worse for him not being part of it now."