It was, he thought, going to be the Academy and not the sidelines for Corey Bell.
As in, the Federal Bureau of Investigation's training center in Quantico, Virginia, and not various football sidelines as a coach at both the high school and collegiate levels since the mid-1990s.
“You know, honestly, coaching wasn't initially an aspiration of mine,” Bell told FootballScoop in a recent interview. “I was looking to become an FBI agent, trying to follow in the footsteps of one of my cousins.”
Instead, Bell remembered, he was nudged to remain intertwined with football during a workout at the University of South Carolina, where Bell played two years and earned his degree in … criminal justice.
“One of my South Carolina coaches said, 'Corey Bell, you'd be a good coach,'” Bell recalled. “I said, 'I don't want to coach. That's not what I want to do.' But then I got a situation to where I went back to my high school as a substitute teacher, and the athletic director asked me to go out and help the football team and it snowballed from there.
“I enjoy being able to help the young men, not just on the field but help them to become great decision-makers in life.”
That path, from his first assistant's job at Miami's Edison High School, where he soon ascended to the head coach's whistle and held that position a decade, to his return this spring to Florida where he was named the Gators' assistant director of player personnel and head of high school relations.
“That's the thing, the FBI, I was looking forward to doing and getting involved in,” said Bell, who didn't have a losing season after his fourth year at Edison and captured sectional and regional championships in Florida's rugged prep landscape in 2003. “Like they said, 'God has a calling for all of us.' Football was mine and coaching is mine and it's become a great passion for me.
“I love being impactful in these guys' lives and being able to help them so they can help their family. I want to continue to invest in them in a positive manner.”
Bell's impact has spanned Edison to Miami's American Senior High School to an early post as director of football operations for Randy Shannon's Miami Hurricanes program on to Florida Atlantic, the University of South Florida, Central Florida with then-coach Josh Heupel and now back to Dan Mullen's Gators' program.
While Bell had someone help shift his path into coaching, he since has done the same for some of his former players – including current New Mexico State tight ends coach Kevin Maurice.
“Growing up in the streets of Miami, Coach Bell mentored me and many others to get on the right track; he’s really made an impact on my life.” Maurice, who began his playing career at UTEP before he finished – along with a criminal justice degree – from St. Joseph's College (Indiana), told FootballScoop. “Coach Bell can relate to today’s student-athlete because he was a former student-athlete in the SEC, an All-Miami-Dade County football player, and he’s from the same background as many of them.
“He’s worn many hats throughout his career. He really goes out of his way to connect with people, no matter their background. From the homeless man on the street to the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, he will find a way to connect with them. As a coach he has a proven track record of developing some of the best defensive backs in the state of Florida this past decade.”
It has been these types of relationships that most gratified Bell; football careers or otherwise, he has taken pride in seeing his former players find success in life.
“I still talk to a lot of those guys, one in particular is Chris Chancellor that played for me and went on to play at Clemson, finished up his career with Dabo (Swinney),” Bell said. “A guy like him, we continue to communicate and keep in touch and guys will reach out to me and they're all over the place now and doing great things.
“It's great to see those guys moving forward in life and doing positive in things.”
Bell has maintained that same positive mind-set, be it in as he has served in both on- and off-the-field roles.
Yet his competitive drive and passion to be a hands-on mentor to players has instilled a Bell a desire to be on the field as much as possible.
“I still have aspirations to get back on the field, to be involved in that capacity and helping these young men to have an opportunity to seek out their dream,” said Bell, who has coached more than a half-dozen NFL Draft picks and double-digit all-conference selections at the collegiate level. “Guys want to have that opportunity to go to the next level, so having a plan for them on and off the field to help them achieve their goal. That's the main thing in terms of getting back on field and having a direct impact in their development and helping them to elevate their game, hopefully getting them a chance to play on Sunday.
“But whatever the role, I just want them to be the best versions of themselves every day.”