Craig Bell has been one of UF baseball coach Kevin O'Sullivan's right-hand men since Day 1.
Bell, along with fellow assistant coach Brad Weitzel, are now preparing with O'Sullivan for their 10th season together when No. 3 Florida opens its season on Friday against William & Mary.
The three have known each other for close to 30 years, their relationships beginning in the mid 1980s when all three were in the Palm Beach County area.
Below is a Q&A with Bell, in which he talks about his relationship with O’Sullivan, breaks down his experiences during his first nine years at UF, previews the season and explains what it will take for Florida to finally win a national championship.
JM: So how did your relationship with O’Sullivan start?
CB: “When Sully was at Clemson, I was covering their team for the Seattle Mariners. So I would see him, and we knew each other from Palm Beach County because we're both from there. Brad also going back from there as well. We've all known each other for a long, long time. Probably since the mid-80s.”
JM: What would you say is O’Sullivan’s most eye-popping attribute?
CB: “Very aggressive, which is his best attribute. He's very straightforward about everything, which is really good for the players and for us. He's easy to work for that way. But the aggressiveness with everything he does from recruiting to the way he coaches the players is very refreshing for me.”
JM: What was your reaction when he offered you an assistant coach job?
CB: “Very excited. Of course being from Florida, at that point I lived in North Carolina, working for the Seattle Mariners at that point. I was just really excited knowing the history at Florida, knowing a lot of guys who had played here at Florida. For me it was a no brainier move to come here.”
JM: You, Brad and O’Sullivan have been together since the start. Are you surprised you all have managed to stay together for 10 seasons?
CB: “I think it's very rare. A lot of guys look to do other things. For us, knowing each other, we know what we're going to teach. We know how we all coach. That makes it very easy. There are things as a staff that we do a little differently than other staffs just because we know each other and we know the way that we're going to coach. It makes it easier. And then we bring [volunteer assistant coach] Lars [Davis] in. He's kind of refreshed us on a few things that we've done. And we've done some different things that Lars has done from his days of playing pro ball and at Illinois.”
JM: With the season fast approaching, does it feel like it’s been seven months since you guys played a game?
CB: “Not really. The fall at times, you have new players come in. Thank goodness for that. You get new guys and you get to keep coaching. That way, it's fresh. It's new. You're trying to get the new guys acclimated. If we had the same guys over and over again, I can see where it could get really really boring. But since we've been back from the beginning of the new year, it's been *snaps* like that in a hurry. I looked at it and was like 'Woah. The season's coming in a hurry.’ Once the season starts, it flies.”
JM: The team has won SEC Championships, made the College World Series and had players earn a slew of national honors. All that’s missing is a national championship. What will it take to get there?
CB: “I think we have the team to do it this year. We’ve had teams that are maybe more heralded, that may be more pro-laden talented. This team has really good starting pitching, which you need. We’ve got really good defenders up and down the lineup. We have some left-handed batters and right-handed batters this year. Last year, we were a little right-handed heavy. We have a nice little split this year. You know, I think we’re just one play away. We’ve been one play away a couple of times from winning it all. There’s a little luck involved. You have to get a little bit lucky. This team, when it’s all said and done, we’re going to be in Omaha with a chance to win it. Now, a lot of things have to happen and you have to win games along the way, but this team has the type of makeup and the type of players on it where if we roll into Omaha, teams aren’t going to be real happy to see us.”
JM: What’s been your favorite moment of your UF tenure so far?
CB: “The first year, in 2010, that we went to the College World Series. I had never been before, doing anything in any capacity. I had never been to Rosenblatt Stadium. I just watched it on TV as a player, coach, scout, whatever, just watching games. The first time we went there, that was pretty cool. We faced Trevor Bauer right out of the shoot, which it was like do we face him or Gerrit Cole? We got Bauer. Either one. We get him and end up losing in a tough game, but to go there the first time with a very young team and there’s a bunch of big leaguers on that team. The first time we went -- and for it to be the last year there. If we had went for the first time the next year, I never would have gotten to experience Rosenblatt. To be able to go to Rosenblatt for the last year and to open up TD Ameritrade the next year was pretty cool. It’s going to be really nice to win one -- and we will. If we keep going, you’re just putting yourself in the position to where you’re going to be the team that’s good enough to win it that gets it done.”