Kerwin Bell's first season at Jacksonville included ridding the program of "dead weight" and dealing with a bizarre criminal case.
His second one has gone considerably smoother, including come-from-behind 19-14 victory over Dayton that that earns them a berth in the Gridiron Classic in Albany, N.Y.
The Dolphins scored all 19 points in the final 11 minutes to take home their first Pioneer Football League championship and and the regular season 9-3 -- a school record for the most wins. The biggest victory in the 11-year history of JU's football program came in front of the largest crowd in school history: 5,263.
Geavon Tribble?s 7-yard touchdown run on a reverse with five minutes to go put the Dolphins on top for the first time in the game.
But it was Bryan Valdez's second interception of the game that ended Dayton's final drive and gave the Dolphins the title.
"I'm so proud of these kids and the heart they showed today in winning this game," Bell said. "Our defense made a lot of plays for us today and kept us in it. We made just enough plays on offense to win it."
Bell, a former star quarterback at nearby Florida, has created a winning culture at Jacksonville University in just two seasons -- a quick turnaround in his first college coaching stop.
Bell took the job in January 2007 after building Trinity Catholic High School in Ocala into a state power in five seasons. Bell was 45-15 at Trinity, won a state title in 2005 and played for another one in 2006.
Jacksonville provided a much bigger challenge.
"You walk in here, you see the facilities, you see what else you got and it's been here 10 years and you say, 'Goodness,"' Bell said. "You could tell there was no commitment before because nothing had been done in 10 years really. It was like starting a brand new program from scratch, and that's how I approached it."
Bell refused to dwell on the past, instead focusing on his vision to revamp a program that's trying to make its mark despite being largely overshadowed by Florida, Florida State and the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars.
Obstacles were plentiful. The Dolphins had one .500 season (5-5) since 2001, and Bell got a sense that mediocrity was acceptable. His frustration grew "for six to eight months" as he tried to get his players out of that mentality.
"We had a lot of people who didn't stay around," he said.
Thirty players were cast aside.
"We did need to change the culture around here," athletic director Alan Verlander said. "That culture was built not just on one person, but on a sense that it's OK to be mediocre."
With the mind-set change under way, Bell's next move was to find more talent, especially after the Dolphins were 3-8 in his first season.
"I saw stuff I'd never seen on the football field," Bell said. "I've never been part of nothin' like that. It was very humiliating. We go to Dayton and were down 28-0 in the first quarter and I'm saying, 'Are we this bad?"'
Off-the-field issues were even more glaring. The most notable involved starting running back Rudell Small. Early last season, police received a tip that Small had marijuana in his dorm room. Small said officers also told him they were looking for a gun. He was arrested, handcuffed and humiliated.
Small also was suspended from the team.
Eventually, teammate and fellow running back Cecil Coltrane admitted to planting the drugs in a plot to take over the starting job.