Saved by the Bell: Hiring a successful coach removes the sting of losing one

Jeff Bell is the new athletic director and head basketball coach at Graford High School. If the name sounds familiar, Bell led the Brock Eagles to the state championship four times between 2001 and 2012, winning two titles.

The guy who played point guard for Dimmitt High School in the state championship game in 1978 and then coached the Brock Eagles to state basketball titles in 2002 and 2003 is now looking to lead the Graford Jackrabbits to the big dance.

Jeff Bell, the new athletic director and head basketball coach, described Graford as a “dream job.” He and his wife, Jennifer, loved Brock when they lived there from 2001 to 2013 and have looked forward to returning to the area ever since.

“The Weatherford area is kind of home for us,” he said. “They play great basketball here. We love the area. When the job opened up, I jumped on it and was fortunate enough to be able to get it. We hope we can do some great things here.”

Graford begins after-school basketball practices on Oct. 28, and the first game of the season is Nov. 17.

Jeff and Jennifer Bell have three grown sons, including Jake Bell, the new head basketball coach at Glen Rose. Last season, Jake Bell led his No. 1 ranked Martin’s Mill team to a 39-0 record and to the 2A state championship. (The team ended as co-champs because the tournament was canceled due to COVID-19.)

Jeff Bell has enjoyed plenty of success himself while coaching at numerous small schools and a big one — Waco Midway. After leading Brock to four state title games and two wins, he jumped to 5A Waco Midway in 2013 but had second thoughts almost immediately.

“I just didn’t really like it,” he said. “I’m a small school guy.”

Afterward, he coached at Bland, outside of McKinney, and then Fort Worth Christian Academy before spending the past three years at North Hopkins near Sulphur Springs.

During his 35-year career, he has notched 853 career wins and counting.

How many wins does he hope to nab?

“I’ve never really thought about that,” Bell said. “I just want to get that next win. And then I want to get the next one. I don’t really think about how many.”

He plans to earn wins at Graford with plenty of help from the ones doing the actual dribbling and shooting.

“Without the kids, you don’t win a single game,” Bell said. “I’ve been fortunate to have some great kids and great teams that bought into my system. I have to attribute 99% of the things to them because they bought into the things we were trying to get done.”

The system he advocates relies on intense man-to-man defense combined with strong team chemistry. That philosophy helped him win more than 20 district championships and earn coach of the year honors many times from various organizations such as the Texas Sports Writers and Texas Association of Basketball Coaches.

A long career in coaching can lead to burnout in some people. Not Bell. After four decades at the high school level, he said he is loving life and wants to keep pushing teams to victories and guiding kids to adulthood.

“I love coaching,” he said. “The older I’ve gotten, I love it even more. Maybe it’s because I know I don’t have 30 years left coaching. I can go a while longer. I’ve still got a lot of energy. It’s been a fun ride, a fun career, and I’m still not finished.”

Bell takes over for Ty Tabor, who left to become the head coach at Krum this year. Bell and Tabor are longtime friends, and Bell is happy to take over his program. Last season, Graford went 27-7 overall and 8-0 in conference play, earning a district championship. The Jackrabbits made it all the way to the regional finals before losing to Slidell, the state champion.

“Ty is a great coach and is going to make it a lot easier for me coming in here because he has done such a great job,” Bell said. “Graford is known as a great basketball town. The old-timers want you to win. They expect you to win. Some coaches don’t like that, but I want that expectation in front of me.”

Bell’s plan for pleasing the win-now faction is simple — stick to the plan he has relied on from the beginning.

“Every coach is different,” he said. “You have to bring in your own culture. Once you establish your culture, great things can happen. I’ve always hung my hat on defense. All of my great teams have played really well together. We’ve got to come together and become a family. That’s what we’ll preach, becoming a family.”

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