Craig Bell is in his sixth season with the Gator baseball program after serving as the Seattle Mariners' Supervising Area Scout for Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina in the years spanning 2000-07. At Florida, he is involved in all facets of the team and has played an integral role in the squad’s rapid turnaround to regain its footing among the nation’s elite. Bell has been part of a talented staff that has supervised the Orange and Blue’s resurgence over the past five seasons, highlighted by UF’s runner-up finish at the 2011 NCAA College World Series, three-straight CWS appearances and back-to-back Southeastern Conference Championships in 2010 and 2011.
The No. 1 team in the nation for the majority of last season, the Gators were top national seed for the NCAA Tournament and claimed all three of their outings during the Gainesville Regional for the fourth year in a row and then swept No. 11 NC State in the Gainesville Super Regional to secure the program’s unprecedented third-consecutive College World Series berth en route a final record of 47-20. In a wild SEC race that came down to the final day, UF tied for second in the Eastern Division and third overall, just one game shy of a third-consecutive championship. Nine Gators were chosen in the Major League Baseball Draft, including five players in the first three rounds (Mike Zunino and Brian Johnson in the first round, second-rounders Nolan Fontana and Steven Rodriguez and Austin Maddox in the third round).
Under Bell’s tutelage in 2011, Florida turned in a remarkable season that culminated in a school-record 53 victories and a second-place performance in Omaha, Neb. Rated first in Baseball America’s preseason rankings for the first time in school history, the Gators went 22-8 in league play for the second-straight campaign and shared the SEC Championship with South Carolina and Vanderbilt. UF blanked the Commodores, 5-0, to capture their first SEC Tournament title since 1991. After being rewarded with the second national seed for the NCAA Tournament, Florida swept through the NCAA Gainesville Regional and defeated Mississippi State in the Super Regional to reach the CWS. At TD Ameritrade Park Omaha, the Gators downed Texas (8-4) and Vanderbilt twice (3-1, 6-4) to reach the final round for the second time in school history.
In ’10, the Gators captured nine of their 10 SEC series, including the final eight in a row, and brought home the 11th league title in school history by taking the final regular-season series at South Carolina. Florida finished with a school-best conference mark of 22-8, secured its second-straight SEC Eastern Division crown and its 47 victories was the second-highest total since the ’05 club went 48-23. In NCAA action, UF knocked off Bethune-Cookman, Oregon State and Florida Atlantic to emerge victorious in the Gainesville Regional for the second year in a row and then defeated Sunshine State rival Miami twice in the Super Regional to punch the school’s sixth ticket to Omaha.
Building upon the momentum generated from 2008, when the Gators earned their first NCAA berth in three years and were the runner-up in the SEC East, Bell’s coaching efforts were rewarded with Florida advancing to NCAA Super Regionals in 2009 for the first time in four years. In addition, the Gainesville crew brought home the East title and finished one game in the league standings behind co-champions LSU and Ole Miss en route to a 42-22 overall mark. Not only did the Gators sweep through their own Regional with a dramatic win over Bethune-Cookman and a pair of victories over Miami, they edged closer to reaching the College World Series in just the coaching staff’s second year.
In his initial season at Florida, Bell worked with a team that had limited expectations that developed into a group that earned the second seed at the NCAA Tallahassee Regional and posted a third-place finish in the SEC. He had previously been an Associate Professional Scout in the Sunshine State for the Cincinnati Reds from 1993-2000. Bell also has extensive experience scouting in Canada, the Dominican Republic and within the Cape Cod Baseball League each summer.
"The one word that describes Craig is 'instincts,'" head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. "His instincts as a coach and an evaluator are solid. He has surrounded himself with great people. He has on the field teaching knowledge on all aspects of the game. We have to be able to evaluate the right player and not go after the guy that’s going to sign (professionally) and not show up. He has the right mentality to make sure these kids have the right makeup we’re looking for and have the toughness that we need to win in the Southeastern Conference."
"I am excited that Craig joined the staff," O'Sullivan continued. "He brings a unique perspective through his involvement in professional baseball and his background here in the state of Florida. Craig is a great fit with my vision for the Gator program and his experiences have enabled him to put together a tremendous amount of contacts throughout the country."
Bell was an assistant coach at Wellington High School in Palm Beach County, Fla., in 1999-2000 and helped the Wolverines to the Class 6A state championship. He was the head coach of the Palm Beach Lakes High School baseball team between 1990-98 and also coached Palm Beach Post 12 in American Legion from 1990-95. Bell earned Coach of the Year accolades from The Palm Beach Post and The Sun Sentinel in both 1994 and 1995 and collected the Palm Beach County Coaches' Association's Class 6A top coaching honor in 1994 and 1997. During his coaching career, he has had 59 players chosen in the Major League Baseball Amateur Draft, including four first-round picks, with a total of 41 signing contracts.
Bell earned his bachelor's degree in physical education from the University of North Florida in 1989, and was a member of the Ospreys' baseball team during the 1988 and 1989 seasons while fellow Florida staff member Brad Weitzel was an assistant coach at UNF. In addition, he was a two-year letterwinner on the diamond at Palm Beach Community College, where he earned his associate of arts degree in 1987.
Bell, a 46-year-old native of West Palm Beach, Fla., is married to the former Karri Roy of Pontiac, Mich. The couple has two sons, Ryan, 19, and Kyle, 14.
THE CRAIG BELL FILE
- Birthdate: January 14, 1966
- Hometown: West Palm Beach, Fla.
- Education: Associate of Arts - Palm Beach Community College, 1987
- Bachelor of Science - Physical Education, University of North Florida, 1989
- Head Coach, Palm Beach Post 12 in American Legion, 1990-95
- Head Coach, Palm Lakes High School, 1990-98
- Assistant Coach, Wellington High School, 1999-2000
- Assistant Coach, University of Florida, 2007-present
Professional Baseball Experience:
- Associate Professional Scout, Cincinnati Reds, 1993-2000
- Supervising Area Scout, Seattle Mariners, 2000-07
- Palm Beach Community College, 1986-87
- University of North Florida, 1988-89