Hogan: Joshua Bell takes challenging gig w/ Argos

This week the Toronto Argonauts released a list of the 2021 coaching staff. The names were familiar for the most part, all hired or re-hired by Ryan Dinwiddie after he took the rudder of the good ship Argo in December 2019.

There was one new name though, at least from the standpoint of being an Argo: Defensive backs coach Joshua Bell.

His name (he prefers Joshua in print, but doesn’t mind being called Joshua or Josh) – or at least his distinctive game face – should be recognizable to CFL fans for his six seasons as a defensive back with the Calgary Stampeders and B.C. Lions, or his three NFL seasons with the Packers and Broncos before that.

It was in southern Alberta that he got to know the man who hired him here. After hanging up the cleats, Bell was the defensive backs coach with the Stamps for two seasons before his contract ran out. He joined the Double Blue because of the team’s head coach, someone he got to know well in Calgary.

“I fielded a couple of opportunities in the CFL,” Bell told Argonauts.ca in a Zoom interview from Dallas, Texas. “I chose to come to Toronto because of Ryan. Me and R.D. have a pretty good working relationship, but also, I respect him so much as a man. He is who he is, through and through.”

The Argo faithful have yet to see Dinwiddie lead the team out of the tunnel. Bell says fans should expect a well-coached team.

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Argos fans have waited a full year to see what head coach Ryan Dinwiddie will bring to their team. New DBs coach Joshua Bell sees someone that’s ready to run with the job (Chris Tanouye/CFL.ca)

“As a coach, R.D. is all about the K.I.S.S. philosophy, Keep It Simple, Stupid,” said Bell with a laugh. “R.D. does a great job of coaching to the level of his players. He’s a very intelligent, very smart guy. He can do a million different things, but he understands that football is football; it’s not geometry, it’s not calculus, it’s football. Keep it simple, let guys run around and play and respect each individual man that you have on the team. That’s what I love about him as a coach.”

How about his relationship with Dinwiddie the person?

“As a man, he’s the exact same way,” Bell explained. “Keep is simple, communicate, talk it out, and he’s honest. R.D. is honest and you can’t take for granted the honesty that you get in this business. You get that from your head coach, you can’t ask for anything better.”

Despite the strong relationship between Bell and Dinwiddie, the deal with the Argos wasn’t finalized until the team’s secret weapon was unleashed.

In sports terms, New York Yankees reliever Mariano Rivera is regarded as the best closer of all time. Whoever believes that hasn’t met Argos general manager Michael “Pinball” Clemons. If there was any slim doubt that Bell wasn’t going to come to Toronto, that was erased when the GM came in and closed the deal.

“I got Pinballed,” said a chuckling Bell. “Pinball signed, sealed and delivered (the deal). He spoke a lot of the words that I speak in my own life and I speak out of my own mind. To me it was ‘Oh, this is going to be special, there’s something special cooking.’ I was overjoyed with the opportunity to come here.”

Bell has perhaps both the easiest and the toughest job of any of the Argos positional coaches. As the strongside linebacker’s role has evolved into more defensive back than linebacker, Bell has six starting slots to fill. The good news is that he has a lot of talent to work with, but also has the Herculean task of taking 20 DBs and trying to figure out which player goes where, based on skill set and chemistry.

To make it tougher, he only has firsthand experience with three of them; Jeff Richards, Robertson Daniel and the man he’s not shy about calling his favourite.

“My favourite player, and I’d like to put this on the record, my favourite player in the room is Shaq Richardson,” said a now broadly smiling coach about his former Stampeders teammate.

“That’s my brother in arms. Shaq Richardson had been a security blanket for me as a player. He made amazing plays for us in Calgary. We know each other, we speak the same language. His tenacity; I believe he’s our enforcer right now in our room. There will be no pushovers in our room with Shaq Richardson in it.”

But where to play Richardson? He could be the best boundary corner in the league, but he’d also be an outstanding SAM linebacker or boundary halfback. Where do you play Richards or Daniel? Is Cam Glenn a SAM or a safety? Mike Tyson looks like he was born to play SAM, but where else could he play?

Again, 20 bodies, just six starting positions, with one of them potentially a Canadian spot. How does a coach, brand new to a team and not familiar with the overwhelming majority of his players other than on film, figure out which piece of the puzzle goes where?

“You watch a guy, you figure out what his superpower is and put him in a role to be super.” — Argos DBs coach Joshua Bell

“That is the No. 1 question that plagues my mind,” the former Baylor Bear admitted. “Where do you put these guys?  How do you get these guys there? It’s all about how they work together. You want the best six guys on the field, not the best six athletes. You want the best six guys that can dominate a game; how well they mesh, how much they form together to be one unit.”

We’re still a few weeks away from the start of training camp, should the league get the OK to play, but the coach was on a roll when talking philosophy.

“You watch a guy, you figure out what his superpower is and put him in a role to be super. Don’t put a guy in a position where he’s struggling, and if he’s struggling, fight through it, work through it. Listen to him, coach him up on small things and see how he works with the guys around him, the guy to his left, the guy to his right. I’m big on the chain link. I like guys being able to be linked arm to arm and to be impenetrable.”

Bell, who has won both a Grey Cup and a Super Bowl as a player, has been on the Argo staff for several weeks and was able to contribute to the team’s draft process, which netted his group University of Saskatchewan defensive back Josh Hagerty in the sixth round.

He’s had some time to study the personnel and try to figure out what the depth chart looks like.

“I think that’s the easiest part of football, if you just line it up. Put those guys on the depth chart, write ‘em in, then give guys as many opportunities as they’re willing. Some guys only need four reps to look good, some guys need eight, some guys need 12, so I try my best to give guys as many reps as possible.”

Easy with 10 players in camp, but 20?

“It’s an extremely hard job to be a coach,” said Bell. “Sometimes a guy you may have ranked at the very bottom, he may just not have gotten the ball thrown his way, but another guy may have two interceptions because he had ten or twelve balls thrown his way. It’s tough to evaluate and choose the best guy. It’s a gut feeling.”

The competition at training camp will be fierce. The one-on-ones against the Argos talented receiving corps will be unforgettable.

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