XFL News Hub spoke to Houston Roughnecks DBs coach Derrius Bell on Tuesday, to discuss what it was like when the season ended, how he feels about a return and the new ownership.
Those not familiar with Bell, he played his college ball at SMU, before joining the staff as Quality Control Coordinator for the defense. From there he moved on to UTEP as their DBs coach.
That’s when the XFL came calling. June Jones, his former coach at SMU, tasked Bell to take over the DBs coaching spot when Jones took the Roughnecks HC job.
The Houston defense was stacked, and through the 5 weeks that the league played, they had players in the top-5 of every defensive category, including 2 from the secondary.
That success led to having 2 former CBs signed to NFL rosters. Deatrick Nichols with the Dolphins, and Saivion Smith with the Cowboys.
Even after the successful 5-0 start, nothing could have saved the XFL from COVID-19. Coach Bell described what happened after the postponement in March, to the shutdown in April as surprising at best.
When asked how he found out, Bell had this to say:
“I had gone to bed the day before payday (April 9th), and as far as we had been told, in our eyes, everything was going to continue. Woke up the next day, and found out, myself I found out through multiple people texting me and calling me that had woke up before me, you know, concerned about what was taking place. And I was like, I didn’t even know what was going on. I found out through an email afterwards that we should look to move forward because we were being laid off.”
So even though he was on the staff of the team with the best record, he had not been warned about what was happening until a league-wide email was sent out on April 10, 2020.
He says nobody knew. At least not on the Houston Roughnecks staff. They were working as usual, planning for 2021, and then, just like the snap from Thanos, everything changed.
Quickly shifting gears from the negative, I asked Coach Bell what it was like coaching the defensive backs at a pro-level, as opposed to the college level. His reply was exactly like what you would think, it all came down to maturity level.
Players for Houston were able to take what they learned in practice and apply it to the field a lot quicker. While still a challenge, players were able to grasp schemes better.
However, he did say that players were looking at the XFL as a step below the NFL, and trying to use it as a way to get back into the higher level. Which is understandable. The XFL is new, many of the players had already tried to make their marks in the NFL, and did quite cut it.
Whether it was timing, or they just weren’t advanced enough in their skill set, many players were in the XFL because they had been cut from an NFL team. Bell did mention that some of the issues with guys trying to use the XFL as a pathway back to the NFL, was money. Had the pay been a little better, some of those guys may not have had “one foot out the door.”
Bell gave a lot of praise to his guys, which was well-deserved. They were one of the premier secondaries in the game. Hard work, and the ability to grasp what is being asked of them, making plays seemed to come easy.
The conversation went on from there to how he felt about the possibility of a return, and how he felt about the new ownership. Bell says That HC June Jones has spoken to him, but says that’s just their relationship off the field.
Roughnecks president Brian Michael Cooper has been working hard, making sure that guys who were the reason the club performed so well were still in the picture, in case the league did come back. As well as the way Cooper worked to market the team in the communities.
Of course, when we broached the possibility of a 2021 season, the virus was part of the subject. It’s no secret, Garcia has hinted at being able to implement a bubble for the XFL. It’s a smaller league, not nearly as many players as the NFL, nor the MLB, and ironically, Houston is just the place for it.
TDECO Stadium, and the practice facilities of the University of Houston, were the hub for the XFL. Training camps, and tryouts were held there, and it had been the chosen location for the championship game.
With all of the adjacent facilities, Houston would be a great place to hold the season, at minimum risk to the players. We’ve seen how successful the bubble system has been for the NBA, a league similar in size to the XFL, so if we are going to have a season, Under the current circumstances, that’s how it will have to happen.
When asked if any other chances came his way, he says he had an opportunity to interview for an NFL job, but the fit wasn’t right, and the advice he was given was to stick around to see if the XFL does return. If it didn’t or he wasn’t given another shot, Bell says he’ll be fine. He has other options at his disposal.
Now, the major reason most have not had any contact with Garcia, Johnson, and Cardinale, is that the official date for them to take over the league is not until August 21st. Everyone expects business to pick up exponentially after that.
Bell makes a point to praise former CEO Oliver Luck, and what he did for the league. Hoping he can return, because as Bells says it, what was great from an operations standpoint, was because of Luck.
Bell also had this to say before we wrapped things up about the new ownership:
“I am very excited about the new ownership and what they bring to the table. That being Dwayne Johnson and his ex-wife and those guys. And I know everything he has done has been very successful, from his movie ventures, and him being a former athlete, and being able to work with somebody who has actually played the game as well. I’m looking forward to it, and hopefully starting the 21st we start hearing more and more about the league coming back and having a 2021 season.”
Closing out the interview, Bell gives a lot of praise to the Houston fans, who showed up for a team that they didn’t have to support. Giving them thanks for their part of making it a great-although shortened-season. Vowing to continue that winning culture when the XFL returns.
This interview will air next week on our XFL News Hub Podcast, I would suggest you make sure you’re there to check it out.
Thanks to Coach Derrius Bell for taking the time to speak with us.
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