Tre’ Bell is far too humble to take credit for Minkah Fitzpatrick’s success. But after signing a record-breaking contract Wednesday, Fitzpatrick should treat Bell to a nice steak dinner. Bell and Fitzpatrick were teammates at New Jersey’s St. Peter’s Prep High School and Bell, two years older, taught then-freshman Fitzpatrick the ins and outs of playing defensive back.
Speaking with Bell yesterday, he told me he knew Fitzpatrick was destined to be a star.
“He was a running back. So he had never really played DB. I was the older DB, had a lot of offers and things like that. He came to me and he was like, ‘just teach me everything you know about DB.’ And then the rest is history from there.”
Bell is now doing what he’s always done. Coach, teach, mentor, lead. And he can cash in on that steak dinner next month. He’ll be at training camp as a Pittsburgh Steelers’ intern, part of the league’s Bill Walsh Diversity Fellowship Program.
Bell never made the NFL but had a solid college career beginning at Vanderbilt before transferring to UConn. After a brief attempt to make it into the CFL, he got into coaching, helping his dad – a long-time coach recently inducted into the Essex County Hall of Fame. Since, he’s quickly moved up the ranks, serving as a quality control coach at Eastern Kentucky, a grad assistant at Mississippi State and Florida State, before following Joe Moorhead to Akron as the Zips’ new cornerbacks coach. Just 27 years old, he’s one of the youngest position coaches in football. But his words speak wisdom.
“I just want to find more ways where I can learn and then apply the things that I’m learning…I love the game of football. It’s all I’ve done since I was seven years old. So for me, I just wanna take it one step at a time. I understand that I have risen through the ranks pretty fast. So that’s why I want to just make sure that I’m enjoying the people that I’m around enjoying the players that I’m coaching.”
Most simply apply for the Bill Walsh Fellowship. Send in their resume, wait, hope for a phone call. Not Bell. He took charge and took action. Twice during the spring, during OTAs and minicamp, Bell got in his car and made the nearly two hour drive to the Steelers’ facility. To literally get himself in the door and introduce himself to Steelers’ coaches: Mike Tomlin, John Mitchell, Grady Brown.
“This was something I wanted. I felt like that I couldn’t have got it if I would’ve just been sitting at home, just staring at my phone waiting.”
Bell was welcomed with open arms.
“They love what they do. You can hear the passion in their voice. You can tell that they put in work into their craft. That goes for everybody, players and coaches. You can already get that sense of a winning environment, a winning culture. Osmosis, guys working together. There’s no egos. I think that was the main thing for me. Coach Tomlin says hello to everybody, Coach Austin, he says hello to everybody. Receivers Coach Blaine Stewart, you know what I mean?
“You feel very comfortable there because nobody’s like, ‘I’m this person I don’t need to talk to him.’ Guys sat with me eating breakfast, all of that kind of stuff that all mattered, man. Everything that you do when it comes to sports, how you do anything is how you do everything. I just really love the way they went about business, welcoming me and without even knowing who I am.”
Bell was a familiar face to at least one man on the team, assistant o-line coach Isaac Williams, who tried to get Bell a grad assistant spot at North Carolina Central. It didn’t work out but the two will work together next month.
During those two visits, Bell called himself a “sponge,” sitting in meetings, soaking up all the information he could. Anything he can learn to make himself a better coach and make his players work harder. Take Fitzpatrick, an All-Pro, stud, and as of yesterday, the highest paid safety ever. Waiting for a new contract, his spring work was limited. He didn’t need OTAs, he could’ve checked out, coasted, waited for the big check to drop into his bank account. But, as Bell says, Fitzpatrick was engaged as anyone during meetings, still asking questions, still trying to find that next little edge to separate him from the rest of the league.
As Bell returned to Akron, he made the message clear to his players. If Minkah Fitzpatrick is doing that, you should too. It’s what the great ones do.
“I took that back to my guys and I told them, ‘we’re not hungry and we have to get hungry when it comes to our knowledge learning the game.’”
Bell made a big impression on the Steelers and this week, John Mitchell called him to invite him to Pittsburgh this summer, an intern as part of the Fellowship program. Bell isn’t quite sure of his role, he’ll help wherever, however, but will be with the Steelers for the first week of camp, July 26th through August 2nd, before returning to his job at Akron.
Even in the few days already spent with the team, Bell notices the difference between the college and pro game. Most will point to the speed of the game and it’s true everyone is bigger, faster, stronger. But Bell viewed things a different way. It’s more precise, more technical, more efficient.
“The TJ Watt’s, the Minkah Fitzpatrick’s, those are All-Pro players. They don’t have false steps. They’re very technical with their movements, which helps the coaches out. In college, you’re building that. There’s going to be error and repetition…every rep you take in the NFL matters.”
For Bell, everything maters. Every job, every job opportunity, every person you meet. This summer, he’ll be a NFL intern. Before long, it’ll become his full-time job.