John was born in Clinchco, VA
and was raised in Kingsport. He attended Kingsport City Schools
and was a graduate of Dobyns-Bennett High School
, Georgia Tech
. He participated in football, basketball, track and boxing.
He was enrolled at Georgia Tech in 1941 on a football scholarship and while there he participated in the Naval ROTC program
. Following a Sugar Bowl win in 1943, he and many of his teammates departed for military service in WW II
. In 1946 John returned to Georgia Tech.
He began coaching as a student assistant at Georgia Tech in 1947 and soon was recalled to Navy active duty until separation in August 1949.
He coached high school football in Cedartown
and then Americus, GA
. In 1954, Coach Bobby Dodd
gave John the freshman coaching and recruiting job at Georgia Tech with successes of several years of winning seasons and Bowl games. In 1957, he accepted the head coaching position at the University of Southwestern Louisiana
and then returned to Georgia Tech as varsity offensive line coach in 1959. After the Yellow Jackets win over Texas Tech
in 1965, John soon accepted the position of Athletic Director and Head Football Coach at ETSU.
In 1969, under Coach Bell’s direction, ETSU won the Grantland Rice Bowl
. Their opponent was Louisiana Tech
with famous quarterback Terry Bradshaw
. Louisiana Tech’s opponent in the Grantland Rice Bowl got little pre-game publicity. East Tennessee State University, the little school from Johnson City, TN
, had its finest year in history under Coach John Robert Bell. The Buccaneers won the Ohio Valley Conference
and went undefeated, posting a 10-0-1 record. Defensive Coach Buddy Bennett had quietly put together a monstrous defense at ETSU called Bennett's Bandits
. The Bandits were led by Billy Casey and Al Guy. They combined for 20 interceptions on the year. The season record reflected a dominating defense and developing offense. The Buccaneers gave up only 93 points in 10 games in 1969. The defense picked off 34 passes on the season. The largest margin of victory was 30-0 over Tennessee Tech
. A 10-10 tie with Murray State
was the only blemish on the year.
John Robert Bell’s accomplishments are documented and info used above in Leroy Sprankle’s
book, My Boys
. Coach Bell was a leader and touched many lives with his work with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes
He also was a vocational director and director of physical education for Sullivan County, served on the Johnson City School Board, and the local chapter of the National Football Foundation
. John was selected OVC Coach of the Year and NCAA District 4 National Coach of the Year in 1969 and inducted into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame
and ETSU Athletic Hall of Fame as well as the NETN Sports Hall of Fame.
He was a member of Munsey Memorial United Methodist Church
, where he served on the Board of Stewards and was a Sunday school teacher, lay speaker, MYF leader. He also served on the board of directors of Haven of Mercy
, and had directed the Shepherd’s Breakfast at Munsey Memorial UMC.
John was married to the late Anne Gunnells Bell and has three children, Nan Bell Larsen, Karen Bell Deakins and John Robert Bell, Jr. with their extended families and who all live in the Tri-Cities area. Coach Bell passed away December 25, 2008
and at his memorial service Bill Curry
, former Head Football Coach at Georgia Tech, University of Alabama
, the University of Kentucky
and player for ten season with several NFL teams including the Green Bay Packers
and the Baltimore Colts
, told the overflow crowd at Munsey Memorial Methodist Church that the most influential coach on his life was John Robert Bell.