Cris Bell leaving Oak Mountain to become Scottsboro head coach

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor

After one of the best seasons in school history, the Oak Mountain Eagles will now be searching for a new head football coach.

Cris Bell, who has been the head coach at Oak Mountain since 2012, was approved on Thursday night, March 18, as the next head football coach at Scottsboro High School.

“We love Oak Mountain, it’s been home for nine years,” Bell said. “It’s a fantastic community and they absolutely embraced us and took a chance on an out-of-state guy back in 2008. I’ll always be grateful for the opportunity they gave me.”

The job, which opened after Don Jacobs retired earlier this year, wasn’t on Bell’s radar, but he and his wife had always talked about getting away when they retired one day.

After hearing about the position, he toggled with the thought of the job, but eventually was offered the position.

“The more we prayed on it and sought council, those boxes kept getting checked,” Bell said. “It felt like a good fit. There is tremendous support up here. The safe thing would have been to stay at Oak Mountain, but we challenge our kids to get out of our comfort zone, and that’s how I processed things here. I am really, really excited for the opportunity.”

Bell will now be leading Scottsboro in a difficult region featuring state championship contender Oxford and former Chelsea rival Chris Elmore at Fort Payne, but those are aspects he’s looking forward to after competing in arguably the state’s most difficult region—Class 7A, Region 3.

“I loved competing in our region. I loved the coaches I competed against. If anything, that was one of the things that was difficult about leaving,” Bell said. “I told the kids at Oak Mountain all the time, they’re lucky. There are kids all across the country that would love to play against the teams we play against every Friday night. It’s tough and brutal, but it’s fun.

“There is great football up here too. Oxford is in our region, and they’re always going to be one of the best, so I’m looking forward to the challenge here. It’s a privilege to coach here, and I’m anxious to get to know a lot of people.”

Leaving, however, was difficult, especially when he had to face the team earlier Thursday morning and tell them.

“This morning, talking to them was difficult. It’s hard enough saying bye to the graduating seniors, but especially those coming back,” Bell said. “On a personal level, I’m always going to be their coach. Anything they need, I’m here for them. I’m just a phone call away. They have a good team coming back and they’ll get somebody in there that is going to do some great things.”

During his time leading the Eagles for the past nine years, Bell put together a 47-49 record with four playoff appearances, including this past season, which saw them make the second round of the playoffs for the fourth time in school history.

The Eagles also made it to the second round under Bell in 2014, putting together their best win percentage in school history that season with a record of 10-2.

His 47 wins make him the winningest coach in school history, while he is also the longest-tenured coach at the school.

He is also just behind Jerry Hood’s winning percentage after Hood finished two games above .500 in his five seasons with a record of 28-26, while Bell finished two games under .500.

In comparison, Jeff Harris and Tony Pugh both finished at least 10 games under .500 in their time with the Eagles.

This past season, Bell led Oak Mountain to its first 4-0 start in school history, while the Eagles went on to win six of their first seven games.

They went on to lose three in a row to No. 1 Thompson, No. 3 Hewitt-Trussville and Clay-Chalkville going into the playoffs, but the Eagles were able to upset a ranked Austin team 41-28 on the road in the first round of the playoffs.

They then had a chance to advance to the semifinals of the Class 7A playoffs, but lost to Hoover 24-21 in the quarterfinals after coming up short of a first down by an inch in the final minute.

Oak Mountain finished the year 7-5 overall, which marked the third winning season in Bell’s tenure and the sixth in school history.

“This group, this year, they were a tremendously special group. I’ve loved every team I’ve coached here, but the first group and this team, were special,” Bell said. “They were so hungry and bought into everything we did. “This group and the pandemic and how it played out, nobody gave them a shot to do what happened. The way they owned it made them such a fun, fun group to coach. That’s the thing that you miss. All of those guys. Next year’s senior class, I’ve been watching them since they were in the fourth grade. It’s hard to leave them.”

He said Oak Mountain has been home and leaving that community is going to be tough after pouring nine years into the lives of so many.

Bell will now take over a Class 6A Scottsboro team that finished 2-8 last season but has shown potential in recent years, winning 12 games in 2012 and nine games two years ago.

“It’s not a rebuild like Oak Mountain was when I got here. Patrick Nix and Don Jacobs have set a good foundation here,” Bell said. “It’s a chance at a new opportunity at this point. I don’t know how many more opportunities I would have at new places.”

Bell also said he is feeling the best he has from an emotional and energetic standpoint since a 40-day hospital stay due to back issues back in 2016. He said he’s ready for this challenge because of how fresh he feels.

The search for the next Oak Mountain coach is underway.