J.B. Wells will not return as head coach of the football team, the College announced in a November 15 press release. Wells, who led the Polar Bears to a 1-8 record in his fourth season as head coach, will finish his career with an overall record of 3-31, having led the team through the longest losing streak in program history of 24 games between November of 2015 and November of 2018.
Wells’ four years with the team will mark the shortest tenure of any head football coach since Peter Kostacopoulos’ three-year run between 1965 and 1967. Bowdoin’s last three head coaches served respectively 15, 16 and 16 seasons.
According to the Ashmead White Director of Athletics Tim Ryan, the team’s poor record under Wells’ leadership necessitated a change.
“We made some progress with J.B. as our head coach, but we just haven’t seen quite as much progress as we would have liked to have seen after four years,” said Ryan. “Unfortunately, we just hadn’t had the success that we aspire to have in the program.”
Wells was midway through the fourth year of his five-year contract, which extends through the end of the 2020 academic year. Although his oversight of football operations has ceased, he will be compensated for the remainder of his contract period.
Of the team’s seven assistant coaches, five will remain on staff, while two may be replaced at the new head coach’s discretion. Ryan declined to specify further which coaches this arrangement affects.
Despite the team’s poor performance during Wells’ tenure, his dismissal caught players off guard.
“Everyone was a little surprised,” said Captain Joe Gowetski ’20. “I was definitely expecting one more year, just the way I was talking with the coaches after the season. No one really seemed like they were on their way out, least of all Wells.”
Moreover, after a rocky transition following Coach Dave Caputi’s departure in 2014, Wells had come to earn the respect and admiration of much of the team, especially its younger players.
“All the guys on the team love Coach Wells for everything he’s done for us,” said Roshaun Christopher ’22. “Even though the wins may not be there, who he is as a person—we’ll never forget that.”
However, players understand that, at the end of the day, business is business, and the program is looking for wins.
“You look back at the record, and it’s 3-31 over four years. That speaks for itself,” said Gowetski. “Wells took all the right steps except for getting wins in the wins column.”
Wells’ dismissal leaves the team in a temporary period of limbo until the College names a replacement, which it aims to do by mid-January, barring logistical setbacks. The College has retained the services of the Atlanta-based Parker Executive Search to oversee the search process.
Regardless of personnel changes, the new head coach will have to surmount many of the same barriers that stood between Wells’ staff and success, including an unfavorable recruiting landscape, a lengthy history of gridiron struggles and an alumni base itching for success. They will face the additional challenge of ingratiating themself with four recruiting-classes’ worth of players who they did not recruit.
In the meantime, the team is going about business as usual, having begun its typical off-season strength and conditioning program. As Gowetski concluded, “Same game, new coach.”