FOOTBALL: Life of a Bulldog: Spell wrapping up 45-year coaching career in Nederland

Published 1:23 pm Saturday, May 19, 2018

NEDERLAND — Being a head football coach wasn’t one of Delbert Spell’s main goals, he said.

There was, however, the time he applied for the position out of loyalty to the Nederland High School football program when Steve DeRouen left after the 1989 season.

“I just always loved defense,” said Spell, the Bulldogs’ defensive coordinator since 1984. “I played it in high school. That’s all I played. I had some great coaches I learned from early, and I loved that side of the ball.”

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In 34 years heading the unit, Spell designed multiple schemes that helped the Bulldogs win eight district championships (three outright), including the run of five straight from 2011-15.

“I probably tried too much in the early years,” Spell said. “I know it took coach [Larry] Neumann a few years to get me to simplify things a little bit where kids would be more comfortable and play faster. We tried to use the same technique and same terminology and all the defenses, but [I was just] trying to match personnel with different offenses as they developed.”

He achieved it by finding out what his players could do best.

“To be able to take different talents every year and make what they can do best fit into what you can put out there, there’s none better than him at doing that,” said Monte Barrow, who replaced Neumann as head coach last year. “It’s not just, ‘Hey, this is what we run and we’ve got to find guys who can fit to it.’ He finds our best players and devises a scheme where he can be the most successful. That’s something we will miss.”

Come August, offenses won’t have to worry what Spell, 67, will dial up next.

The 45-year coaching veteran, whose last day at NHS will be June 8, was feted with a retirement celebration Thursday afternoon on campus.

Barrow has promoted safties coach Chris Theriot to defensive coordinator. Theriot also serves as Nederland’s boys track and field head coach.

“He’s the epitome of a Nederland Bulldog,” Barrow said of Spell. “He’s been through a number of head coaches, the ups and downs of the entire program and just ingrained himself into the program to be as big a part as he could be, without being that recognizable. That’s the way he is.”

For a man born in Port Neches, Spell and his family — his wife of 48 years Sharlyn, sons Brandon and Bryan and daughter Buffie, and seven grandchildren — are Nederland lifers.

“My heroes were Bulldogs,” said Spell, who moved to Nederland when he was 1 and played football, basketball and baseball in high school. “I was a Bulldog my whole life, and my whole family lives here. I’ve got two granddaughters that are cheerleaders. It’s a family affair every Friday night, or whatever night we play.”

The 1969 NHS graduate met his wife in high school, graduated from what is now Lamar University and worked in the school district his entire career, starting as a position coach at C.O. Wilson Middle School before coach Ben Hurt moved him to the NHS staff in either 1982 or 1983, to Spell’s recollection.

“I’ve been blessed,” Spell said. “I’ve coached two sons, my oldest son Brandon (a fullback and linebacker) in the late ‘80’s and early ‘90s, and then Bryan (a 1995 graduate) played quarterback for us. I never directly coached either one of them, but they played the game right, they were tough, and I’m very proud of them.”

Bryan is in his third season as Nederland’s head baseball coach, a position Delbert held from 1991-94. The Bulldogs won the district in Delbert’s final year.

“Very happy that he gets to retire,” Bryan said. “He’s had a great career. I can say unequivocally the best coach I ever played for. I learned a lot from him. I’m definitely happy he and my mother are going to spend some time together.”

Bryan recalled a moment when he slid into third base and jumped up with his dad sticking out a hand to help him up.

“I remember a couple of big hugs after big wins in football, both as assistant coaches,” Bryan said. “I don’t know if I can name a favorite [moment]. There were a bunch of them. I was extremely proud of the man he was and glad and blessed I was raised by Delbert Spell.”

Buffie Spell teaches teaches history and government at NHS. Delbert’s grandsons Tyler, a receiver, and Brady, linebacker, also played for the Bulldogs. Brady is a senior.

Neumann said he knew about Delbert as a coach when he became Nederland’s head coach in 1993. He was an assistant at Port Arthur’s Thomas Jefferson High from 1982-91.

“I was excited about the opportunity to work for him,” Neumann said. “I had high expectations, and he exceeded every one of them.”

Delbert Spell couldn’t identify just one player as his most impactful at Nederland, but he identified a group of defensive linemen including DeShawn Washington, Caleb Malveaux, Corbin Carr and Koby Couron that were key to the Bulldogs’ 2011-15 district title run. Washington lettered three seasons at Texas A&M, Carr and Couron teamed up at Lamar and Malveaux went to Houston Baptist.

“That was a stretch where we simplified it and played base defense,” Spell said. “They could line up and play football. They were dominant.”

Neumann believes Spell would have been a great coach at any school, adding he “blessed” Nederland with the time he spent there.

“I’m glad he didn’t move on my watch,” Neumann said. “He helped to make me a good head coach.”

Spell said he came to the decision to retire noticing “things were happening a little too fast” during the 2017 season. The Bulldogs went 8-3 and returned to the playoffs after a one-year absence, falling to Manvel in the 5A Division II area round at NRG Stadium in Houston.

“In the heat of a game, I didn’t want to hurt my team,” Spell said.

It’s an example of how a Nederland lifer who hardly lived in the spotlight lives his life.

“It’s always been about his players,” Barrow said. “He’ll tell you that every time. This program and this community will miss him as a coach and a man.”

I.C. Murrell: 721-2435. Twitter: @ICMurrellPANews

About I.C. Murrell

I.C. Murrell was promoted to editor of The News, effective Oct. 14, 2019. He previously served as sports editor since August 2015 and has won or shared eight first-place awards from state newspaper associations and corporations. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee, grew up mostly in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and graduated from the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

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