After leading the Buchholz football program to back-to-back state semifinal appearances, head coach Mark Whittemore announced on Thursday he was stepping down.
He retires after finishing his Buchholz career with a record of 78-48 over 11 seasons, along with serving as an assistant coach for 16 years.
Whittemore led his team to a 10-3 record in his final season, which ended last Friday with a 42-35 loss at Venice in the Class 4S state semifinals.
“This has just been an unbelievable place for me and my family,” Whittemore said in a video on social media. “Great administrators, great boosters, a fantastic place to have worked and called home for these many years.”
That family bloodline includes his sons Trent, Luke and Creed who have all played for their dad. He coached three of his four sons.
Creed, a Mississippi State commit, had a big senior campaign at quarterback with 2,693 yards and 35 touchdowns passing and 1,285 yards and 17 touchdowns on the ground.
“It’s time,” said Mark, who was the 2021 Mainstreet Daily News Big School Coach-of-the-Year. “It’s time for me to allow somebody else to steward this great program.”
The Bobcats went 30-7 under Whittemore the past three years.
“We can’t thank Coach Whittemore enough for all he has done for Buchholz High School and Bobcat football,” said Buchholz Athletics Director Ron Brooks. “His love for this school and his players shines through all he does. He has done a tremendous job in helping our young men become better people and better football players. He helped restore Buchholz football to a state power and we wish him well as he moves on to the next chapter.”
Defensive coordinator Chuck Bell will serve as the Bobcats next head coach.
“Coach Bell is the perfect fit to take over as head coach here at Buchholz,” Brooks said. “He was a student and football player here at Buchholz and he loves this school. Watching him coach I can see a true passion for helping student athletes be the best they can be.”
Brooks noted that not only does Bell have coordinator experience at the high school level but he also brings college coaching experience.
“After talking with him and hearing his vision for the program I don’t think we could have found a better person to represent our football program,” Brooks said.
It seems fitting that Bell would be the next head coach of the Buchholz football team.
Bell is an alum and his relationship with Coach Whittemore goes back to a very young age when his father, a former head baseball coach at Santa Fe (Alachua), would team up with Bob Smith and coach together in the Summer for American Legion.
“Coach Whittemore was one of the best baseball players in the area, and growing up my Dad would always talk about Mark’s relentless nature and effort on the baseball field,” Bell explained. “So, I’ve really looked up to Mark most of my life and he has been the ultimate mentor in my life on and off the field since returning home to coach at Buchholz in 2018.”
Whittemore made an even bigger impression on him as a football coach.
“Coach Whittemore’s ability to infuse a culture of toughness and instill a mentality where ‘Quitting’ is never an option, is unlike any other coach I’ve ever been around,” Bell said. “His saying that he would ‘Coach you hard, but love you more’ always rang true. He was truly a guy that coaches loved working for and players loved playing for.”
That bond could prove to be fruitful in the future.
“Coach Whittemore will still be close by and I will be utilizing his experience and expertise on a very regular basis as I become acclimated to the head coaching position at Buchholz,” Bell said.
Bell is ecstatic to be the head coach of the black and gold.
“It feels amazing right now, just because it is truly a dream come true for me,” he said. “I have looked up to Buchholz head football coaches like Jay Godwin, George Dean, and Mark Whittemore for so much of my life, it still feels surreal that I am stepping into the same role as those all-time coaching greats from our area.”
The Bobcats lose several key players to graduation, including Whittemore, wide receiver Jacaree Kelly (Delaware), wide receiver Jaren Hamilton (Alabama), and defensive end Gavin Hill (Florida), all of whom will hold a commitment celebration on Monday. They won’t sign until Dec. 21 but Buchholz is going to honor them next week.
“There is a lot of work to be done in order to maintain the championship trajectory that the Buchholz football program expects and deserves,” Bell said. “I’ll be working over the next couple of weeks to ensure we have the best staff and best plan in place for our program, and then I look forward to getting into offseason work when we return from Christmas break in January.”