Florida hires Louisiana’s Billy Napier as coach: Gators swipe one of most in-demand names

29 Nov 2021 | 09:51 | Football

Florida announced Sunday that Louisiana’s Billy Napier will be program’s next coach. Napier was the leading candidate for the position as Florida acted quickly to replace Dan Mullen, who was fired on Nov. 21 following a 24-23 overtime loss to Missouri.

“We are humbled and honored to accept this incredible opportunity to be the head football coach at the University of Florida,” Napier said. “Our team, staff and entire organization will work daily to establish a program with integrity and class that we all can be proud of. More importantly, we will build a culture that is centered around making an impact on our players; as people, as students, and on the field.”

Napier has established himself as one of the top up-and-coming stars of the coaching industry. He is in the midst of leading the Ragin’ Cajuns to their most successful stretch in program history. Louisiana has enjoyed three straight double-digit win seasons, including an 11-1 effort in 2021 that will culminate in a Sun Belt Championship Game appearance against Appalachian State. Napier’s first season at Louisiana marked the first year of the Sun Belt title game, and the Ragin’ Cajuns have qualified for all four championship opportunities.

As a branch from the coaching trees of both Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney, Napier has been mentioned among SEC coaching circles for several years, including last year when Auburn was in the market after firing Gus Malzahn. It’s been reported that Napier has been offered a handful of Power Five jobs over the last couple of offseasons, all of which he turned down as he patiently waited for the right opportunity.

“I’ve followed and studied Billy Napier’s career with interest, and he became the primary target immediately after this position came open,” athletic director Scott Stricklin said. “We felt confident he would be an excellent leader for the Gators, which is why he was the only candidate I met with about the job. Billy’s ability to bring highly-talented people together – players, coaches, and staff – along with his vision for having a strong, relationship-based culture is what made him such an attractive choice. Add in how detailed his plan is for player development, staffing and recruiting, along with a sustained desire to improve, and it’s easy to see why he’s been successful.”

Florida beat Florida State 24-21 in Week 13 to finish 6-6 and become bowl eligible.

What are the biggest takeaways from Florida’s hire? Let’s have a look …

Napier fixes the glitch
Yes, it’s a line from “Office Space”, but it’s appropriate here when it comes to the Gators. Napier’s 39-12 record as a head coach speaks for itself, but his recruiting connections through his stints as an assistant at Alabama, Clemson and Florida State make him the perfect fit for Florida. One of the biggest criticisms of Mullen was that he hadn’t reeled in the players that were capable of competing with the top teams in the SEC. It’s all about depth in the nation’s toughest football conference, and Florida simply doesn’t have it after four of Mullen’s signing classes.

The current recruiting class is ranked 11th in the SEC heading into the early signing period, ahead of only Auburn, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt. The Gators finished fifth last season, sixth in 2020 and fifth in 2019. Those rankings might be fine for a team like Mississippi State or South Carolina, but this is Florida. It’s a hotbed of recruiting. It’s the mecca of high school football talent.

Florida isn’t recruiting well in the state, either. The highest-ranked 2022 prospect committed to the program is ranked 20th in the state. It was ninth-ranked Jason Marshall in the Class of 2021, seventh-ranked Kaiir Elam in 2020 and 14th-ranked Jacob Copeland in 2019.

Recruiting will be the first thing that Napier addresses once he arrives in Gainesville.

Florida didn’t waste time
The coaching carousel officially started last Sunday for the Gators, and they didn’t waste any time getting their guy. Stricklin had a plan, executed it and didn’t give any other programs time to elbow their way into the discussion. This is exactly why it’s smart for ADs to cut the cord when they know a change is going to be made rather than running out the clock on a lost season before officially making a change.

Take last night, for example. Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley was asked about the vacant LSU job after his Sooners lost to Oklahoma. He immediately shot it down as well as any coach can in such a situation.

That came as a shock to people in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, who thought they had their man, according to Sports Illustrated. How many other programs were under the same impression? Quite a few, most likely. Simply put, Riley’s decision to stay at Oklahoma opened the door for LSU to turn its head west down I-10 and approach Napier. Stricklin’s decision to make the move as quickly as possible prevented that from happening and eliminated the possibility of some other coaching carousel curveballs from changing the landscape.

Organizational skills are key
Napier is another one of Saban’s disciples, which has had a negative connotation over the last decade-plus. Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher became the first ex-Saban assistant to beat Saban when the Aggies won 41-28 on Oct. 9, breaking a 24-game losing streak former assistants had against their mentor.

That’s an overrated stat, though. Saban has the best players, best coaches and best support staff in the country, and it’s really hard for any coach to beat the Crimson Tide no matter which coaching tree they come from.

Napier worked with Saban as a wide receivers coach from 2013-16, during which time he saw Saban swallow his pride and open up his offense with the hiring of Lane Kiffin as his offensive coordinator prior to the 2014 season. That experience is invaluable because Napier saw the best coach of all time evolve with the times without kicking and screaming, which is something that every coach has to do in order to sustain success over a long period of time.

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