Fresh off his lunch break, and appearing to be brushing off a couple of stray crumbs from his jacket as he made his way to the podium, Greg Sankey began the afternoon portion of Wednesday’s SEC Media Days by introducing Billy Napier- the man with a story, and a lesson behind it.
No sooner had Napier taken the podium than he was talking about being driven around various places throughout northwestern Georgia by his dad as a kid. Whenever his dad would reach the destination, and it was time for Billy and his siblings to get out of the car, the eldest Napier always had the same question for his children: “what’s your name?” It didn’t matter if it was a football practice or simply visiting a friend’s house, the question was always the same.
The younger generation of Napier’s would always answer with their surname. “That’s right,” Billy’s father would say. “You’re Napiers. Now go out and represent.”
And today, Billy Napier- regaling his audience with a tale that unfolded about two hours away from where he stood in an Atlanta hotel- tied that in to something he makes sure his players understand. “It’s all about representing,” Napier said at the podium to conclude his little anecdote. “And it’s a great honor to be able to represent the University of Florida.”
Of course, it’s always fashionable to take something that a new coach does, talk about how his predecessor didn’t do this, and write all about how this new thing is going to be what makes the new guy more successful. And to be totally fair to Dan Mullen, he did make a good faith effort to establish a bigger-than-yourself culture at Florida. It wound up breaking down a little less than a year after that above piece was published, but Mullen did try.
But with Billy Napier, something seems different.
There were warnings about Dan Mullen when he came from Mississippi State. Scores of MSU beat writers and fans would say things like, “Yeah, he’s a great coach BUT he’s arrogant,” or “Yeah, he’s a QB genius BUT he’s not a great recruiter.” Or even “Yeah, we’re gonna miss his success BUT not his cockiness.”
There was always a “BUT” after whatever complimentary statement was uttered, a strong spray from a garden hose to water down the rosy cocktail of promise they’d just painted. And indeed, those same things we were warned about with Mullen eventually did him in.
There’s nothing of the sort with Billy Napier.
Every opportunity he gets to praise someone other than himself, he jumps at it. From Kirby Smart to his own army of a staff, someone else was always to be respected and praised. Of course, today was a day of talking, but to the limited degree that Napier’s had the chance to walk the walk, he’s done that, too. Flipping Kamari Wilson (Georgia) and Devin Moore (Notre Dame) to conclude a shortened 2022 recruiting cycle, and then pulling off the recent explosion on the recruiting trail, should serve as evidence that if nothing else, he’s at least taking recruiting seriously. You know. The way he was hired to. And the fact that ten of Florida’s twelve current commits in the 2023 class are from the state of Florida proves that he’s serious about keeping in-state kids home, something else he mentioned today.
To this point in time, what Billy Napier says he’s going to do, he does. That’s how he represents himself.
And if he continues to represent himself as a man who sets goals and then stops at nothing to achieve them, the Billy Napier era could shape up to be quite a fun ride.