Florida’s new head coach Billy Napier has a lot of work to do in order to right the broken infrastructure that Dan Mullen left behind. He won’t take over the Florida program in totality until after his Ragin’ Cajuns square off against Appalachian State in the Sun Belt Title Game. But the minute that clock hits all zeroes, he officially becomes the Gators’ head coach- and then it’s time to get to work.
Usually, when a new coach, CEO, President, etc. takes over the reins, he or she declares to do certain things on his or her first day on the job. Billy Napier has an introductory press conference scheduled for his first day, but that won’t take more than an hour or two. Once that’s over (or he can get started on this list beforehand, if he wants), here are the five things he absolutely MUST do on his first full day on the job, on Sunday, December 5th:
1: Meet with Anthony Richardson and remove all doubts about his return
Richardson has dropped hints that he is a big fan of Billy Napier (such as tweeting out “scared money don’t make money,” which has become Napier’s de facto catch phrase) and wants to play for him. Between that, his NIL deals and his roots being in Gainesville, it would seem as though he’s likely to remain with the Gators. And he may not need much convincing.
Good. That makes this first task real easy. It’s still the first meeting you set up after the introductory presser. You cannot take any chances and even let him think about going elsewhere. The quarterback is the leader of the team, but he still answers to his head coach, and perhaps there’s no relationship more important than the one between the QB1 and the HC. So he can’t just be 85% sold on the coach; he needs to be 100% sold.
Though Richardson did show flaws in his game (mostly against the #1 defense in the land), he’s also shown worlds of promise throughout the season and is, with a competent head coach, the heavy betting favorite to start at QB next season. Start the process of building your team by terminating all remaining doubts about his future.
2: Call Nick Evers and keep him locked in
Pretty much everything that I wrote about Richardson applies to Nick Evers, the Gators’ promising QB commit for this upcoming class. The only difference is that he lives in Texas, so this has to be a phone call, but the same ideas are there. Evers has made no shortage of statements about how much he loves Florida. Great. So this assignment should be super easy- which is great, because of its importance. Locking down Richardson is great because it sets you up for at least 2022, but at some point, Richardson will depart. So you need a strong line of succession at quarterback.
And really, it’s a very subtle way to ease into the act of recruiting for the Florida Gators. There will never come an easier recruiting assignment than keeping Nick Evers committed. Just the same way that you give a new starting quarterback some easy throws to warm him up and establish some rhythm and comfortability, this will give Napier a quick slant route to start him off 1-1 on the recruiting trail.
What’s more, it can give Evers- a great recruiter for Florida in his own right- some real substance to go after his fellow recruits with. “Hey, Evan Stewart! I know you’re committed to Texas A&M, but give Florida another look now. This Billy Napier guy is the real deal.”
3: Meet with Nick Savage about staying on as the Strength & Conditioning Coach
The stock of Nick Savage has somewhat cooled off after the 2021 season, in which the Gators did not appear especially disciplined. But some of that has to do with sheer frustration of things unraveling, which is bound to happen naturally when a head coach doesn’t do the things he needs to do and the players cannot force him to do those things. And his first three years on the job at Florida were unquestionably tremendous.
As a rule, I’m not a believer in caving to the players’ demands. I don’t subscribe to the “inmates running the asylum” metaphor in real life. If the coach caves to his players’ orders and does the first thing they ask for, at least in theory, the players could attempt to start pushing the coach around with the mindset of, “Well, he did this first thing we all demanded, let’s all now demand he does this or that.”
This is the exception to that rule. Savage is heavily respected across the industry, and he makes it very clear that his goal is to try to push you one inch short of the point of death in the weight room. When he’s on camera, he’s a raging madman who more closely resembles a drill sergeant than a football staffer. The players aren’t all clamoring for Billy Napier to keep Savage because he’s going to be all buddy-buddy with them and make their lives a walk in the park; they’re all clamoring for Napier to keep Savage because they know he’ll make their lives hell in the offseason, so that the fourth quarter against Georgia can feel like a walk in the park by comparison.
4: Meet with Diwun Black and promise him playing time in 2022
Your inside scoop of the day: a former SEC football player (not for Florida) who trained with Diwun put his skill set very bluntly to me. “I don’t care if Diwun knows zero percent of the playbook. Have a teammate yell out his assignment for all the world to hear. That man is too talented to keep on the bench.” That’s a pretty clear message. I’m friends with Diwun and don’t try to hide that, so instead I’ll just let that former player assess him for me to establish the fact that he’s generally regarded as a ridiculously gifted defensive player, either at LB or DB.
After a roller coaster recruiting journey that took him to JUCO, Diwun’s actions made it clear that he would go to the ends of the earth for the chance to play for Florida. That journey, in turn, made him one of Florida fans’ favorite players. And because of all that, plus a close relationship with Dan Mullen and the fact that this year’s defense was atrocious and he couldn’t possibly have done any worse than those who did play, he was very frustrated about his lack of playing time this year.
Diwun hasn’t dropped the dreaded “T” word to me yet, but when you have a guy who’s so high on the head coach that brought him there, goes to hell and back just to wear the Gator uniform, is highly capable of performing well and then doesn’t play (at least give him a trial run and see how he does?), it’s not crazy to think it’s possible. Billy Napier absolutely has to meet with him and, at the very least, promise to give him a chance on the field next season.
5: Tour the Florida Gator football facilities
The first four tasks should not take Billy Napier all too long. Three meetings and one phone call should at most take him three hours, and realistically probably closer to two. That, plus the introductory press conference means that he has a solid 3-5 hours blocked off; the rest of that day should be spent touring the University of Florida’s various football facilities.
And I’m not just talking about the $85 million facility that’s on the way. I’m talking about the Swamp itself. The locker rooms. The current practice facilities. Take a long, slow walk around the field. Have some staffers light up the night and gaze up into the bright lights you’ll one day be coaching under. Live it. Breathe it. Engulf yourself in it.
Why? Because anybody can look at pictures or watch videos of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium and say they know what it looks like. But when you go on the recruiting trail, you need at least some mental snapshots of the field in your head so you can accurately depict the scene. And hell, for aesthetics and optics- a picture of Billy Napier standing far away with his back to the camera gazing ahead and a caption of “Welcome home, coach.” on social media is an excellent way to build repoire with a fan base that’s admittedly difficult to please.