(Photo credit: Chuck Cook, AP)
The Florida Gators have a new head football coach, and his name is Billy Napier.
Multiple sources say that Florida fired Dan Mullen with direct and specific intentions of hiring Billy Napier. Florida did have backup options in place, but Napier was the clear cut number one target. “The other guys were just names on a piece of paper,” one source told me. “Backup options. The whole plan involved going and getting Napier.”
According to sources, a deal has been a struck and a contract has been signed. “At this point, the only way Billy Napier is not the Gators’ head coach is if he quits or Florida fires him. That’s what would have to happen for Florida to hire somebody else. This is done.”
The day after Florida officially fired Dan Mullen, Gator officials flew out to Lafayette to meet with Napier, who’s served as the Louisiana head coach for the last four seasons (with a 39-12 record, by the way). They were impressed with the passion and energy Napier seemed ready to bring to a job that he had no previous knowledge would ever be his, and made him an offer. Napier then sat on it over the Thanksgiving holiday, and shortly after his Ragin’ Cajuns defeated rival Louisiana-Monroe, pulled the trigger.
During those four years in Lafayette, Napier has done nothing other than reach the Sun Belt Championship Game. Losing in the conference championship game his first two seasons was the closest thing to failure his Ragin’ Cajuns ever experienced; since then, his program has been attributed credit for the 2020 Sun Belt championship (after COVID canceled the title game), and is the favorite to win the league crown again this year.
Though young (42), Napier checks all the boxes that need to be checked with this next coaching hire.
The big upgrade Napier brings to the table is his recruiting ability. Louisiana has owned the rest of the Sun Belt on the recruiting trail, finishing with the top class in the conference in all four years. Story after story (most notably this one from ESPN) has been published about Napier’s meticulous attention to detail and his natural desire to live, breathe and sleep recruiting. He essentially coerced Louisiana into creating all sorts of new staff positions (some of which were volunteers looking to get their foot into the door) to help synergize the recruiting process, and although Florida has a much bigger recruiting budget than Louisiana, Napier is assumed to be ready to engineer an overhaul to the Gators’ process of recruiting athletes.
The other constant with Napier is that his offenses have always been very good, averaging well over 400 yards per game each of his four seasons. After averaging 424.3 yards per game in Napier’s first season (2018), the Ragin’ Cajuns went hog wild in 2019, dropping 494.1 yards a game on their fourteen opponents. That was good for eighth in the country. Louisiana then somewhat came back down to earth, averaging 421.5 yards per game in 2020. They currently average 406.6 yards a game in 2021, considered a “down year” for their offense.
But even before taking the head coaching job at Louisiana, Billy Napier has demonstrated to be exactly the kind of guy Florida should want as its head coach. I know, a statement like that lends the possibility of blowing up in my face for the display of, “yeah, all the OTHER guys were failures, but THIS GUY is going to get it right!” type of certainty surrounding him. I know. But let’s go back to what I wrote about Napier in my “top five candidates to replace Dan Mullen” article…
“Billy Napier is one of those rare birds who has worked for both Dabo Swinney at Clemson and Nick Saban at Alabama. Suffice to say he’s learned a thing or two from each. Napier was fired from Clemson after the 2010 season following two years as the offensive coordinator and five years with the program overall.
Thus began a long, humbling road back toward his dreams of being a head coach. He wasn’t interested in taking the job that the public saw as a nice rebound job; he wanted to learn and get better at which he did. So he took a job as an analyst for Nick Saban at Alabama, put in his dues for that 2011 season, and his career was back on track- and off to the races. Napier then followed Jim McElwain to Colorado State for a year as the QB coach.
That was when Nick Saban called him again, and asked him to come back- this time as the wide receivers coach. Napier said yes, and worked for Saban for four more years, helping rejuvenate and remold the Alabama offense from a ground and pound unit to a more explosive aerial attack.
Throughout his four years in Tuscaloosa as the WRs coach, Napier worked with an array of elite wide receivers, including Amari Cooper, Calvin Ridley, and ArDarious Stewart. After one season as the offensive coordinator at Arizona State, Napier finally got the call he wanted- as the head coach of Louisiana. And since then, he’s done nothing but shine.”
Four years ago, Florida went with what was deemed the “safe” hire by getting Dan Mullen. There was thought to be a high floor, and the promise that Florida would never just completely implode- but there were also questions about just how high Mullen could take Florida.
Now, Florida has gone the other direction. In hiring Billy Napier, Florida has gone with a young, relatively inexperienced guy with a lot of unknowns and question marks. The floor could be the abyss. We don’t have any data of Napier as the head man at a Power Five program to know for certain that it is not.
But what experience he does have, and what we do know is all highly positive. And that means the ceiling is through the thermosphere. He’s going to need time and patience to install his blueprint and achieve the results he’s gunning for. But his track record indicates that he’s more than deserving of that time and patience- because the payoff is huge.
Billy Napier, welcome to Gator Nation. Here’s to you breaking through that thermosphere and finally bringing the Florida Gators to the heights they deserve to be at.