5 reasons why Billy Napier was the right hire for Florida

After just a week, Florida’s coaching search quickly came on Sunday when it was announced that Louisiana coach Billy Napier would leave the Sun Belt for the SEC after spending four years as the head coach of the Ragin’ Cajuns.

Prior to that, Napier spent one season as the offensive coordinator at Arizona State after a four-year stint as Nick Saban’s receivers coach at Alabama. This is Napier’s first head coaching job at the Power Five level, as has been the case for five of UF’s last six coaches.

Napier will coach Louisiana in the Sun Belt Championship game on Saturday against Appalachian State before officially taking over in Gainesville on Sunday. An introductory press conference is set for the same day.

While it isn’t necessarily a move that will send shockwaves through the college football world like Lincoln Riley’s decision to leave Oklahoma for USC, which leaked shortly after the announcement of Napier as the hire, there are many reasons to like this move for Florida.

Here are five of them.

He's a passionate recruiter and detail-oriented CEO-type

AP Photo/Chuck Cook

There are a number of reasons that the Dan Mullen hire didn’t work out, but chief among them was the team’s struggles on the recruiting trail. Both Mullen and his staff didn’t seem to prioritize it, and that led to Kirby Smart accumulating a massive talent advantage in the division at Georgia.

While there’s no guarantee Napier’s recruiting success relative to ULL will translate to landing five stars at Florida, there’s reason to believe it will. According to all reports from people familiar with his process, the man loves to recruit. And if you’re an assistant on his staff, you better love to recruit, too. In Lafayette, he’s signed the best recruiting class in the Sun Belt over the last three years.

He’s coached in South Carolina, Alabama, Florida and Louisiana, forming great relationships with high school coaches, especially in the latter state. Given LSU‘s dominance in landing Louisiana kids, it would be huge for Florida if he can steal even a player or two each year from under the Tigers’ nose.

Napier has built the largest staff in the Sun Belt and wants to run his program in the same vein as Nick Saban at Alabama. He seems to care about every aspect of being a “CEO” of a program, and that’s a perfect fit for what Florida needs.

He's coached under some of the game's greats

Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

As mentioned previously, Napier spent four years learning from the greatest to ever do it in Saban. He was also an analyst under Saban in 2011 before leaving to coach under Jim McElwain at Colorado State for a season, returning to Tuscaloosa in 2013.

It’s clear based on the way he’s built his program at Louisiana that Saban influenced his coaching philosophy greatly, but before ever joining Saban’s staff, he also coached under a young Dabo Swinney at Clemson. He was the tight end and recruiting coordinator under previous coach Tommy Bowden, and in Swinney’s second year, Napier was promoted to offensive coordinator.

He found a lot of success in that role in 2009 and he recruited Tajh Boyd, the first of three fantastic quarterbacks in a row for the Tigers. But he was fired after production dipped in 2010, an experience that was certainly humbling for the 31-year-old coach.

Still, while Napier may lack Power Five experiences, he’s had plenty of opportunities to observe and learn how it’s done at the highest level.

He's built a program from the ground up

Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

It would be misleading to say that Louisiana had achieved no success as a program prior to Napier’s hire. Though it had been an FBS bottom-feeder for most of its existence at the highest level of Division I, prior coach Mark Hudspeth did find a good deal of success, leading the team to four-straight nine-win seasons and five bowl games after the program had never made one before.

A lot of those wins have now been vacated, but it did provide some proof of concept for winning in Lafayette. Hudspeth was fired in 2017 after going just 15-22 in his final three seasons, and the success since hiring Napier has been unprecedented.

After a 7-7 finish in Year 1, Napier has won 10+ games in each of the last three years, the first to ever crack the double-digit win mark at Louisiana. He has won the Sun Belt West division every season he’s been with the Ragin’ Cajuns, though he’s 0-2 in the championship game (last year’s game was canceled due to COVID-19).

There’s no guarantee success will translate from the Group of Five to the Power Five, but Napier has built one of the most successful programs among the lower-level conferences.

He's an offensive-minded head coach

AP Photo/Matthew Hinton

While this shouldn’t be as important as finding a guy who can get talent in the building and assemble an all-star staff, there is an undeniable way in which Florida likes to win, and that is by scoring a lot of points.

Whether it’s the Fun ‘n’ Gun under Steve Spurrier or the spread offense under Urban Meyer (which was innovative at the time and led to its proliferation across the sport), the best coaches at Florida have won by building a potent offense.

Napier, who is an offensive guy through and through, has the opportunity to do the same. While there were interesting defense-first options in this cycle like Baylor’s Dave Aranda and Cincinnati’s Luke Fickell, it’s hard to deny that someone who can coach the team up on offense is a better fit in Gainesville.

As we learned from the Mullen era, a scheme can only get you so far. Napier seems to understand that, and his primary emphasis will likely be on bringing talent to Florida. But the fact that he has a good track record as an offensive coach is certainly an added bonus.

Florida will give him the resources he needs to be successful

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Napier has been a hot commodity this time of year the last two coaching cycles. He declined offers to coach Auburn and South Carolina, and he was an initial candidate in the searches at Ole Miss and Arkansas that eventually landed Lane Kiffin and Sam Pittman, respectively.

He’s had the chance to jump to the SEC before, and he’s turned it down. He reportedly wanted to wait for the right job that had the right alignment between stakeholders and would provide him with the list of resources he requires.

There’s a reason Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin emphasized the one-track mind between Florida’s boosters, administration and himself at his press conference after firing Mullen. Considering Napier seems to have been the main target the whole time, Stricklin was likely speaking to him directly.

And UF has reportedly agreed to Napier’s requirements, which include a larger salary pool for assistant coaches and an increased recruiting budget. Stricklin clearly wants to find a way to build lasting success in Gainesville, and he’s willing to give Napier every resource necessary to compete with Georgia and Alabama.

There’s no such thing as a can’t-miss coaching hire, and Napier could fall short of expectations. But he’s waited a long time for a job like this, and Florida seems prepared to commit fully to building a nationally competitive football program. With Napier at the helm, the Gators got the guy they needed. Only time will tell if it works out.

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