The Gators officially announced Billy Napier as their next head coach on Sunday afternoon. Here are five of my thoughts on the hire.
1. As I mentioned in my article right after Dan Mullen was fired, I believe Napier is the right person for the job.
He checks all of the boxes of things that the Gators missed under Mullen. Napier should improve recruiting substantially. He’ll bring discipline, organization and a vision to a program that seemed to be flying by the seat of its pants over the past four years.
He’s young and energetic, which will infuse some much-needed new life into the program. And because he’s young, he’ll likely be at Florida for a long time if he’s successful. He’s not just a temporary solution.
But, at the same time, I don’t think that athletic director Scott Stricklin got so hyper-focused on recruiting and culture that he hired the next Will Muschamp. Napier has a solid background on offense, and his defenses played well at Louisiana. I don’t think he’s going to be another one of those coaches that can’t figure out how to play well on the opposite side of the ball as their specialty.
Plus, Napier is a proven winner. He was part of two national championships at Alabama, saw the early stages of Dabo Swinney’s reclamation project at Clemson and he’s only lost two games since the start of 2020.
Stricklin absolutely made the right hire.
2. Napier’s hiring is also significant because of what it means about the administration’s support for the program.
Napier had reportedly turned down several Power Five offers over the past couple of years, including Auburn and South Carolina. One of the reasons usually given for him not taking those jobs is that he didn’t believe those schools were going to give him the resources he needs to win championships.
The fact that he finally left Louisiana for Florida is definitely a good sign that UF is about to increase the recruiting budget and the budget for hiring support staffers, which are a couple of areas that UF has trailed the other top SEC programs in recently.
Napier clearly feels that he’ll have everything he needs to succeed here.
3. I’m incredibly impressed at how efficient and drama-free this coaching search was.
Usually, these things take two or three weeks, and there will be about five different leading candidates at one point or another. There will be all kinds of rumors and reports about where the athletic director is traveling to, who he’s talking to and what the pecking order is.
Basically, coaching searches are often a confusing and chaotic mess that can send fans on a rollercoaster of emotions.
This one was different. From the beginning, Napier was the only one linked to the Florida job. Sure, there were articles written and tweets sent about Lane Kiffin, Bob Stoops, Mario Cristobal and Matt Campbell, but those were mostly based on speculation and hearsay.
In his statement on Sunday, Stricklin said that Napier was his top choice from the beginning and the only person he talked to, which allowed this hire to come together so quickly.
Stricklin handled this process about as well as could be expected. He knew what he wanted and went out and got it in less than a week.
4. Recruiting will be better, but how much?
Napier is regarded as an excellent recruiter, and he puts a lot of emphasis on it, so he’ll surely put together a good staff.
The Gators should recruit at a much higher level than they did under Mullen and Jim McElwain, but will they be able to recruit at an Alabama or Georgia-like level?
Alabama and Georgia are established programs with terrific head coaches who don’t appear to be going anywhere any time soon. So, convincing a top prospect to play for you instead of them is a tough sell for any coach, even if they’re a good recruiter.
Plus, Napier’s reputation as an outstanding recruiter is largely built on what he did at Alabama. Everybody is an elite recruiter at Alabama, so I’m not sure how impressive that actually is.
Florida should consistently rank in the top-10 in recruiting moving forward, but can they regularly crack into the top-5 or so under Napier’s watch?
5. Napier is the complete opposite of Mullen – which has its pros and cons.
Napier is strong in the areas that Mullen was weak – recruiting, staffing, organization and discipline, among others. However, he’s either weaker or more unproven in a few areas that Mullen excelled in – game-planning, play-calling and quarterback development.
Swinney fired Napier as his offensive coordinator after the 2010 season, and his offenses at Louisiana didn’t seem particularly flashy from an X’s and O’s standpoint.
He largely relies on his players just being better than his opponents’ players. That formula can work in the Sun Belt, but I don’t know if it’s good enough to win championships in the SEC. The best you can hope for is to be equally as talented as Alabama and Georgia; you’re not going to out-talent them any time soon. So, you’ve got to pair really good recruiting with really good player development and game-planning.
That makes it extremely important for Napier to hire a strong staff. I don’t think he’s capable of turning the program around by himself; he needs a really good group of coaches and support staffers around him. If he does that, championships could follow.