Notebook: Napier purposeful with hires, Jones still around, more tidbits

Billy Napier has kept his word about building an army of support staffers. At the moment, UF’s official staff directory lists 30 staff members, not counting the on-field assistant coaches.

While his staff is nearing its completion now, for a while it felt like the school was announcing a new hire every hour. That prompted some good-natured joking among fans and media about some of the unusual job titles that some of Napier’s employees have been given and whether there will be anybody left in the state of Louisiana by the time he’s done.

To Napier, though, his insanely large staff is no joking matter. The two teams that played in the national championship game, Alabama and Georgia, utilize a similar staffing strategy.

He said on Friday that everybody he has hired and will hire will perform tasks that he believes are essential for the success of the Gators’ program, or the “organization,” as he likes to call it. He’s not just hiring people because he’s been given a $5 million salary pool for support staffers and feels compelled to use it all. He’s not just hiring his buddies so that they can go on vacations together.

“There’s nobody’s that’s just sitting around eating popcorn, just watching the game,” Napier said. “We’ve got things to do, so we’re not going to hire anybody we don’t have a very clearly defined role for or we don’t feel like their role is very important. The key here is that they all understand what their role is, they do their job, and they understand the impact that they can have on the player and the impact that they can have on our team. If we create that kind of culture, I think we’ve got a chance. I think that’s our process.”

Napier also reiterated his desire to create a nice balance between work and home life for his assistant coaches. He doesn’t want them to have to work 24/7, rarely see their wives and children and be miserable. The only way to create that balance is by spreading the work out among many people.

His plan is about being efficient. He wants to get as much work done in as little time as possible. The larger his staff is, the more efficient they will be.

“This profession can chew you up and spit you out,” he said. “Literally, I could work every day of my life, from sunup to sundown and more. There’s that much work to do. As competitors, we can let it consume us. One of the things I appreciated about some of these places I worked in the past is that you had a team of people that help you, and that allows you to delegate, allows you to be efficient with our time, to get good at the things that are important, to keep the main thing the main thing and not get caught up in the minutia.”

Napier said that building an army of support staffers is something that has evolved over the last 10 years or so in college football as the challenges facing the sport have increased. He said that they only had nine assistant coaches, two graduate assistants, an operations person and a high school relations person when he worked at Clemson from 2006-10. One of the assistant coaches doubled as the recruiting coordinator.

Now, large staffs like the one he is assembling at Florida have become the norm.

And Napier’s model will continue to change as the rules change. For example, he has hired someone to oversee matters related to name, image and likeness and someone to serve as the lead evaluator of transfer portal prospects. If NCAA rules change even further, he’ll be ready to adapt.

“The game has always been evolving, and it continues to evolve,” he said. “We’re fortunate to be at a place where they’re giving us the resources to do it a certain way, and we’re taking that on.”

Jones still around

Prior to the Gasparilla Bowl against UCF last month, quarterback Emory Jones announced his plans to enter the transfer portal.

However, he never actually entered the portal and is still enrolled in classes at UF.

Napier confirmed that Jones is still with the program and has followed the coaches’ instructions so far.

While Jones isn’t exactly in good standing with the fan base because of his turnover-plagued 2021 season, Napier hopes that the fans will give him a fresh start under a new staff.

“This is a guy who is a class act,” he said. “It’s been very impressive to me the caliber of person that he is. He’s managed a very difficult situation well. And anything that happened in the past, it’s important for not only the players but all the people that care about the University of Florida, that care about our football program, to kind of separate those things. This staff has given each one of these players a new beginning, kind of a fresh start. I think it’s important our fans do that.

“I think he cares about this place. It’s important to him to represent this place the right way. And he’d be the first to admit that he’s played really well at times, and he’s struggled at times. I think for me as a coach going forward, and in particular the quarterback, you’re the teacher, and they’re the student. I’m going to work with those guys exclusively every day. So, when the team struggles or the player struggles, it’s important that you take ownership of that as the teacher, and, certainly, we’ll have that approach.”

Raymond “a true expert in his area”

Cornerbacks coach Corey Raymond has forged a reputation as one of the top recruiters and developers of defensive backs in the country. In 10 years at LSU, he coached seven First Team All-Americans and 14 NFL Draft picks.

Several teams tried to poach him away from his alma mater over the years, but Napier is the only one to successfully do so.

Napier was very familiar with Raymond from his time competing against him as an assistant at Alabama, and they coached in the same state for the past four years. He’s confident that he hit a home run.

I used to watch him in pregame, his drill progression, the detail and the technique that his players play with,” he said. “They played with really good fundamentals, played with great leverage, understood the concepts. And, certainly, he did a good job evaluating players and then developing those guys, and, obviously, his pedigree, his track record speaks for itself.

“This is a proven developer of talent. This is a proven evaluator. This is a proven relationship-builder. He has wisdom, he has experience, he has insight, he has relationships. This is one of those hires where you’re hiring a true expert in his area, and he’s already made an impact on our team and recruiting. So, we’re very excited about Corey.”

Napier emphasizing individual approaches to recruiting

With Friday marking the first day of the contact period, the sprint toward signing day on Feb. 2 has begun. Assistant coaches are heading all over the place to visit recruits, and the Gators will host official visitors on campus over each of the next three weekends.

Napier said that one of the biggest keys to his recruiting plan is to tailor their messaging to what each individual recruit cares about most.

This isn’t a one-message-fits-all type of situation. Some recruits might care most about their relationship with their prospective position coach. Others might care more about the depth chart, the facilities, the academics or which school offers them the best NIL opportunities.

“We’re basically in the sales business,” Napier said. “We’re selling our product. We’re presenting our product. We’re creating unique experiences for the player, their families. I think in recruiting it’s important that you get really individualized because no situation is the same. Some parts of the decision are more important to certain families.”

That’s where Assistant Athletic Director of Recruiting Strategy Katie Turner and Director of On-Campus Recruiting and Football Events Bri Wade come into play. Their jobs are to identify what each prospect cares about the most and plan the itineraries for their visits to campus accordingly.

“They help us organize that experience that these players have for us, and no detail is too small,” Napier said. “I think that they have experience doing this, and I think that they’re going to do a great job. This will be kind of our first run at it this weekend, and one thing I can tell you about Katie and Bri, they will get better each opportunity. So, it’s a big part of what we do, and, certainly for me, you give them ownership, you let them do their job and you give them feedback as you go. So, that’s the approach we take.”

Gators preparing to enter the “Foundation” phase

Napier believes in dividing the year into eight phases. Each member of his staff has a specific set of tasks to accomplish in each phase.

The first phase, “Foundation,” begins on Tuesday. It will consist of 12 weightlifting sessions and 10 team runs and will last until after signing day in February, when the “Identity” phase begins.

“This is an action establishing an organization,” he said. “It’s a body upon which something is built, a basis on which something stands. I think in college football, each year you’ve got to kind of start the process over. It’s a new group of players, a new group of staff. Certainly, the organization always has probably 25-30 percent attrition, new leadership roles at all levels. Then you have a group of players, rookies, staff members who have to learn expectations and systems and kind of our approach.

“The goal here is to build trust within the organization, to establish communication. I think it’s important that you define self-discipline to the players. We want to define attention to detail, and we’re trying to create a structure of routine and time management. That’s a big component of this. We want to establish expectations as a new group, a new way of operating here, establishing accountability. It’s important that we’re consistent, we’re fair.”

Before they start building that foundation, however, Napier is conducting a 13-day evaluation period to get a feel for where each player is at physically and to learn more about what type of person they are away from football.

“You’re not just evaluating a guy from a physical component,” Napier said. “You’re evaluating ‘What is his history on the field from a production standpoint? What is his history as a teammate? What is the consensus amongst the people in the building about him?’ Certainly, they’ve got a track record academically, and some of these players we have history with where we know them from the past.

“I think the big thing here is that we’ve got to establish working relationships. We’ve got to establish trust and communication with all the areas of the organization that work with the player.”

Ethan Hughes
Ethan was born in Gainesville and has lived in the Starke, Florida, area his entire life. He played basketball for five years and knew he wanted to be a sportswriter when he was in middle school. He’s attended countless Gators athletic events since his early childhood, with baseball being his favorite sport to attend. He’s a proud 2019 graduate of the University of Florida and a 2017 graduate of Santa Fe College. He interned with the University Athletic Association’s communications department for 1 ½ years as a student and also wrote for for two years before joining Gator Country in 2021. He is a long-suffering fan of the Jacksonville Jaguars. You can follow him on Twitter @ethanhughes97.