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Florida’s Billy Napier isn’t the first Sun Belt coach to jump to a bigger job.

Here’s a look at how former Sun Belt coaches have done in bigger jobs, including one who ended the Dan Mullen era.
 
Missouri coach Eliah Drinkwitz was at Appalachian State before taking over the Tigers.
Missouri coach Eliah Drinkwitz was at Appalachian State before taking over the Tigers. [ L.G. PATTERSON | AP ]
Published Dec. 3, 2021

There were many reasons why Billy Napier was an attractive candidate for Florida. As Napier prepares to jump full-time into his Gators role Sunday, don’t overlook the reason why his start has been delayed.

He had one more game (Saturday’s Sun Belt championship) to coach in a good conference.

“I do think that the Sun Belt Conference has really made a move in my time …” Napier said. “And there’s no question that it affected my ability (to get the UF job) and the opinion of other people out there about our team, for sure.”

Related: What can Florida Gators fans expect from Billy Napier? ‘Winning football’

Napier isn’t the first Sun Belt coach to make the jump to a bigger program. Here’s a quick look at some of his predecessors and how they fared:

Eliah Drinkwitz

Eliah Drinkwitz won the 2019 Sun Belt title at Appalachian State.
Eliah Drinkwitz won the 2019 Sun Belt title at Appalachian State. [ BRIAN BLANCO | AP (2019) ]

Sun Belt stop: Went 12-1 and beat Napier’s Ragin’ Cajuns to win the 2019 Sun Belt championship in his only year at Appalachian State.

What happened next: He’s 11-11 in his two seasons at Missouri and is on track to sign a top-15 recruiting class. His 24-23 overtime win over Florida last month (plus some postgame trolling) led to Dan Mullen being fired the next day.

Scott Satterfield

Scott Satterfield finished the regular season 6-6 at Louisville.
Scott Satterfield finished the regular season 6-6 at Louisville. [ TIMOTHY D. EASLEY | AP ]

Sun Belt stop: Won three conference titles at Appalachian State, including a 2018 championship game win over Louisiana in Napier’s first season. Finished 47-16 in five seasons as head coach.

What happened next: Left his alma mater for Louisville, where he’s 18-18 in three years. He has rubbed some people wrong by considering other jobs, and this 6-6 season ended with a 52-21 loss to rival Kentucky.

Related: Billy Napier isn’t Lincoln Riley or Brian Kelly. That’s okay, Florida Gators fans.

Neal Brown

Neal Brown celebrated Troy's win over North Texas in the New Orleans Bowl.
Neal Brown celebrated Troy's win over North Texas in the New Orleans Bowl. [ GERALD HERBERT | AP (2017) ]

Sun Belt stop: Went 35-16 in four seasons at Troy and had double-digit wins in each of the last three. Won the league in 2017.

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What happened next: He’s 17-17 in three seasons at West Virginia. This year’s 6-6 season included wins over ranked Iowa State and Virginia Tech teams but losses to Maryland and Texas Tech.

Bryan Harsin

Bryan Harsin went from Arkansas State to Boise State to Auburn.
Bryan Harsin went from Arkansas State to Boise State to Auburn. [ VASHA HUNT | AP ]

Sun Belt stop: Went 7-5 and finished as co-conference champion in 2013, his lone season at Arkansas State.

What happened next: Jumped from there to Boise State, where he finished ranked four times in seven seasons and won three Mountain West titles with a 69-19 final record. Went 6-6 this season in his first year at Auburn.

Related: Can Billy Napier Sabanize the Florida Gators where Jim McElwain, Will Muschamp couldn’t?

Gus Malzahn

Gus Malzahn went to the national title game at Auburn a year after leaving the Sun Belt.
Gus Malzahn went to the national title game at Auburn a year after leaving the Sun Belt. [ DOUG BENC | AP ]

Sun Belt stop: Finished 9-3 and won the conference in his first and only season at Arkansas State (2012).

What happened next: Took Auburn to the 2013 BCS national championship in his first season but lost to Florida State. Had four more top-25 seasons at Auburn and went 68-35 before getting fired. Finished 8-4 in his first season this fall at UCF.

Hugh Freeze

Hugh Freeze had success at Mississippi after taking over from Arkansas State. He left amidst an escort scandal and is now at Liberty.
Hugh Freeze had success at Mississippi after taking over from Arkansas State. He left amidst an escort scandal and is now at Liberty. [ ROGELIO V. SOLIS | AP ]

Sun Belt stop: Won the Sun Belt with a perfect conference record in 2011 in his only season as Arkansas State’s head coach. His 10-win season was the program’s first since 1986.

What happened next: Went 39-25 at Mississippi with trips to the Peach Bowl and Sugar Bowl plus back-to-back wins over Alabama. He resigned amidst an escort scandal and is 25-11 over his past three seasons at Liberty.

Related: 5 takeaways from Billy Napier’s first remarks since taking Florida Gators job

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