GAINESVILLE — New Florida coach Billy Napier has had previous chances to jump from Louisiana to bigger jobs. Auburn. South Carolina. Baylor.
So why were the Gators the ones who got to introduce him at a news conference Sunday afternoon? In part because they displayed what he called a “willingness to invest.”
“It’s absolutely the most important part for me,” Napier said.
Napier made that clear with how he spoke Sunday. He didn’t address donors or boosters. He spoke directly to fans, alumni and “investors.”
It is a culture shock to a program that has spent most of this century behind in the arms race. Jim McElwain — whom Napier worked under at Colorado State — took several shots at the budget and commitment during his Gators tenure. UF’s football expenses in the 2019 fiscal year ($37.6 million) ranked ninth in the SEC and trailed Alabama by more than $20 million, according to data submitted to the U.S. Department of Education.
UF, however, is changing. The Gators will open an $85 million football complex next year that should help the program catch up. Napier knew all about the building when he met with Stricklin for their first interview two days before Thanksgiving.
According to Napier’s term sheet, UF agreed to boost its assistant coaching salary pool to $7.5 million. That’s comparable to what Ohio State ($7.6 million) and Alabama ($7.2 million) spent this year and $1.3 million more than what the Gators spent under Dan Mullen. The Gators also committed $5 million for support staff. Napier said the army he’ll hire to help with recruiting that will be “unprecedented” in size.
Athletic director Scott Stricklin joked that UF will have to build some barracks. Plans for the new football building include room for potential expansion.
“We might be using that sooner than we anticipated,” Stricklin said.
If expansion is necessary, it will be because Napier demands it. He said negotiations were “very simple” and that UF didn’t flinch at his requests.
Stricklin said that’s because Napier was specific about his proposed business model.
“It wasn’t just throw resources at it,” Stricklin said. “It was a detailed explanation of what those resources were going to do and what the personnel involved in those resources — what their roles were going to be, what the accountability piece would be, what the functions would be.”
It helps that Napier has done this before. He saw first-hand how Nick Saban built a machine at Alabama centered on The Process — the all-encompassing plan that explains what every person does and how it fits into the big picture.
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Napier used The Process as a blueprint to build Louisiana into one of the most successful Group of Five programs in the country.
“He had basically built a Power Five program at a Group of Five school,” Stricklin said. “He had just done it being very resourceful with his resources there.”
Those resources helped him compile a 33-5 record over the past three seasons, win a share of the Sun Belt title in 2020 and earn his first outright conference championship Saturday with a win over Appalachian State.
That, too, played a role in Napier’s decision to leave. Napier, 42, coached in the Sun Belt championship his first two seasons there (2018-19) but lost. Last year’s title game was called off due to a coronavirus outbreak.
But Napier’s Ragin’ Cajuns were rolling when Stricklin first reached out to his representatives two weeks ago, on the night Stricklin fired Mullen. Napier felt as if he and his staff were on the verge of achieving their goal at Louisiana, so he was open to a change.
“It’s the right place at the right time,” Napier said, “with the right people and the right leadership.”
And the willingness to invest.
⋅ Napier said he plans to call the Gators’ offensive plays and coach the quarterbacks in part because it gives UF a staffing advantage. By not having an offensive coordinator, UF can use that position on a second offensive line coach. That’s a testament to what Napier says will be the program’s trademark: physicality.
⋅ If Napier is fired without cause, UF owes him 85 percent of what is left on his deal. His $1.5 million in potential bonuses include $100,000 for finishing in the top 10, $250,000 for winning the SEC and $1 million for winning the College Football Playoff.
⋅ Napier called coaching “a talent-acquisition business” and said that if he can’t sign 25 good players a year, “then you’ll be looking for a new coach.” UF was, in fact, looking for a new coach because the last one (Mullen) didn’t sign enough elite prospects. Napier understands that. We’ll see whether he can live up to the challenge.
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