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What we’ve learned about Billy Napier’s army of Florida Gators analysts

UF’s 49 additions include a director of recruiting innovation, GameChanger coordinator and at least 19 national titles.
Florida coach Billy Napier has hired or retained 49 staffers since taking over the Gators in December.
Florida coach Billy Napier has hired or retained 49 staffers since taking over the Gators in December. [ BRAD MCCLENNY | The Gainesville Sun (2021) ]
Published Feb. 15

When Billy Napier took over the Gators, he vowed to hire an “unprecedented” army to make Florida a national powerhouse again.

“I think in today’s era, in this college football dynamic that we compete in, it’s truly an organization,” Napier said in his introductory news conference.

Related: Billy Napier: Florida Gators showed ‘willingness to invest’ in his vision

Napier hasn’t had enough time yet to build his full organization. But he has done enough to give us a good glimpse of what his army will look like and how he’ll use the $12.5 million budget UF agreed to give him ($7.5 million for 10 assistants, $5 million for support staff).

Since Napier’s Louisiana tenure ended on Dec. 4, UF has announced the addition/retention of 52 members of his army. Three of those 52 have already left, going from off-field roles at UF to become position coaches elsewhere.

Here are some takeaways we can make from the remaining 49:

Familiarity matters

More than a dozen of Billy Napier's hires worked with him at Louisiana.
More than a dozen of Billy Napier's hires worked with him at Louisiana. [ MATT STRASEN | Associated Press (2020) ]

Napier calls his plan “The Journey,” and it’s modeled after “The Process” he learned at Alabama as an assistant under Nick Saban. His staff knows it, by any name. Thirty hires worked with him at Louisiana (19), Alabama (four) or both (seven).

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

Recruiting is a top priority

One of Billy Napier's first hires was Katie Turner, who helped Georgia sign loaded recruiting classes (including star tight end Brock Bowers).
One of Billy Napier's first hires was Katie Turner, who helped Georgia sign loaded recruiting classes (including star tight end Brock Bowers). [ DARRON CUMMINGS | Associated Press ]

Napier said in his first news conference that college football “is a talent-acquisition business,” so it is no surprise that recruiting is one of the three factors he looks for (along with how they treat others and subject-matter expertise).

One of his first additions was Katie Turner, UF’s assistant athletic director of recruiting strategy. Napier poached her from Georgia, where she helped the Bulldogs sign a pair of top-four classes as their director of recruiting operations. Other additions include a director of recruiting innovation and a director of on-campus recruiting/football events.

Related: Georgia’s national title shows what’s possible at Florida and Miami

UF hired a former NFL scout (Bird Sherrill) to analyze the transfer portal and junior college prospects as the director of college personnel while Jacob LaFrance focuses on high school recruits as the director of player personnel. The Gators have one personnel analyst dedicated to potential additions on offense and another for the defense. They also have a director of research and evaluation who, as Napier said, “does research year-round on the evaluation process.” Meaning he researches and evaluates recruiting research and evaluations.

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Napier’s specific hires reflect his emphasis on talent acquisition. At least 15 staffers have experience as a recruiting director, coordinator, specialist or student worker. It’s not just position coaches, like tight ends coach William Peagler (a former recruiting coordinator at Coffeyville Community College). Assistant director of football operations for quality control Kyle Kazakevicius was Napier’s director of recruiting at Louisiana. Tamsyn Stonebarger, whom Napier hired from the Los Angeles Clippers to be UF’s associate director of digital strategy, worked in football recruiting as a student at Arizona State.

Related: What does it take to recruit like Alabama and Georgia? ‘Total commitment.’

The recruiting footprint is large

Napier said geography was also important in his hiring process, and his staff reflects that. At least one of his 10 assistants has notable connections to the six states that produced 10 or more NFL draft picks last year (Florida, Texas, Georgia, California, Louisiana and North Carolina).

Including support staff, Napier’s army has ties to Miami, Jacksonville, Orlando, Atlanta, Dallas, Los Angeles, Houston and New Orleans — all major talent producers. The closest Tampa Bay tie we found was director of football logistics Ashour Peera, who graduated from Saint Leo.

The titles are … interesting

Chris Smith changed the game for Billy Napier at Louisiana with his kickoff return for a touchdown in an upset win over Iowa State.
Chris Smith changed the game for Billy Napier at Louisiana with his kickoff return for a touchdown in an upset win over Iowa State. [ CHARLIE NEIBERGALL | Associated Press (2020) ]

Director of speed improvement and skill development looks cool on a business card. Not as cool as GameChanger coordinator, a position filled by Chris Couch (a former recruiting coordinator at Tulane). The title shows Napier’s goal for special teams, which Couch will focus on as an analyst.

“When we’re trying to create a game-changing play, we all know the power of an explosive play on special teams,” Napier said. “(It’s) kind of our way to create some urgency, some importance to that part of the game.”

His hires are accomplished

UF assistant Mike Peterson, seen here playing against Tennessee, was on the Gators' 1996 national title team.
UF assistant Mike Peterson, seen here playing against Tennessee, was on the Gators' 1996 national title team. [ Times (1997) ]

Napier’s staffers have won, or contributed to, at least 19 national championships. Mike Peterson (outside linebackers coach/alumni liaison) and Cheston Blackshear (quality control, offensive line) both played on the Gators’ 1996 title team. Offensive line coach Darnell Stapleton started at guard on the Steelers team that won Super Bowl 43 in Tampa. 247Sports credits four of his 10 assistants for landing at least one five-star recruit.

Related: As Billy Napier’s Florida Gators start ‘identity’ phase, ‘winner’ is only acceptable answer

It’s deep

Dan Mullen’s staff featured four quality control staffers (one on offense, one on defense, one on special teams and one undefined analyst), according to last year’s media guide. Napier has already hired at least 10, with seven focused on specific positions (including two at offensive line).

Napier saw the benefits of a large staff when he worked under Saban, beyond the on-field advantages of extra eyes. More support staffers mean, well, more support for staffers to help their quality of life in a demanding business.

Related: ESPN has three Florida teams in the top 25 in latest projections

“This game will chew you up and spit you out if you let it, and I think it’s important that we keep perspective here,” Napier said. “And this infrastructure will allow us to do that.”

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