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.
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:
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).
Recruiting is a top priority
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
“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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