GAINESVILLE — Before Billy Napier took over the Florida Gators from Louisiana, he was best known for five words in a three-second clip: Scared money don’t make money.
“One day I’m going to figure out what that means,” UF staffer Ashour Peera said this week.
Peera, clearly, didn’t come up with the phrase. But the Saint Leo alumnus and former grade school teacher is at the heart of implementing it, which — like many things Napier — is more complex than is sounds.
Scared money don’t make money sums up the poker idea that in order to win big, you have to be willing to bet big. Consider it Napier’s version of Bucs coach Bruce Arians’ “no risk it, no biscuit” philosophy, but with fourth-down attempts rather than downfield passes. Only nine teams in the nation went for it more often than Napier’s Ragin’ Cajuns did last year (37 attempts). Their conversion percentage (59.5 percent) was six points better than the national median.
“The big thing here is that these decisions are very calculated, right?” Napier said after his introductory news conference in December.
Those decisions are starting to be calculated now, months in advance, with a one-of-a-kind figure at the center of them.
Peera moved from his hometown, Chicago, to Florida years ago to get into coaching. He knew he eventually wanted to become a head coach, so he needed a teaching certificate. That’s how he ended up learning different instructional methods at Saint Leo and teaching elementary school classes in Marion County and Leesburg.
“All those things contributed to my coaching, I believe,” Peera said.
Coaching took him all over the state and country — Ocala, Miami, Clermont, Colorado and Oklahoma. Peer was an assistant at Miami Northwestern when then-McNeese State assistant Rob Sale stopped by to recruit a linemen. They stayed in touch, and when Sale (now the Gators’ offensive coordinator) joined Napier’s Louisiana staff, Peera was brought on, too. He followed Napier to UF as part of the coach’s “unprecedented” army of support staff.
Though Peera’s official title is director of football logistics, he called analytics his “underlying secret weapon title.” That means that as the Gators spend this spring installing the playbook they’ll run in the fall, Peera is going through data for UF’s analytics playbook, which he considers more of an encyclopedia than a binder.
“The decision-making that goes into when do we go for it on fourth down, when we go for two, certain situations when you try to take a shot at the end zone, just different areas of situation football … we prepare that throughout the year,” Peera said.
Peera and the Gators do that by breaking down everything. Weather. Opponent tendencies. Kicking success (or lack thereof). How are teams scoring touchdowns in overtime? How often did winning teams go for it on fourth down instead of taking the field goal?
Weeks of research and analysis go into those calls, which are made ahead of time. Coaches will know on first down which scenarios will lead them to go for it on fourth down. That’s because Peera is on the sideline within earshot to remind them. He’s so focused on the data that he’ll occasionally get plowed into because his nose is burrowed into the book.
“Sometimes it’s not a big-picture thing…” Peera said. “It’s little, subtle stuff that really just builds up to hopefully a win.”
The most famous example came in September when Napier’s Ragin’ Cajuns hosted Ohio on a Thursday night.
Louisiana had the ball at the 1 leading 14-7 with three seconds left in the half. A field goal was the obvious choice. The encyclopedia said to go for the touchdown. Running back Montrell Johnson squeaked in for the score that sparked a 49-14 triumph. Moments later, Scared money don’t make money began to explode.
Though Napier’s five-word explanation was something he blurted out during a live ESPN interview, the decision behind it was deliberate. It, like his ideas about nutrition, sports science, staff structure and everything else, was designed to find and exploit every conceivable advantage in a cut-throat game.
Gators fans better accept the philosophy quickly, because it accompanied Napier to UF — just like the encyclopedia-toting former elementary school teacher tasked with implementing it.
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