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Florida coach Billy Napier says Gators are a ‘work in progress.’ He’s right.

The first-year coach wisely tempered expectations at Tuesday’s Tampa stop on his spring speaking tour. Be patient.
Florida Gators coach Billy Napier speaks to a sold-out crowd at Armature Works on Tuesday night during his first offseason.
Florida Gators coach Billy Napier speaks to a sold-out crowd at Armature Works on Tuesday night during his first offseason. [ MATT BAKER | Times ]
Published Apr. 20|Updated Apr. 20

TAMPA — Near the end of Billy Napier’s address to a sold-out crowd at Armature Works on Tuesday night, the first-year Florida Gators coach fielded a question that could have led to a statement of bravado.

ESPN analyst Paul Finebaum thinks you’re not going to be very good. Why is he wrong?

Instead, Napier did what he has done all offseason — tempered expectations.

“We’re a work in progress,” Napier said. “I’m not going to lie to you.”

It’s not the kind of line that leads to exuberant applause. But honesty beats the alternative.

Related: 5 post-spring thoughts on college football across Florida

When Florida State coach Willie Taggart took over the Seminoles, he called the job a realignment rather than a rebuild. He was wrong. Twenty-one games later, he was fired.

Napier’s UF predecessor, Dan Mullen, riled up the Orange Bowl crowd at the end of the 2019 by touting his team’s chances of making the national title game the next season. He went 8-4.

Dan Mullen talked up the Gators after they beat Virginia in the Orange Bowl.
Dan Mullen talked up the Gators after they beat Virginia in the Orange Bowl. [ LYNNE SLADKY | Associated Press (2019) ]

Let’s be clear: If Napier has too many 8-4 seasons, he’ll be fired just like Mullen, regardless of what he says. But there’s a risk to artificially and prematurely raising expectations for Year 1. If he underpromises and overdelivers, he’ll gain the trust of the fan base. If he overpromises and underdelivers, he risks losing supporters and might never get them back.

Napier’s message Tuesday night in one of the first stops on his speaking tour is consistent with what he told reporters this spring: UF needs more players.

Napier praised Anthony Richardson and the entire quarterback room. He said the Gators have some pieces around them, too.

“I think we’ve got a good group of ones,” Napier said, “and we’ve got a handful of twos that can play SEC football, play winning football.”

He didn’t elaborate from there. He didn’t have to.

Florida coach Billy Napier ended his first spring in last week's exhibition game.
Florida coach Billy Napier ended his first spring in last week's exhibition game. [ MATT PENDLETON | AP ]

Napier has said several times that the Gators will be active in the transfer portal, though he hasn’t specified what groups he’ll be targeting.

“We’re going to try to take full advantage of the situation,” Napier said. “We’ve got some room, and we’ve got an opportunity to add players and certainly hopeful we can do that.”

Napier told supporters that he won’t get a good gauge on his team until the rest of his recruiting class arrives in the summer. That’s no different than any other year, and it’s true.

But he knows enough by now to know that the team he inherited has issues that stem from Mullen’s good-not-great recruiting. There’s not enough speed at receiver. Not enough bodies at tight end. Not enough playmakers on either side of the ball.

Napier doesn’t need to address those issues publicly. He needs to address them through recruiting and the next few weeks in the portal.

None of this shields Napier from UF’s championship goals. Just because he’s not talking about those expectations much now doesn’t mean he’s hiding from them. Instead, he’s saying — directly and indirectly — that the titles aren’t likely to come immediately.

“I think that these things take time,” Napier said. “But I’m confident in what we’re trying to establish. We’ve got a plan. I know what it looks like, and I’m confident — more confident now than I was when I took the job.”

For now, UF fans will have to believe him.

Gator bits

• Napier said Richardson is “taking complete ownership” of his recent speeding citation for driving in excess of 105 mph. Napier called it a “serious deal” and said Richardson is being disciplined internally.

• Quarterback Carlos Del-Rio Wilson announced he is entering the transfer portal. The former top-200 recruit redshirted last year and was expected to be stuck behind Richardson and Ohio State transfer Jack Miller.

• UF is scheduled to move into its $85 million football complex around late June, Napier said.

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