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Billy Napier’s Florida Gators honeymoon period looks over. It shouldn’t be

Message boards melted down over the weekend because of two recruiting misses. Check back in December, OK?
Florida Gators coach Billy Napier has not yet made his regular-season debut, but some fans are already melting down.
Florida Gators coach Billy Napier has not yet made his regular-season debut, but some fans are already melting down. [ STEPHEN M. DOWELL | Orlando Sentinel ]
Published Jun. 27|Updated Jun. 27

On the Florida Gators’ 247Sports message board, there’s something called, “The official meltdown thread.” As of Monday morning, it ran 147 pages. It’s some light summer reading inspired by a pair of brutal recruiting blows suffered by Billy Napier’s staff.

The first came around 2:30 p.m. Sunday when four-star offensive lineman Roderick Kearney orally committed to Florida State. The worst part? The Orange Park native and No. 128 overall recruit announced his choice just after leaving his official visit to Florida.

Two hours later, the Gators lost an even better blue-chip talent to another state school. California quarterback Jaden Rashada —the nation’s No. 45 overall prospect who was considered a UF lean earlier this month — committed to Miami.

Thus, the meltdown.

Related: Why Billy Napier’s personality is vital to Florida Gators’ success

If you believe the posts on message boards and Twitter (always a dangerous proposition), Billy Napier’s honeymoon period has ended two months before his first game. Even if that sky-is-falling sentiment is extreme, there’s definitely a little more angst and a little less understanding now compared to Dan Mullen’s first June.

There shouldn’t be. This is crazy but, apparently, necessary to write: Napier hasn’t coached a game yet. It’s far too soon to know whether he will succeed or fail.

Napier’s rebuilding job was never going to be a quick fix. He never promised it would be.

“We’re a work in progress,” Napier said during his spring speaking stop at Armature Works. “I’m not going to lie to you.”

Florida Gators coach Billy Napier told a crowd at Armature Works that his program is a work in progress.
Florida Gators coach Billy Napier told a crowd at Armature Works that his program is a work in progress. [ MATT BAKER | Times ]

I won’t lie to you, either. Some level of concern is justified.

Elite recruiters typically show their abilities in their first full cycle. Nick Saban, Kirby Smart, Ryan Day, Jimbo Fisher (twice) and Urban Meyer (also twice) all signed top-six classes in their first full year.

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

Napier’s Gators sit 36th, between SMU and Illinois. At this point in Smart’s tenure, Georgia was fifth.

Napier’s biggest get this cycle has been convincing Lakewood High edge rusher Isaiah Nixon to flip from UCF. That’s a nice addition, but the Gators aren’t going to get back to championship contention if their top recruit is ranked No. 195 in the country.

Former five-star running back Demarkcus Bowman choosing to enter the transfer portal Friday hurt, too. Although Bowman played sparingly and was part of a deep position group, it’s hard to spin the impending departure of one of the top recruits in Polk County history as a positive.

Demarkcus Bowman didn't make a huge impact at Florida and is reportedly entering the transfer portal.
Demarkcus Bowman didn't make a huge impact at Florida and is reportedly entering the transfer portal. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times (2021) ]

If Napier is going to do what he was hired to do — beat Alabama and Georgia on the field —he’s going to have to beat them on the recruiting trail. He hasn’t done that much yet.

Key word: yet. It’s June of Year 1.

Recruiting is especially fluid this time of year, which explains why Oklahoma, Michigan, LSU and Texas A&M all sit outside the top 40 nationally. There are too many commitments and decommitments left to gauge success.

Meyer transformed the Gators with a 2006 class that finished No. 2 nationally. Three of its superstars (Tim Tebow, Percy Harvin and Brandon Spikes) didn’t choose UF until after Meyer’s eight-win regular season. If Napier squeezes eight wins out of this team — an optimistic but achievable goal — why couldn’t he close well on the recruiting trail and land the kind of game-breakers UF needs?

His brief history at UF already shows he can. In December, Napier swooped in late to sign IMG Academy safety Kamari Wilson, the nation’s No. 44 prospect. Mullen signed only three players that were ranked higher during his UF tenure. That addition should carry more weight than a non-binding oral commitment six months before the early signing day.

The James W. "Bill" Heavener Football Training Center, seen here under construction last summer, is set to open in the next few weeks.
The James W. "Bill" Heavener Football Training Center, seen here under construction last summer, is set to open in the next few weeks. [ TIM CASEY | University Athletic Association ]

It’s worth remembering, too, that the Gators’ long-awaited $85 million football complex will open later this summer. When it does, Napier’s recruiting pitch will get easier. Maybe it will be enough to sway one or two big-time prospects.

In an interestingly timed open letter to fans on Friday, Napier acknowledged the passion and pressure at Florida.

Related: The four NIL issues that kept popping up at the SEC spring meetings

“I can assure you that no one has higher expectations for what we want to accomplish than me,” Napier wrote.

Can he meet those expectations? Maybe, maybe not. Check back in December, after he coaches a full season and signs the bulk of his first full recruiting class.

As for now, it’s far to early to tell — no matter what the message-board meltdowns say.

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