TAMPA — When Florida Gators coach Billy Napier and USF coach Jeff Scott face off Saturday at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, a two-decade relationship will come full circle.
Napier might not be coaching the No. 18 Gators without an assist from Scott’s father, just as Scott might not be coaching the Bulls without some assistance from Napier.
Their history runs from a small college field to big-time meeting rooms to a pair of national title games and will, finally, culminate in one of the sport’s biggest venues with their first meeting as head coaches.
“Just kind of funny how it becomes a small world, right?” Scott said.
Their worlds first collided as players, when Scott took an official recruiting visit to Furman. Napier was a backup quarterback then, a year or two away from becoming one of the best players in what is now called the Football Championship Subdivision.
After graduation, Napier sent out dozens of resumes to start his coaching career. Clemson was the only one that responded, he once told the Anderson Independent-Mail. He became a graduate assistant there and worked with Jeff’s father, then-offensive coordinator Brad Scott.
“You just knew when a young coach had it,” Brad Scott said this week. “Billy had it.”
As Napier drew the practice cards for the scout team, Brad Scott could see the young coach’s talent and passion. Napier was dependable, accountable, organized and detailed.
After two years at Clemson, Napier needed a full-time job. Brad Scott made a call to South Carolina State to put in a good word. They hired him for $468 a month.
“No insurance,” Napier explained earlier this year, “and no benefits.”
But it was a start. A year later, Clemson took him back as a tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator for the 2006 season. The elder Scott was still there.
Napier admired the way Brad Scott carried himself with class and cared about everyone around him. Napier picked up on his attention to detail and commitment to recruiting.
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“I think he has a lot to do with some of the early, maybe, success that I had recruiting,” Napier said. “I learned a lot of that from him.”
He passed it onto Brad Scott’s son.
When Clemson transitioned from Tommy Bowden to Dabo Swinney in 2008, Napier and Jeff Scott earned promotions — Napier to offensive coordinator, Scott from graduate assistant to receivers coach.
“Whenever all the (other) coaches went home, there were many, many late night that he and I would sit in the office and talk about things we can do in recruiting and strategy,” Scott said.
Fourteen years later, two things still stand out: Napier’s attention to detail and commitment to recruiting.
Scott remembers Napier coming over one practice after he screamed at a receiver for dropping a pass. Don’t yell because you’re mad, Napier told him. Give him specific instruction on what he needs to do.
The lesson — delivered by the youngest major-college coordinator in the country — stuck with the brand-new position coach.
So, too, did Napier’s dedication to talent acquisition. Napier was relentless, believing he had a chance with every recruit until the end. He was personable, valuing handwritten notes, not just text messages. And he was organized.
After one day on the road, Scott told Napier he stopped by a dozen schools in his territory.
That’s great, Napier replied, but how many real guys did you see?
The lesson: Don’t visit a school just to visit. Visit with a plan. Be detailed.
“There were just a lot of those (moments),” Scott said.
The moments continued over the years, even after Clemson fired Napier in early 2011.
Napier (Alabama) and Scott (Clemson) went against each other as assistants in the College Football Playoff national title games in the 2015 and 2016 seasons and on the recruiting trail. Scott remembers visiting a prospect’s home in Florida and leaving a list — handwritten, of course — explaining why the player should choose Clemson. He left feeling good about the Tigers’ chances.
An hour or two later, he got a text from Napier with a picture of his notes.
Pretty good, Napier texted. I like this.
Napier landed the player.
As they prepare to face off again as competitors this weekend, the respect between the two remains strong. Scott referred to Napier as “more than just a friend off the field” because of how much he has used him as a resource in his two-plus years at USF.
Napier called Jeff Scott a “great offensive mind” and “one of the bright young coaches in the game.”
“He was raised the right way,” Napier said. “He has care for young people. He’s in the game for the right reasons. I think he’s got a program there where they’re trying to impact people and use the game in a positive way.”
Sounds a lot like what the Scotts would say about Napier — their mentee and mentor.
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