Are Florida Gators too slow in the transfer portal? Billy Napier says no

“I would gladly welcome that criticism,” Billy Napier said Wednesday.
Florida Gators coach Billy Napier said he isn't changing his program's deliberate approach to the transfer portal.
Florida Gators coach Billy Napier said he isn't changing his program's deliberate approach to the transfer portal. [ PHELAN M. EBENHACK | AP ]
Published May 3, 2023|Updated May 4, 2023

SARASOTA — Florida Gators coach Billy Napier understands fans’ critiques over his program’s approach to the transfer portal. In a process that moves quickly, the Gators do not.

Napier isn’t budging — even if it means losing out on talented prospects.

“I would gladly welcome that criticism …” Napier told a small group of reporters Wednesday night before a speaking engagement at the Art Ovation Hotel. “We’re going to keep doing what we do.”

It’s fair to question Napier’s approach because of how this transfer cycle has transpired.

Napier said after the spring game UF had a few scholarships available and would scout the portal accordingly. It did not host an official visit during the April 15-30 window. That wasn’t by design, Napier said.

“We just weren’t able to get it done, quite simply,” he said.

UF’s only pickup is RJ Moten, a four-star safety from Michigan who committed Tuesday. That leads to the criticism that Florida is too slow in the portal.

Napier has another word for it: detailed.

The Florida Gators' O'Cyrus Torrence was a successful transfer portal pickup by Billy Napier.
The Florida Gators' O'Cyrus Torrence was a successful transfer portal pickup by Billy Napier. [ JOHN RAOUX | AP (2022) ]

Even if his army of analysts has a file on a potential transfer ready when he hits the portal, that’s only one part of their process. Academics are another; Napier said there’s a “high likelihood” a player with a year or two left won’t be accepted at UF. He also said the Gators previously pursued transfers for weeks before receiving their transcripts and learning they couldn’t take the players, anyway.

The Gators also need to explore a player’s medical history and call around to find out about his character. The whole system has checks and balances, too. Every one takes time.

“You’ve got to flip over every rock in a short amount of time, right?” Napier said. “So, sometimes our process doesn’t fit the timeline, and hey, we lose out on a situation. …

“We’re not going to speed through that process.”

Other programs either willingly speed through it or have simply found a way to get the same work done faster.

Defensive back Omarion Cooper announced on April 27 that he was entering the portal after seven career starts at Florida State. Four days later, he committed to Deion Sanders at Colorado.

At least three of FSU’s top-five transfer class said Seminoles coach Mike Norvell was the first or among the first head coaches to reach out after they hit the portal. Four-star offensive lineman Jeremiah Byers said he didn’t know what to expect when he decided to transfer from UTEP until his first call was from Norvell. Byers signed with FSU and is expected to contribute immediately.

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Though speed can help land a talented transfer, Napier said there are risks that come from rushing through an evaluation.

“I think you can make a lot of mistakes is what I would tell you,” Napier said.

Those mistakes become dead weight on a roster. Napier, to his credit, signed several successful transfers last year. Guard O’Cyrus Torrence (Louisiana), running back Montrell Johnson (Louisiana) and receiver Ricky Pearsall (Arizona State) were arguably his best offensive players.

Some of the spring game’s most promising performers were from the transfer class Napier signed this winter: linebacker Mannie Nunnery (Houston), running back Cam Carroll (Tulane), defensive lineman Caleb Banks (Louisville) and linebacker Deuce Spurlock (Michigan).

“We wouldn’t throw any of those guys back,” Napier said.

Napier, clearly, understands the criticism about his deliberate approach. It’s not much different from the freakouts earlier in his tenure when Florida shed recruits in his first, transition class.

But he also knows that his methodical evaluation process is one of the reasons he earned his promotion from Louisiana to Florida in the first place. He still believes in it — strongly.

“It’s worked for us. That’s what I would tell you,” Napier said. “And I think we’ll see next year it works again.”

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