DESTIN — Florida Gators football coach Billy Napier is like a lot of UF fans. He marveled at Steve Spurrier’s offenses as a football-crazed teenager, then admired the powerhouse Urban Meyer built while watching from afar at Clemson.
“Now, fast-forward 15 years,” Napier said. “What do we have to show for that?”
Not much. The Gators won’t have much to show for it a year from now, either, unless they drastically exceed their tepid external expectations.
If Napier is worried about that, he didn’t show it during a half-hour chat with reporters Wednesday at the SEC’s spring meetings.
“You talk about (how) it’s a great challenge,” Napier said over coffee at the Hilton Sandestin. “I’m up for the challenge. We’re up for the challenge.”
The Gators didn’t show it last year. Napier took a team with six eventual NFL draft picks, including No. 4 overall pick Anthony Richardson, and went 6-7. His first full recruiting class ranked No. 14 in the recruiting website 247Sports composite, and the Gators’ transfer portal haul is 17th. That’s fine, but fine isn’t good enough at Florida.
“Hey, look, no excuses, right?” Napier said.
He did, however, provide some candid insight into the program’s Year One struggles, namely the transfer portal and name, image and likeness issues.
Every program in the country deals with them, but Napier said the new, evolving variables are a bigger challenge for first-year staffs. It’s hard enough to build a roster when you take a job a week and a half before the early signing period.
“But all those things combined, I think your time is divided,” Napier said. “We got some things established, but we didn’t do it with detail, we didn’t do it with discipline, we didn’t have the team dynamic.
“I’d just left a place that was a well-oiled machine, to some degree (Louisiana). But it didn’t get there overnight.”
The implication: Florida won’t get there overnight, either. Maybe not in 12 games or 18 months, either.
“But reality is, first year — I’d say even two years — you’re giving away two years of your life, to some degree,” Napier said. “It takes awhile to get it going.”
The Gators got a reminder of the value of patience this week as Florida’s men’s golf team won the NCAA title over Georgia Tech on Wednesday. The team hadn’t finished higher than 10th in coach J.C. Deacon’s previous eight seasons.
That helps explain why athletic director Scott Stricklin will look for things beyond the final record — like recruiting, buy-in and staff fits — during the second seasons for Napier and men’s basketball coach Todd Golden after their rocky debuts.
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“I think it’s more about building a program that’s sustainable,” Stricklin said before flying to Arizona to watch the golf championship. “Pushing forward. Are you continuing to recruit well and bringing more talented people into the program? Those are the kinds of things — you keep doing that, and you’re going to wake up and run into a trophy at some point.”
Trophies remain the standard at Florida. Napier isn’t shying away from that expectation or the passionate fans clamoring for it.
“I think that was the probably the desirable thing about the job,” Napier said. “You’ve got a chance to get it back to where it’s been before.”
There are signs that Florida is getting closer to that point.
The Gators’ 2024 recruiting class has nonbinding oral commitments from four of the nation’s top 50 recruits with an average player rating that trails only Georgia and Alabama. After the Jaden Rashada name, image and likeness debacle, the Gators seem aligned under their new entity, Florida Victorious. Napier said there was a “significant difference” in the team’s first summer workout Tuesday compared with a year ago.
But until the wins start to come, Napier knows the concerns and criticisms will linger. He knows what he signed up for.
“You’ve got to do something about it,” Napier said. “In this game, you’ve got to go earn respect. That’s the fun part about it, right?”
Contact Matt Baker at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.
Conferences and networks announced kickoff times and TV information Wednesday for the opening weeks of the season, plus a few other dates:
Aug. 31 (Thursday)
Kent State at UCF: 7 p.m., FS1
Florida at Utah: 8 p.m., ESPN
Sept. 1 (Friday)
Miami (Ohio) at Miami: 7 p.m., ACC Network
USF at Western Kentucky: 3:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network
Sept. 3 (Sunday)
Florida State vs. LSU: 7:30 p.m., ABC
Texas A&M at Miami: 3:30 p.m., ABC
Florida A&M at USF: 7 p.m., ESPN+
UCF at Boise State: 7 p.m., FS1
McNeese at Florida: 7:30 p.m., ESPNU
Southern Miss at Florida State: 8:30 p.m., ACC Network
Sept. 14 (Thursday)
Bethune-Cookman at Miami: 7:30 p.m., ACC Network
Florida State at Boston College: Noon, ABC
Alabama at USF: 3:30 p.m., ABC
Villanova at UCF: 6:30 p.m., ESPN+
Tennessee at Florida: 7 p.m., ESPN
Charlotte at Florida: 7 p.m., ESPN+/SEC Network+
USF at Navy: 3:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network
Nov. 17 (Friday)
USF at Texas San Antonio: 9 p.m., ESPN2
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