Florida hires Billy Napier: Gators land star Louisiana coach to replace Dan Mullen

By Adam Silverstein
November 28, 2021
Florida hires Billy Napier: Gators land star Louisiana coach to replace Dan Mullen

Image Credit: Ben Massey, Louisiana athletics

The Florida Gators have hired Billy Napier as the program’s next head football coach, the program announced Sunday afternoon. Napier spent the past four years leading Louisiana to a 39-12 record with the Ragin’ Cajuns going 21-2 over the last two seasons.

Napier, 42, will be formally introduced on Sunday, Dec. 5 after he leads No. 23 Louisiana in the 2021 Sun Belt Championship Game against Appalachian State the prior day.

“We are humbled and honored to accept this incredible opportunity to be the head football coach at the university of Florida,” Napier said in a release. “Our team, staff and entire organization will work daily to establish a program with integrity and class that we all can be proud of. More importantly, we will build a culture that is centered around making an impact on our players; as people, as students, and on the field. We embrace the expectations and are excited about the challenge ahead. We will assemble a special group of people and immediately get to work building a great program. … We look forward to getting to Gainesville and starting this journey!”

Napier joined Louisiana after serving under two of the most notable coaches in college football. His first big job came as a Clemson assistant under Dabo Swinney (2006-10), and he is best known for working with Nick Saban at Alabama (2011, 2013-16) where he made a name for himself as one of the Crimson Tide’s top recruiters while taking part in two national championships.

A former quarterback at Furman who led the Paladins to a national title game, Napier is a career offensive coach, though he’s known more as a program builder and relentless recruiter who has impressive organizational skills. He will aim to bring his energy, passion, leadership and structure to a Gators team that appeared to lack all of it at times throughout the 2021 season.

The hiring of Napier is considered a coup for Florida, which not only landed its top target but inked a coach who has been one of the hottest names bandied about over the last couple of cycles. Napier has reportedly turned down a half-dozen Power Five opportunities — a number of them in the SEC — for various reasons, though the UF gig is the best he’s known to have been offered.

Napier’s status as athletic director Scott Stricklin’s top candidate was reported earlier this week by OnlyGators.com, while his impending hiring was first reported Sunday by Yahoo Sports’ Pete Thamel and confirmed by OnlyGators.com.

“I’ve followed and studied Billy Napier’s career with interest, and he became the primary target immediately after this position came open,” Stricklin said in a release. “We felt confident he would be an excellent leader for the Gators, which is why he was the only candidate I met with about the job. Billy’s ability to bring highly-talented people together – players, coaches, and staff – along with his vision for having a strong, relationship-based culture is what made him such an attractive choice. Add in how detailed his plan is for player development, staffing and recruiting, along with a sustained desire to improve, and it’s easy to see why he’s been successful. … It’s an exciting day for the Gators.”

The Ragin’ Cajuns have advanced to four straight league title games under Napier, losing their first two appearances with the 2020 game canceled amid COVID-19 complications. Louisiana was 15-22 in the three seasons prior to his hiring and had never won 10 games in a season until Napier took over. He was named Sun Belt Coach of the Year in his second season.

Napier will spend limited time building his Gators staff and calling recruits over the next week while focusing on a monumental game for the Cajuns’ program. When he fully takes over at Florida, he will have 11 days until the start of the early signing period to save a recruiting class rated No. 31 in the 247Sports Composite team rankings.

In addition to working with Swinney and Saban, Napier served as associate head coach at Colorado State under Jim McElwain in 2012, lasted one month as tight ends coach at Florida State under Jimbo Fisher in 2013 (before being hired away by Alabama after a month) and commanded Arizona State’s offense under Todd Graham in 2017.

One of the shortest coaching searches in program history lasted just seven days after Florida fired Dan Mullen on Nov. 21. Mullen spent nearly four full seasons with the Gators, going 34-15 (21-13 SEC) with a 13-10 (10-8 SEC) record over his last two seasons and three New Year’s Six bowl appearances.

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