Murray County alum Billy Napier has big plans for Florida Gators

Gainesville Sun photo by Brad McClenny via AP / University of Florida football coach Billy Napier shakes hands with fans as he and his family arrive at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Sunday for his introductory news conference in Gainesville.
Gainesville Sun photo by Brad McClenny via AP / University of Florida football coach Billy Napier shakes hands with fans as he and his family arrive at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Sunday for his introductory news conference in Gainesville.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Billy Napier plans to hire an "unprecedented" support staff as he takes over as the University of Florida's football coach.

Napier had close to 40 analysts at Louisiana-Lafayette and could end up with even more in Gainesville. In addition to a $7.5 million annual budget for 10 assistants, Napier got a $5 million pool to build a support staff that includes analysts.

His vision for the Gators - and athletic director Scott Stricklin's willingness to make it a reality - stood out during Napier's formal introduction Sunday.

Napier and his family arrived to a sea of fans clad in orange and blue at the airport, and more waited for him to step out of a van outside Florida Field. It was all a bit surreal for the 42-year-old coach, who has been one of college football's rising stars in recent years.

"I'm drinking water through a fire hose right now," said Napier, who grew up in Chatsworth, Georgia, and was a standout quarterback at Murray County High School before playing in the Southern Conference for Furman.

"These jobs will chew you up and spit you out if you let them, right?" he added later. "I think we've got to keep perspective. We've got to have balance. That's one of the reasons that I believe in the infrastructure that we're going to create. ... It'll be the most difficult early, but once we get this machine up and running, I think we'll be able to have some pace to life where we can enjoy."

His introductory news conference came exactly one week after Florida announced his hire, and that move came seven days after Dan Mullen was fired with a game still remaining in his fourth year leading the Gators.

Napier took the job without having toured Florida's campus, its football facilities or the Swamp. His most recent trip to Gainesville had been in 2011 as an analyst for Alabama, which rolled to a 38-10 win over the Gators back then. Napier remembers it well because it was part of one of the most influential seasons of his coaching career.

"In that one year, I think I learned more than I learned in the previous 10," he said.

Napier got an up-close look at how legendary coach Nick Saban built and ran Alabama's program, and he plans to model much of Florida's ways after the Crimson Tide, who remain a powerhouse.

"We're going to hire an army of people here," Napier said. "We're going to create an infrastructure not only in the personnel department but also from an on-campus recruiting, creative media, name, image and likeness (standpoint). We've got a great vision for the organization that we're going to create here."

Napier's scheme might have a few wrinkles.

"Well, we're going to try to be different," he said. "We're going to try to put our personality, our spin on it, our brand in recruiting. We're the University of Florida. It's going to take some time."

Stricklin made it clear he's open to the changes that are coming, no matter the cost.

"He gives such a compelling reason to why these things are going to help make the Gators better," Stricklin said. "It's not just, 'Hey, we need this because.' It was, 'We need this because' and then he goes through a detailed plan of what the pieces are, how they fit together and why that's going to matter.

"When someone can explain why they need resources, it makes it really easy to want to invest in that."

Napier signed a term sheet Sunday that outlines key points in his seven-year, $51.8 million contract. He will make $7.1 million in his first season and get a $100,000 raise annually before each of the remaining six years.

His deal also includes annual performance bonuses that could total up to $1.5 million more. Napier gets a $100,000 signing bonus to help with moving expenses, two luxury cars, 16 tickets to every home and away game, 18 seats in a suite for home games and access to the University Athletic Association aircraft for personal use that's valued up to $70,000 a year.

The Gators will pay Napier's $3 million buyout to Louisiana-Lafayette. His contract is 85% guaranteed, meaning he would get that percentage of what remains if Florida fires him without cause. Napier, meanwhile, has a sliding buyout to leave Florida - the figure starts at $7 million before Dec. 31, 2022, and drops each year thereafter.

"The market is what the market is, unfortunately," Stricklin said. "If Billy's as successful as I think he's going to be, we're never going to have to have a conversation about buyouts. But obviously those things are in there for a reason."

Napier went 40-12 in four seasons leading the Ragin' Cajuns, including 33-5 the past three years. His time there culminated with a Sun Belt championship victory against Appalachian State on Saturday night. The Cajuns (12-1) will face Marshall (7-5) in the New Orleans Bowl on Dec. 18 with their new head coach already in place after co-offensive coordinator Michael Desormeaux, a former Louisiana-Lafayette quarterback, was promoted Sunday.

The Gators (6-6), who had to win their regular-season finale against nonconference rival Florida State to reach postseason eligibility, will take on the University of Central Florida (8-4) in the Gasparilla Bowl on Dec. 23 in Tampa.

Napier called Florida's offer "the right place at the right time, with the right people and the right leadership."

It could end up being a lot of people, too. But the Gators are close to opening an $85 million football facility that will be able to house a much larger work force.

"We might have to go build some barracks, right?" Stricklin joked. "He has the right vision. He's the right person. I love the character that he displays, the humility he displays, but he also has a plan. He's very thoughtful. He knows what's he doing there."

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