Florida hires Murray County grad Billy Napier as football coach

AP photo by Matthew Hinton / Louisiana-Lafayette football coach Billy Napier claps before the Ragin' Cajuns' home game against Georgia State on Nov. 4.
AP photo by Matthew Hinton / Louisiana-Lafayette football coach Billy Napier claps before the Ragin' Cajuns' home game against Georgia State on Nov. 4.

The Florida Gators have hired University of Louisiana at Lafayette coach Billy Napier to lead their football program.

The move, announced Sunday afternoon, ended a quick process that landed Florida its top target one week to the day it fired Dan Mullen with his fourth season as head coach of the Gators not yet complete.

The 42-year-old Napier, who grew up in Chatsworth, Georgia, and is a 1998 graduate of Murray County High School, will remain with ULL's Ragin Cajuns (11-1) this week as they prepare to host Appalachian State (10-2) in the Sun Belt Conference championship game Saturday. He is 39-12 in four seasons in Lafayette, including 32-5 the past three years.

"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 Florida 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.

"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."

Florida scheduled an introductory news conference with Napier for Sunday, Dec. 5, the same day the College Football Playoff field and the rest of the bowl schedule will be announced.

Mullen was fired on Nov. 21, the day after the Gators' fourth loss in five games. He was let go less than a year after leading the Gators to a third consecutive New Year's Six bowl and playing in the Southeastern Conference championship game, and his stunningly swift downfall ended a tumultuous two seasons that included mounting losses, numerous public relation missteps and NCAA sanctions.

Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin moved quickly to land Napier, a former receivers coach at Alabama under Nick Saban, a former offensive coordinator at Arizona State and Clemson, and a former assistant head coach at Colorado State.

"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," Stricklin said in Florida's release.

Napier has been one of college football's rising stars and hottest names in recent years, and he was in the mix for current openings at Virginia Tech and TCU.

He also turned down Mississippi State after the 2019 season and backed away from Auburn and South Carolina after the 2020 season. His name has been connected to other Southeastern Conference openings, too, including Missouri and Ole Miss.

Now he will take over a Florida program that has been in disarray for more than a year but is close to opening an $85 million football facility that could help the Gators catch up in recruiting - and that could help them close the gap on the superpowers such as Alabama and Georgia. The Gators won national championships in 1996, 2006 and 2008, and they won the SEC eight times from 1991 to 2008, but their five SEC East Division titles since then have been followed by losses in the league championship game.

Under Mullen, Florida had lost nine of its past 11 games against teams from the Football Bowl Subdivision before beating rival Florida State 24-21 on Saturday in Gainesville to close the regular season and reach bowl eligibility at 6-6.

Napier's reputation as a good recruiter was surely essential to him landing with the Gators, and Stricklin no doubt hopes his new coach will help Florida continue the offensive success it enjoyed in much of Mullen's four seasons while also providing a better culture and more accountability on and off the field. Napier is known for having detailed organization skills that he adopted during his time with Saban, and that approach has carried the Ragin' Cajuns to unprecedented success.

They had not been ranked since 1943 until Napier took over. The team had never won 10 games until Napier arrived, and now they've done it in three straight seasons, with the success including beating Big 12 member Iowa State in the 2020 season opener.

Napier, a native of Cookeville, Tennessee, was a standout quarterback in high school at Murray County when his father, the late Bill Napier, was head coach of the Indians. Bill, who also worked as an assistant at area programs Dalton and Southeast Whitfield, was known for his offensive acumen and work with quarterbacks.

Billy went on to play college football for Southern Conference member Furman in South Carolina, and he was a graduate assistant at Palmetto State program Clemson in 2003-04 before moving on to South Carolina State for a single season calling the team's offensive plays and coaching quarterbacks.

His coaching career took a a big step forward while working with receivers at Alabama from 2013-16, a tenure that included stars Amari Cooper and Calvin Ridley catching passes for the Crimson Tide. He parlayed that into a job as Arizona State's offensive coordinator in 2017 under Todd Graham, whose Sun Devils averaged 31.8 points before ULL hired him away.

Napier's contract calls for a $3 million buyout to be paid to ULL.

Upcoming Events