Florida hires La-Lafayette coach Napier to replace Mullen
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By MARK LONG
Florida went back to Nick Saban's coaching tree in hopes of finding its next great coach.
The Gators hired Louisiana-Lafayette's Billy Napier on Sunday, ending a quick process that landed them their top target a week after firing Dan Mullen.
The 42-year-old Napier will remain with the 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 statement. "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."
Florida scheduled an introductory news conference with Napier for Dec. 5, the day after his finale in Lafayette, Louisiana.
Mullen was fired last Sunday after the Florida's 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. 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 Saban and a former offensive coordinator at Clemson and Arizona State. Florida previously hired Jim McElwain (2015-17), who worked under Saban.
McElwain was fired in 2017, and Stricklin surely expects a better working relationship with Napier.
"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 a statement.
Napier has been one of college football's rising stars and hottest names in recent years. 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 South Carolina and Auburn following the 2020 season. His name has been connected to other Southeastern Conference openings, too, including Mississippi and Missouri.
He takes over a Florida program that's been in disarray for more than a year but is close to opening an $85 million football facility that could help the team catch up in recruiting. And that could help the Gators close the gap on the superpower such as Georgia and Alabama.
Florida had lost nine of their last 11 games against teams from the Football Bowl Subdivision before beating rival Florida State on Saturday. The 24-21 victory in the Swamp made Florida (6-6) bowl eligible.
Stricklin surely hopes Napier 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. Napier's approach has carried the Ragin' Cajuns to unprecedented success.
Louisiana had not been ranked since 1943 until Napier arrived. The team had never won 10 games until Napier arrived , and now he's done it in three straight seasons. He beat Iowa State in the 2020 season opener.
Napier, from Cookeville, Tennessee, was a former quarterback at Furman in South Carolina. His coaching career took a a big step forward while coaching receivers at Alabama (2013-16), where he worked with stars Amari Cooper and Calvin Ridley.
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 away Napier.
Napier's contract calls for a $3 million buyout to be paid to Louisiana-Lafayette.
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Updated November 28, 2021