Gators get their man: Florida hires Billy Napier as new football coach

He’ll arrive in Gainesville on Dec. 5 to start rebuilding the Gators

News4Jax reporter Brie Isom spoke with some college football fans about the Gators' new head coach.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Florida has found its next football coach — Louisiana’s Billy Napier.

The Gators hired Napier away from the Ragin’ Cajuns, making the announcement shortly after 3 p.m.

Napier spent four seasons at Louisiana, going 39-12 there. He will coach in the Ragin’ Cajuns’ Sun Belt Conference championship game on Dec. 4 against Appalachian State before arriving in Gainesville the following day to meet the team. Napier’s final three years have been exceptional, with a 32-5 mark that made him one of the hottest names on the potential list of coaches who could move up to a bigger name program.

Florida is certainly that.

“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. 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. A special thank you to President Dr. Fuchs and Athletic Director Scott Stricklin. We look forward to getting to Gainesville and starting this journey!”

Napier will replace Dan Mullen, who was fired last Sunday after an overtime loss to Missouri that dropped the Gators to 5-6. Interim coach Greg Knox led Florida to a 24-21 win over rival Florida State on Saturday to reach bowl eligibility, a stunning low for a team that played for the SEC title last year.

In Napier, the Gators land one of the hottest up-and-coming names in the college ranks, and a man who checks the boxes in what a program like Florida was looking for.

Napier has SEC coaching experience (assistant stop at Alabama), a passion for recruiting, a high-powered offense and sustained success at a nontraditional football school. If a few of those traits sound familiar to Urban Meyer, the most successful coach in Gators history, it should.

“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 statement. “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. I’m so pleased that Billy, Ali, Annie, Sammy Nelson and Charlie are coming to Gainesville. It’s an exciting day for the Gators.”

Meyer had a 39-8 record (.830) in four seasons at Bowling Green and Utah when he was hired by Jeremy Foley in 2005. Meyer went on to go 65-15 with two national championships in six seasons with the Gators. Napier had the same number of coaching victories as Meyer did, albeit, four more losses (.765). Meyer was 40 when he was hired at Florida.

Napier, 42, played quarterback at Furman. He has assistant coaching experience at Alabama under Nick Saban, first as an analyst and later as the receivers coach. Napier also served as an assistant under Dabo Swinney at Clemson.

Jimbo Fisher hired Napier to coach tight ends in 2013 at Florida State, but Napier wasn’t there for long after opting to go back to Alabama and coach with Saban. The Crimson Tide won national championships in 2011 and ‘15 with Napier on staff. He was also the offensive coordinator at Arizona State for a season before taking the job at Louisiana.

Napier has a reputation as a superb recruiter, something that should make Gators fans happy after Mullen. And his offenses at Louisiana have been fast-paced and touchdown-heavy. The Ragin’ Cajuns set program records for most points in the 2019 season (531) and most total offense in a single season (6,918).

Fans have mixed reactions about the new hire.

“Very excited. First of all, Napier’s background, Clemson and Alabama. Secondly, what he’s done with the Louisiana program is awesome,” said Gators fan Steve Mathews.

“Well, I thought they let Dan Mullen go a little early, kind of pulled the gun on that, but I think they felt because he wasn’t recruiting well that it was time to hire a new, young coach, and I think Billy Napier has proven himself at a smaller school, Louisiana, Lafayette, so it may be good in the long run for them,” said Seminoles fan Steve Sparker.

About the Author:

Justin Barney joined News4Jax in February 2019, but he’s been covering sports on the First Coast for more than 20 years.