Georgia’s biggest rival has a new head coach, as the University of Florida hired Billy Napier as the new head coach.
Napier replaces Dan Mullen, who was fired after four seasons at the helm. Less than a year after winning the SEC East and beating Georgia, the Gators moved on from Mullen. Florida beat Florida State on Saturday to move to 6-6 on the season.
For the last four seasons, Napier has been the head coach at Louisiana. The Ragin’ Cajuns went 39-12 under Napier, including a 21-2 record over the past two seasons. Napier led the team to a Sun Belt title last season and has Louisiana in the Sun Belt championship game this season.
Prior to his hiring at Louisiana, Napier was the offensive coordinator at Arizona State. But he also has ties to Kirby Smart, as Napier was the wide receivers coach at Alabama from 2013-16. Smart served as the defensive coordinator at Alabama from 2008 through 2015 before being hired as the head coach at Georgia.
Napier also has ties to Clemson and Dabo Swinney, as he was the offensive coordinator at Clemson for the 2009 and 2010 seasons. Napier clearly has an impressive resume and has been an often mentioned name in the coaching openings in recent seasons. Napier’s name came up often last year with the South Carolina, Auburn and Tennessee jobs.
It will be interesting to watch how Napier does at Florida, given LSU also had an opening this cycle. The Tigers though made it clear Napier wasn’t going to be hired, as they hunted bigger names in this cycle. As of this writing, LSU does not have a coach hired, despite having fired Ed Orgeron back on Oct. 17.
“I think the landscape across college football is what it is. The stakes have gotten higher,” Smart said this week. “The pay has gotten higher, and with that, comes expectations. It’s a different landscape now than it was even four or five years ago in terms of portal, recruiting, number of initials. Everything changes so fast. It makes it tougher. It’s a much tougher job.”
Perhaps the biggest difference between Napier and his predecessor at Florida comes on the recruiting front. Napier signed the top class in the Sun Belt in each of the past three recruiting cycles. While at Alabama, Napier helped land the likes of Jerry Jeudy, Calvin Ridley and Cam Robinson.
Napier’s strong ties to Louisiana should help Florida on that front. However, the new Florida coach will be judged ultimately on well he recruits the state of Florida. Mullen made it very clear he did not have much interest in recruiting. That coupled with Florida’s disastrous on-field product this season as Florida with the No. 31 recruiting class for the 2022 cycle.
It might be too late to salvage this recruiting cycle, but expect Florida to start recruiting at a clip higher than where it did under Mullen.
Georgia has signed multiple prospects out of Florida in every cycle under Smart, including the likes of Jalen Carter, Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint and Latavious Brini. How Napier recruits IMG Academy will also be a storyline to watch. Georgia has signed at least one player from IMG Academy in each of the last three recruiting cycles. The Bulldogs have a commitment from 4-star defensive tackle Bear Alexander in the 2022 recruiting cycle
“It’s 25 percent evaluation, it’s 50 percent recruiting and another 25 percent coaching,” Smart said after beating Florida earlier this season. “But if you don’t recruit guys, you don’t have a chance. Just go look at the best teams out there. They’ve got good football players. And that’s why I believe in recruiting. You better always be recruiting, because if you’re not, somebody else is.”
Related: Recruiting decided 2021 Georgia football-Florida game and Kirby Smart knows it
Georgia currently has the No. 1 ranked recruiting class in the 2022 recruiting cycle. That is what Napier will be stepping into and competing against at Florida.
The Bulldogs dominated the rivalry in recent seasons, winning four of the last five matchups against Florida. Napier will be tasked with turning the tide in that rivalry first if Florida hopes to close the gap that exists with Georgia.
The Bulldogs are the No. 1 ranked team in the country and taking on Alabama in the SEC championship game this weekend. That is where Florida aims to be under Napier. It couldn’t get there under Mullen, or Jim McElwain or Will Muschamp. Only time — which Napier may not get much of as none of Florida’s three previous coaches made it to year five — will tell.
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