Billy Napier is nothing but confident heading into his first season as the head coach of the Florida Gators.
He told ESPN this week, "Coming here is the least stressful job I've had," which might be great to hear if you are a Florida fan, but if you're a fan of any of Florida's many SEC rivals, you'll probably be rooting extra hard this season for the Gators to fall flat so Coach Napier can eat those words.
Confidence: The Food of the Wise Man, but the Liquor of the Fool
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Surely there are many Gator fans hoping Billy Napier comes out looking like the wise man. And just as many Georgia Bulldogs fans would be delighted to see him take on the role of the fool. But Napier coaches with confidence. It worked for him in Tuscaloosa under Alabama Crimson Tide legend Nick Saban and it worked for him in Louisiana, where he led the Ragin' Cajuns to a 39-12 record and two Sun Belt Championships in four seasons. So why stop now?
The problem is no one remembers a statement like "coming here is the least stressful job I've had" if you win and have success. But they WILL remember it if you fail. And his hiring has already ruffled some feathers amongst the Gator fanbase. Florida lost out on a few recruits, including four-star quarterback Jalen Rashada who passed over Florida for Miami, leaving the Gators with just the 34th-ranked recruiting class in the country at the time. This led Napier to issue an open letter to attempt to quell the fans' angst. That's not necessarily a move most new coaches feel they have to make before ever coaching their first game, and its' hardly the type of organization that University of Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin touted.
Conversely, new LSU head coach Brian Kelly hasn't said much in the way he's dealing with the pressure of bringing LSU back into the national championship picture. Sometimes, keeping your mouth shut works wonders.
Don't Get Stuck in the Swamp
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Billy Napier came to Gainesville with work to do.
Dan Mullen left him with a 6-7 team that lost to the University of Central Florida in the Gasparilla Bowl. There is still hype around his sophomore quarterback, Anthony Richardson, who, despite flashes, was inconsistent last season. Napier instantly lost former five-star running back Demarkcus Bowman, who came to UF from Clemson last year, to the transfer portal and landed with, ouch, Central Florida. Florida lost several other players to the transfer portal as well, including LB Mohamoud Diabate (now with Utah), who will start by traveling back to the Swamp when No. 8 Utah opens their season against Florida.
Not all was lost in the transfer portal, as Florida beat out Auburn for the services of defensive lineman Malik Feaster, who will be sure to wreak havoc at the line of scrimmage for the Gators.
Napier also has to fix the disciplinary issues from a season ago season, most notably the penalties that killed the Gators in 2021. He can talk big in spring, but Florida fans will need to see some improvement there. There is also the need for more offensive playmakers to emerge. The hype for Anthony Richardson notwithstanding, they will need someone to step up at wide receiver. More than likely that will be Justin Shorter. Running back Montrell Johnson Jr. could also step into a dynamic playmaker role. But the offense is still a big question mark before the season.
It looks as if Billy Napier has his work cut out for him in his first season as head football coach at Florida. And judging from Gators fans and fans of college football in general, his remarks can be viewed as a confident coach ready to rebuild this organization into a contender or an overconfident coach that is overlooking the mess this organization was left with from the previous coaching staff.
Either way, I think calling it the "least stressful job he's ever had" sounds like he is either brushing off the task at hand or downplaying it. One thing is for sure, now that he has put those words out there, he needs to put together a winning season to avoid eating any crow. It doesn't have to be a College Football Playoff appearance for Florida football, but at the very least, it should be a respectable season-long effort from Florida's football team.
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