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  • Writer's pictureDavid Soderquist

Billy Napier takes charge in Atlanta

Billy Napier took a trip to Atlanta, Georgia, to speak to Florida Gator fans at the Gator Gathering sponsored by the Atlanta Gator Group. This is the first time head coach Billy Napier has been in "enemy territory" for one of these events, and he didn't upset. The event was sold out in a matter of days, and there was not an empty seat in the house. We got to hear from gator great Johnny Rutledge to start the seminar, followed by former Florida Gator Heisman winner Danny Wuerffel. Both shared stories from when Johnny Rutledge played on the team, losing to Florida State in the regular season and then facing them in a National Championship rematch to defeat them 52-20 for Florida's first-ever BCS National Championship. Danny Wuerffel would also share a classic Steve Spurrier story along with winning the Heisman trophy before introducing head coach Billy Napier.

Billy Napier ascended the stage to a standing ovation as he made his way to the podium where he then greeted the hundreds in attendance and began the seminar by speaking about the importance of family and relationships.

"We want to create a place that has a life-changing impact on the player. We firmly believe that better people lead to better football players."

Billy Napier leads the seminar by talking about player relationships and how it affects the student on and off the football field. He spoke of winning on the field with a certain level of integrity.

"This is a unique game that we get to coach; I mean, I could pinch myself because I get to do this for a living."

Napier would then talk about their family, his wife Ali, and his three kids, Sammy, Annie, and Charlie. He would then explain his career with his stints at Clemson, Colorado State, South Carolina State, Arizona State, Alabama, and most importantly, his time as a head coach at Louisianna Lafayette. Napier started the night talking about his time at Clemson, being let go, and how it humbled him. After being fired, he then said he had to re-evaluate himself as a person, and that's when he joined the Alabama Crimson Tide's staff as an analyst for a year.

"I learned more in that one year than I have in the previous ten years I have been in coaching."

He then said that led to him working for Jim Mcelwain at Colorado State as an assistant head coach and quarterback coach. He implied Jim Mcelwain was "awesome," He shadowed him and learned a lot from him that year and helped him a lot when he got his first head coaching gig at Louisiana Lafayette. After one year at Colorado State, he went back to Alabama as a wide receiver coach for four years while his Dad was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease).

"That was a rough year for me, but it changed me completely. It completely flipped the script and made me better at everything I do."

He talked about his Dad's toughness, resilience, and the example he showed when it came to the difficult days of his dealing with ALS, saying that "he never cracked." Napier noted that this was going on when he was at Alabama. At the same time, he wanted to go back to calling plays and having a leadership role. The situation with his father inspired him to do so, and that's when he got his shot at Arizona State as the Offensive Coordinator and Quarterback coach for a year. While he was at Arizona State, they averaged 31.8 points per game which ranked 35th in total offense nationally. That gave Billy Napier confidence to take on his next role. That opportunity would open up for him as a head coach at Louisianna LaFayette, where he would completely change the program's culture. When Billy Napier walked into the LaFayette program in 2018, they were not in a good place after facing some penalties and vacating games due to NCAA rules and regulations, which led to a coaching change under Mark Hudspeth. Napier, who praises "doing things the right way," came into the program and completely changed it around. Lafayette would go 40-12 under Billy Napier, win the Sun belt West Division all four years under his leadership, and win the Sun Belt Championship as head coach in his last two years. Napier would also win Sun Belt Coach of the Year in 2019 and 2021. After his success at Louisiana Lafayette, he would get a call from Scott Stricklin with an offer from the University of Florida.

"I've got more confidence and conviction about what can be done here than ever before."

He then explains how he separates evaluation from recruitment and how it becomes about development, motivation, and impact. He believes that the talent component is essential, but that is the least important part when they arrive at the University of Florida.

"You got to evaluate, you got to recruit, you have to get the talent, but when they get here, we got to convince the player that it's all about improving your character and work hard to develop your skill."

He then discusses teaching the intangibles of integrity, discipline, character, togetherness, toughness, effort, and belief in themselves. He talks about it being a journey and how you're going to have your ups and downs, good days and bad days, but disciplining yourself with a high mental standard.

"We are very fortunate that we play in the most iconic venue here in all of football, The Swamp."

Undoubtedly, Billy Napier has been through the experiences in his coaching career to be the next successful head coach at the University of Florida. He has built an empire of coaches, has opened back up doors across high school football in recruiting, has had a jump start on NIL, and has shown the type of leadership and morality to plummet the University of Florida's football program to heights it has never been to before.

Special thanks to the Atlanta Gator Group and the University of Florida for putting on this event in Atlanta, Georgia.

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