The Official Website of the Southeastern Conference
The Official Website of the Southeastern Conference

Napier arrives to represent Florida and his late father

17 days ago
Kevin Scarbinsky
Photo: AP Photo/John Bazemore

All coaches talk about family. In his first appearance at SEC Football Media Days, new Florida coach Billy Napier didn't waste any time. He opened his remarks with a story about his late father.

Napier grew up about two hours north of Atlanta in Chatsworth, Ga. His dad was a high school football coach, and whenever "Coach Bill" dropped off his children, at school, church or practice, he had a routine.

"He would always ask us what our name was, right?" Napier said. "We had to say our last name. And then he would say, 'Represent.' Well, today is a great day. Very humbled and honored to be here to represent the University of Florida."

The memory put a catch in Napier's voice, and it wouldn't be the only time that happened Wednesday. He spent a lot of time outlining his philosophy in building a program, which proved incredibly effective at the University of Louisiana, where he went 40-12 in four years and was named Sun Belt Conference coach of the year twice.

Naturally, Napier's father played a major role in shaping that philosophy. Asked about his father's influence, he had to gather himself again.

"Dad showed, I think sometimes when adversity strikes, you can choose character or you can choose to compromise, right?" Napier said. "Dad did an unbelievable job. Every day he chose character. He relied on his foundation, which was his faith. He was a great example to a lot of people. Even to this day, it's impacting me and a lot of other people, too."

You can imagine what it would've meant for Coach Bill to see his son become an SEC head coach, to meet the media at the College Football Hall of Fame in his home state on the day before his 43rd birthday from the same podium as Nick Saban, who hired Napier not once but twice at Alabama. Sadly, Coach Bill passed away in September of 2017 after a four-year battle with Lou Gehrig's disease. He was 60 years old.

His namesake was in his first and only year as the offensive coordinator at Arizona State after four years as Alabama's wide receivers coach. It was Napier's second stint with Saban, who first hired him as an offensive analyst after Dabo Swinney had fired Napier as Clemson's offensive coordinator.

Napier was in his second run at Alabama when his dad was diagnosed, he said, and Saban "really helped me in a difficult time, really helped me in a lot of different ways. Coach has been great, man. Admire him for what he's accomplished. He's not slowing down anytime soon."

Napier's just getting started at a Florida program that hadn't exactly hit rock bottom and has invested heavily, from putting the finishing touches on the $85-million, 140,000-square-foot Heavener Football Training Facility to allowing Napier to build a staff 20 percent larger than Dan Mullen's. The Gators won 35 games in four years under Mullen and played in three New Year's Six bowl games as well as the 2020 SEC Championship Game, where they came up one score short against Saban and eventual national champion Alabama.

But things turned hard in the wrong direction last year, and Florida turned to Napier. He'll make an immediate impact if talented quarterback Anthony Richardson can stay healthy and turn the flashes of brilliance he's displayed into consistent leadership.

Napier said Richardson "is primed to have a phenomenal year." Richardson said he "heard great things" about Napier after he accepted the job and has seen nothing to change his mind. What stands out about the new coach?

"Family," Richardson said. "That's the thing he preaches."

He comes by it honestly.