Photo: Billy Napier, Credit: Alex Shepherd
The Florida Gators hope that the hiring of head coach Billy Napier will take the program to greener pastures after the team was unable to get over the hump with since-fired HC Dan Mullen over the past four years. Now, the team has new blood in the program and the prospects of a quick turnaround are on the horizon.
With that, CBS Sports took a deep dive into all of the Power Five conference head coaches, including Napier, where they rank among their peers, and perhaps a bit of backstory on how they earned the spot they’re in.
Penned by CBS Sports’ Tom Fornelli, the network ranked the top 65 Power Five coaches with Napier coming in at No. 32, the highest-ranked new hire among coaches without previous Power Five experience.
He comes to Gainesville having won two straight Sun Belt titles, and he claimed at least a share of the Sun Belt West title in all four seasons at Louisiana. That success, combined with prior stops at Alabama and Clemson respectively under Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney, are just some of the reasons to have optimism for how things will go with the Gators.
Among coaches within the SEC, Napier ranks ahead of Clark Lea (Vanderbilt), Bryan Harsin (Auburn, No. 48), Eli Drinkwitz (Missouri, No. 46), Shane Beamer (South Carolina, No. 41) and Josh Heupel (Tennessee, No. 33).
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He ranks behind the rest of the SEC coaches, including Mike Leach (Miss. State, No. 26), Sam Pittman (Arkansas, No. 22), Lane Kiffin (Ole Miss, No. 18), Mark Stoops (Kentucky, No. 16), Brian Kelly (LSU, No. 7), Jimbo Fisher (Texas A&M, No. 5), Kirby Smart (Georgia, No. 2) and Nick Saban (Alabama, No. 1).
Nearly all of the programs listed ahead of Napier had success last season, at least more than Florida. Kelly’s Tigers likely rank ahead due to his success at his previous stop, Notre Dame, with Saban, Smart and Fisher the obvious front-runners of the conference.
Still, the rankings do not necessarily mean the programs themselves will fall in this order at the end of the season. While the coaches themselves have a lot of merits, it will take more than just good coaching to get teams over the hump. That is particularly the case for a program like LSU, which is undergoing a rebuild of sorts.
Napier’s ranking shouldn’t come as a surprise, he was highly successful at the Sun Belt level and figures to keep up his good coaching with Florida moving forward. He comes to the school as a winner and has plenty of room to grow at this level of football.
Given that he hasn’t had the opportunity to coach at the highest level of college football, though, Napier’s ranking seems incredibly favorable, especially when considering he’s ranked ahead of other programs’ coaches within the Power 5 such as Marcus Freeman (Notre Dame, No. 49).
Certainly, whether or not Napier ultimately continues his rise will all be dependent on how Florida plays this year. With a potentially rising-star quarterback in Anthony Richardson entering the fold, though, that could be seen sooner rather than later.
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