Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin claimed he had no idea Billy Napier was on the hot seat entering his third year.

In any case, Stricklin dismisses the concept.

“I do not care. It does not matter. “It’s a made-up term,” he told the Orlando Sentinel. “People can add them to whatever list they like. It has no bearing on reality.”

Stricklin stated that he completely supports his football coach and is optimistic that he will turn around the Gators, despite the fact that Napier has a make-or-break year in 2024.

While the arrival of 5-star quarterback DJ Lagway offers hope for the future, the Gators will face arguably the nation’s toughest schedule next season, recently overhauled the defensive staff as well as the strength and nutrition programs, and thus far haven’t signed a high-profile Power 5 player during the latest transfer portal cycle.

“Billy made tough decisions there that were definitely the right decision,” Stricklin said of the staff changes. “That’s going to have a big impact.”

Yet Napier has not changed his offensive staff, beginning with a play-caller to assume those duties and offer new ideas while UF’s head coach focuses on the overall game-day operation. A failed fourth-down attempt deep in Gators’ territory during a 43-20 loss to Georgia was among several ill-timed head-scratching calls by Napier.

Meanwhile, Napier has not hired someone to oversee special teams despite costly miscues during a season-opening loss at Utah and the final minute of regulation during an overtime loss to struggling Arkansas, as well as several instances of too few players on the field with various units.

Stricklin, however, did not rule out further coaching staff changes.

“We are continually looking for ways to improve the Gators,” he said. “Billy is continually looking for ways to improve his football program.”

UF athletic director Scott Stricklin, left, poses with Billy Napier during a press conference at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on the UF campus Dec. 5, 2021 in Gainesville. Napier was introduced at the new head coach of the UF football team. (Stephen M. Dowell/ Orlando Sentinel)
UF athletic director Scott Stricklin, left, poses with Billy Napier during a press conference at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on the UF campus Dec. 5, 2021 in Gainesville. Napier was introduced at the new head coach of the UF football team. (Stephen M. Dowell/ Orlando Sentinel)

Asked whether Napier’s 2024 coaching staff is set, Stricklin reiterated, “We’re always looking at ways we can get better.”

Stricklin insists the Gators are on track under Napier but also understands the consternation amid Gator Nation.

“I get it,” Stricklin said. “It comes back to the record. You make a field goal against Arkansas and you stop a fourth down at Missouri, the record is still not what we want, but it’s a different conversation; the temperature’s come down a little bit.

“Everything you’re talking about are symptoms; the cause is the record.”

Stricklin envisions a path to success for Napier, who signed a 7-year, $51.8 million contract with a buyout of 85% the money owed him — more than $25 million after next season.

The 2023 Gators relied as heavily as any Power 5 team on youth, including seven true freshmen who started at various times. Napier will continue to use first-year players but will have a more experienced roster led by sixth-year quarterback Graham Mertz in his second season in Gainesville.

“Our overall roster is going to be older,” Stricklin said. “Older teams beat up younger teams. You look at the teams that played in the College Football Playoff;  there were a lot of veterans on those teams. One of the keys in college football — really, in all college sports these days — is you need to be old and you need to figure out a way to stay old.

“So we’re going to be older.”

Stricklin’s support of Napier was palpable during a sit-down with the Sentinel during halftime of the Gators’ resounding 90-68 win in men’s basketball against Arkansas on Jan. 13 in the O’Connell Center. Several times during the 10-minute interview, Stricklin’s right hand tapped the back of the chair next to him as he emphasized a point.

Napier’s even-keeled approach caught his boss’s eye and has helped the 44-year-old coach handle the outside criticism and intense spotlight associated with one of college football’s premier positions.

“A job like Florida can be really noisy,” Stricklin said. “You got to have somebody that knows who they are and is not going to let that impact them one way or the other.”

The 53-year-old AD’s show of confidence comes as his future at UF likely hinges on Napier’s success.

Stricklin handpicked Napier after four seasons at Louisiana to replace Dan Mullen, who joined his former boss in 2018 after six seasons (2010-15) together at Mississippi State. Mullen’s inability to recruit consistently at the highest level, find the right mix of coaches and ultimately connect with his players led Stricklin to fire Mullen and hire Napier for his dogged approach as a recruiter, organizational acumen and personable approach with his team.

But Napier’s ability to check all the boxes has not shown up in the win column. Stricklin said that with patience success is sure to come.

“I believe in Billy,” he said. “I believe in him as a person; I believe in him as a leader; I believe in him as a coach, the way he evaluates people. I just believe in him.

“He’s a guy who if given enough time he’s going to be successful.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *