Story Poster
Photo by Doug Engle/Gainesville Sun
Texas A&M Football

Florida coach Billy Napier's seat likely as hot as a Gainesville summer

May 24, 2024

The average summer temperature in Gainesville, Florida, exceeds 90 degrees.

That’s a cold front compared to the heat Gators football coach Billy Napier is facing.

It’s bad enough that Napier is being sued for millions by former Florida quarterback recruit and current Georgia Bulldog Jaden Rashada, who claims the Gator head coach reneged on a lucrative NIL promise.

What really has Napier in hot water is the Gators’ futility in his two seasons at the helm.

Under Napier, Florida is 11-14.

That’s far worse than the first two seasons under Ron Zook, Will Muschamp, Jim McElwain and Dan Mullen — all coaches hired since 2002 and fired after three or four seasons.

None had more than one losing season.

McElwain, for instance, started 19-8 in 2015 and 2016 but was ousted following a 4-7 campaign in 2017. He left with a 22-12 record.

Napier needs 11 victories this season to match McElwain’s three-season win total.

That seems unlikely, though Napier could avoid becoming the first Florida coach since Thomas Lieb (1942, 1944-45) to endure three consecutive losing seasons.

According to the TexAgs Top 100, DJ Lagway was the No. 4 overall prospect in the state of Texas for the class of 2024.

To do that, Napier was highly active in the transfer portal, made several changes to his coaching staff and landed five-star quarterback prospect DJ Lagway‍ of Willis, Texas.

All that has provided Napier a jolt of optimism.

“We've made changes on the staff, and certainly, we've added some really good pieces," Napier said during spring drills. "Now, we also return a ton of production at all three levels, as well. So, I think it's a combination of experience, some new leadership, some new voices there, and then I think a little bit better detail, discipline, accountability. I think we've got players that are taking ownership.

“So, I'm hopeful some of the new pieces will work, but also, we've got confidence in the leadership change and some of the philosophies here.”

All the tangible and intangible assets likely will be needed to navigate a challenging schedule, which includes six opponents who finished last season ranked between No. 3 and No. 17.

Florida gleans encouragement from the play of sixth-year quarterback Graham Mertz. He has been capable of accumulating yardage but has a history of interceptions. However, last season, he only threw three.

If he falters at all, Napier probably won’t hesitate to bring in Lagway. At the very least, the Gators figure to use Lagway in special packages.

The Gators have a solid, though unspectacular stable of running backs. They also brought in productive receivers Elijhah Badger and Chimere Dike via the transfer portal to complement emerging star Eugene Wilson III.

However, the offensive line last season was average at best. Three starters return, but is that a good thing? Both starting guards from 2023 transferred out, but tackle Brandon Crenshaw-Dickson transferred in from San Diego State.

Defense is a huge concern, too.

Last season, the Gators allowed more than 30 points in six games. Five of those resulted in losses.

Cornerback Jason Marshall Jr. figures to contend for All-SEC recognition, but last season, starters Princely Umanmielen, Jalen Kimber, Miguel Mitchell, Jaydon Hill and Scooby Williams were among eight defensive players to transfer.

Florida Gators

Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports
Montrell Johnson Jr. rushed for 100 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries in a 41-24 Gator victory at Kyle Field in 2022.

2023 record: 5-7; 3-5 in the SEC

Primary area of strength: The Gators are solid at several positions, but their running backs are a cut above. Montrell Johnson Jr. is back after rushing for 817 yards and five touchdowns in 2023. Sophomore Treyaun Webb showed promise as a runner and a receiver in his debut year. True freshman KD Daniels has the speed and big-play potential to ease the departure of Trevor Etienne.

Primary area of concern: Moves were made to upgrade the offensive line, which was average at best last season. The main move was bringing in tackle Brandon Crenshaw-Dickson from San Diego State via the transfer portal. That allows massive 6-foot-6, 362-pound Damieon George Jr. to shift from tackle to guard. Of course, George might have moved anyway because 2023 starting guards Micah Mazzccua (Nebraska) and Richie Leonard IV (Florida State) transferred. Jake Slaughter is back at center and Austin Barber is a good one at left tackle. Another guard must be settled on — perhaps sophomore Knijeah Harris, who made one start last season. Depth is worrisome, too.

Top three players

  • CB Jason Marshall: Big, fast and aggressive. Marshall had 26 tackles and broke up 10 passes in 2023.
  • WR Eugene Wilson III: Gainesville insiders say Wilson is potentially Florida’s best receiver since the Urban Meyer era. A year ago, he caught 61 passes and scored six touchdowns.
  • QB Graham Mertz: He isn’t flashy, but he is productive. Perhaps more importantly, he has reduced his interceptions total. Last year, Mertz was picked off just three times.

Key additions

  • WR Elijhah Badger: A couple of years ago, the Gators hit big in the transfer portal with Ricky Pearsall from Arizona State. They again poached the Sun Devils to bring in Badger. Last season, Badger had 65 catches for 713 yards and three touchdowns.
  • OL Brandon Crenshaw-Dickson: Started at both tackle spots at San Diego State. He figures to start at right tackle for the Gators.
  • QB DJ Lagway: Don’t expect the five-star, top quarterback prospect to start. Not right away, at least. But don’t be surprised if special packages are added to the offense for Lagway — much the same way it was done for Tim Tebow as a freshman. Lagway may be the key to coach Billy Napier saving his job.

Key depatures

  • WR Ricky Pearsall: The first-round draft choice of the 49ers had 65 catches and almost 1,000 receiving yards last season.
  • RB Trevor Etienne: After averaging almost six yards per carry, rushing for 753 yards and scoring eight touchdowns, Etienne transferred to arch-rival Georgia.
  • DE Princely Umanmielen: The Gators' best pass rusher had seven sacks and 17 quarterback pressures. Then he bolted for Ole Miss.

2024 Florida schedule

  • Aug. 31 vs. Miami
  • Sept. 7 vs. Samford
  • Sept. 14 vs. Texas A&M
  • Sept. 21 at Mississippi State
  • Oct. 5 vs. UCF
  • Oct. 12 at Tennessee
  • Oct. 19 vs. Kentucky
  • Nov. 2 vs. Georgia (at Jacksonville)
  • Nov. 9 at Texas
  • Nov. 16 vs. LSU
  • Nov. 23 vs. Ole Miss
  • Nov. 30 at Florida State
Discussion from...

Florida coach Billy Napier's seat likely as hot as a Gainesville summer

4,036 Views | 3 Replies | Last: 18 days ago by 91AggieLawyer
How long do you want to ignore this user?
They call him Sunbelt Billy
How long do you want to ignore this user?
Hopefully we can contribute to the heat instead of granting him momentary reprieve.
How long do you want to ignore this user?
I've ran into some Florida fans and to say they have totally unrealistic expectations is like saying t.u. fans are a bit snobbish. The ones I've heard from think "only" 10 wins a year doesn't come close to cutting it.
Page 1 of 1
subscribe Verify your student status
See Subscription Benefits
Trial only available to users who have never subscribed or participated in a previous trial.