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Orlando Sentinel
Orlando Sentinel
Mike Bianchi

Mike Bianchi: Gators AD Scott Stricklin on Billy Napier: ‘Incredibly pleased with how he’s building program’

Can we please stop with the ridiculous chatter about Billy Napier being on some sort of fictional hot seat heading into just his second season at the University of Florida?

Napier’s coaching seat is far from hot.

In fact, it’s the complete opposite of hot.

I’ll even go as far as to say Billy Napier is on a relatively cool seat — as he should be.

“We’re incredibly pleased with the way Billy is going about building our program,” Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin told me on Friday. “I don’t see any way that Billy won’t be successful. It just may take a little longer than some people want it to take.”

It seems everything in college football these days is up-tempo: from the no-huddle offenses to impatient players entering the transfer portal to haphazard roster management to willy-nilly rebuilding projects. In contrast, Napier is a bit old-school and grew up as the son of a high school football coach. He is deliberate and calculated in everything he does. His offense is traditional. He talks slowly and thoughtfully. He makes decisions carefully.

The question is: Does Napier’s meticulous style mesh with the feverish demand for immediate results? If you listen to Stricklin, I believe the Florida AD is willing to weather the social-media onslaught of Twitter litter from famously impatient Gator fans even if it takes — gasp! — two or three years before Napier gets UF up and running.

Of course, Florida does have a new president in Ben Sasse, which could complicate matters somewhat. However, Sasse grew up in Nebraska as a fan of the Cornhuskers, who have been relatively patient with an array of coaches since the great Tom Osborne retired. Scott Frost, after all, lasted five years in Lincoln without ever having a winning record.

I’m not saying Napier should be given that much rope, but it’s absolutely — to borrow a Bobby Bowden word — “bumfuzzling” that we’re even having the conversation of Napier’s job security after only one season.

Just Google “Billy Napier” and “hot seat” and here are just a few of the headlines that come up:

— ESPN explains why Billy Napier’s seat could heat up in 2023.

— Florida rumors: Gators’ Billy Napier on hot seat heading into 2023

— Top 10 coaches on the hot seat include Jimbo Fisher and Billy Napier …

— Florida Football: Billy Napier among 7 coaches with most pressure in 2023

Don’t get me wrong; I get why some media members and many Gator fans are freaking out. Napier was 6-7 in his first season — the first time the Gators have had back-to-back losing seasons since Doug Dickey’s final season as head coach more than four decades ago.

And, yes, there’s at least a chance that the Gators could have another losing season this season. In fact, some of those in Vegas are betting on it. One of the nation’s top sportsbooks, DraftKings, recently set the over/under for UF’s win total this season at 5.5.

It certainly doesn’t help that the Gators seem to be a million miles behind their most hated conference rival — the Georgia Bulldogs, who have won back-to-back national championships and are poised to have arguably the top class in the country in the next recruiting cycle.

Additionally, the sudden rise of two other conference rivals — LSU in one year with coach Brian Kelly and Tennessee in two seasons with ex-UCF coach Josh Heupel — has upped the expectations for a quick turnaround.

My question to Gator Nation: Do you want a quick turnaround or a sustained turnaround and a program that’s built to last? Let’s face it, the previous three coaches turned the program around quickly and then saw the bottom fall out just as quickly.

Will Muschamp won 11 games in his second season and was 4-8 the following year and was fired the year after that. Jim McElwain went to back-to-back SEC title games in his first two seasons and was fired the following year as the Gators went 4-7. Dan Mullen went to three straight New Year’s Six bowl games and nearly beat eventual national-champion Alabama in the 2020 SEC Championship Game but was fired a year later after the Gators fell to 5-6.

Personally, I thought Stricklin dispatched Mullen too quickly, but insiders say Dandy Dan was a country-club coach unwilling to grind on the recruiting trail to keep up with the likes of Georgia’s Kirby Smart and Alabama’s Nick Saban.

If Gator fans and administrators are smart, they will be patient and let Napier build the program his way. Napier is thorough and is sticking to his detailed plan of recruiting only the players that not only fit his system but his ideology. He is monomaniacal, driven and organized while being given every resource by Stricklin to get the job done.

Gator fans must give Napier the space and non-toxic environment to do his job. Let’s face it, it’s been 15 years since Florida won a conference championship. If Napier can’t turn around the Gators; I’m not so sure it’s even possible.

Don’t forget, Florida’s history of football dominance is brief in the grand scheme of things and consists of the 18 aggregate seasons in which two of the greatest coaches of all time — Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer — coached the team. Spurrier and Meyer combined for three national championships and eight SEC championships in those 18 seasons. In the 71 other seasons of SEC competition under 14 different coaches, the Gators have combined for zero national and conference championships.

Turning around once-dominant programs isn’t as easy as it seems. Just ask Texas and Nebraska and Tennessee (until last season). Better yet, ask Miami, which has been through four coaches and 20 years since its last conference championship.

And ask Florida State, which endured four losing seasons in five years before third-year coach Mike Norvell finally turned the corner last season.

“We’re going to build this program the right way,” Norvell said during his first year in Tallahassee when he went 3-6 during the 2020 COVID season. “It’s a 24-hours-a-day, seven-day-a-week process.”

Florida State’s administration and even the fans (for the most part) were surprisingly patient with Norvell. The question is: Will Gator Nation do the same and let Napier possibly take his lumps for two or three seasons before they start demanding that Stricklin pull the plug?

When it comes to administrative patience, I always go back to a conversation I had with the late great Duke athletic director Tom Butters. He told me the story of when Duke’s fan base and big-money boosters prematurely put Mike Krzyzewski on the hot seat and were calling for Butters to fire Coach K after he went 38-47 in his first three seasons.

“You cannot let the alumni tell you who to fire,” Butters told me. “I knew our coach was the absolute right man for the job. I never paid attention to the wishes and whims of the audience. You have to make decisions based on what you feel is right.”

Billy Napier is the right man to turn around the Florida Gators.

Just relax and let him do his job.

All of this ridiculous chatter about him being on the hot seat is just a bunch of hot air.

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