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Florida hires Billy Napier as new football coach with faith as his 'anchor'

A day after the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns closed out an 11-1 regular season with a 21-16 victory over Louisiana-Monroe, they lost their head coach, Billy Napier, to the Florida Gators.

The traditional SEC powerhouse announced the decision to hire Napier on Sunday, a week after parting ways with four-year head coach Dan Mullen.

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“We are humbled and honored to accept this incredible opportunity to be the head football coach at the University of Florida,” Napier said in a statement. “Our team, staff and entire organization will work daily to establish a program with integrity and class that we all can be proud of. More importantly, we will build a culture that is centered around making an impact on our players; as people, as students, and on the field.”

Napier, 42, impressed at Louisiana, his first head coaching job, leading the Ragin’ Cajuns to a 39-12 overall record in four years. After a 7-7 record in 2018, the Ragin’ Cajuns went 11-3 in 2019 with a win in the LendingTree Bowl, and 10-1 in 2020 with a win in the First Responder Bowl.

Including this year, Napier’s final three seasons have been the best three seasons in the history of the Louisiana program. The Ragin’ Cajuns were 15-1 in the month of November under Napier’s leadership. Now, he hopes to replicate that success at Florida.

The three-time national champions (1996, 2006, 2008) are 6-6 in 2021 and bowl eligible after they defeated rival Florida State, 24-21, on Saturday with interim coach Greg Knox. The Gators haven’t won an SEC title since 2008, and their last bowl victory was in the Orange Bowl in 2019.

“I’ve followed and studied Billy Napier’s career with interest, and he became the primary target immediately after this position came open,” Florida Athletic Director Scott Stricklin said in a statement. “We felt confident he would be an excellent leader for the Gators, which is why he was the only candidate I met with about the job.

“Billy’s ability to bring highly-talented people together — players, coaches, and staff — along with his vision for having a strong, relationship-based culture is what made him such an attractive choice. Add in how detailed his plan is for player development, staffing and recruiting, along with a sustained desire to improve, and it’s easy to see why he’s been successful.”

Napier joined Sports Spectrum’s “Weekly Slant” show with Jade McCarthy in October to discuss his position at Louisiana and what his faith in God means to him. It’s God, Napier said, who strengthens him to remain humble and thankful for the position he’s in, whether that’s often out of the spotlight at Louisiana or under the bright lights at Florida.

Napier grew up knowing about God and came to faith at the age of 9. His mother was the nucleus of faith for the family, he said, and his father came to faith when Billy was 16. Now, Napier said his daily routine includes setting aside time every morning before the rest of the coaching staff arrives to pray, work through devotionals and read about leadership. He said he was using Sports Spectrum’s devotionals.

“It’s helped me,” Napier said on the show. “I know I’m better when I follow through. Certainly, I’m not perfect by any means, but that’s a big part of really keeping perspective.”

He said that, ultimately, he knows his identity is rooted in God regardless of the notches in the win and loss columns.

“Football is what you do, but it’s not who you are,” he said. “In general, the difficult times in your life help you recognize that your faith is kind of the anchor that keeps you from drifting.”

He continued later, “It’s a privilege to be a coach. I’m certainly living my dream … and I’m very thankful for that opportunity. I’m trying to make the best of it.”

Despite his hiring at Florida, Napier will coach Louisiana in the Sun Belt Conference championship game against Appalachian State (10-2), set for 3:30 p.m. ET on Saturday. The Ragin’ Cajuns will have home-field advantage in the title game for the first time in program history.

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