Florida football: How a five-second YouTube clip sold AD Scott Stricklin on Billy Napier

Zach Abolverdi
Gator Sports
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Billy Napier smiles and shakes his head in disbelief when the question comes. 

A reporter asks the fourth-year Louisiana coach about his team pinning themselves at the 1 on a botched kickoff, then scoring on the next play. 

Montrell Johnson’s 99-yard scamper sets a school and Sun Belt Conference record-long touchdown. 

“That’s a true freshman,” Napier says of Johnson, who chose ULL over seven Power Five offers. “That’s a guy that we worked hard to recruit. Closed it there right before signing day.” 

Napier isn’t making these comments at a podium or with a news conference backdrop featuring the Ragin’ Cajuns logo. He’s standing on a sidewalk, in a non-restricted area, surrounded by a media scrum.

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Random fans begin walking behind Napier before and during his answer about Johnson, who combines with Chris Smith for 388 of the team’s 424 rushing yards in the 28-27 win at Arkansas State.

Napier isn’t bothered or flustered by the crowd filing out of the stadium, even after a man laughs out loud as he spooks two kids and makes one of them scream. The man makes the ‘shh’ signal with his finger when he and the kids pass Napier. 

Near the end of his post-game interview, Napier is interrupted.

Wheels can be heard churning on the sidewalk at the 3:26 mark, then again three seconds later — getting closer and louder. 

The wheels come to a stop at 3:33. 

The media scrum quickly gets out of the way, but four seconds pass before Napier moves. In the middle of an answer, Napier looks to his right and realizes what’s happening: he’s blocking the path of two student workers pushing a cart. 

“Once the game got declared in terms of what we needed to do,” says Napier, who stops his comment and steps aside as he waves and apologizes. “Sorry about that.”

One of the workers replies to Napier, “No, we wanted you all to be good.”

This moment stuck with Scott Stricklin

It’s the little things, oftentimes, that make a big difference. 

For Florida athletics director Scott Stricklin, this small gesture from Napier was huge. It caught his attention when he started researching Napier as a candidate. 

That included a deep dive on YouTube. 

“I spent some time watching all the YouTube stuff I could on him, and I came across that particular interview,” Stricklin told The Sun. “So I’m sitting there watching the whole thing, seeing how he responds to questions, his demeanor and I noticed … that thing jumped out at me. 

“That little five-second clip where he kind of steps aside for some reason and says, ‘Oh, excuse me, I’m sorry.’ And you don’t know what’s going on, then you see two student workers pushing something. And I just, I stopped that. Seriously.”

Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns coach Billy Napier and his team arrive at Cajun Field for the Cajun Walk on Saturday prior to taking on App State in the Sun Belt Championship Game.

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Stricklin played it back several times not only for himself, but others in the University Athletic Association. He showed the video to four people on his staff so they could see the exchange between Napier and the student workers. 

“We were going through this process,” Stricklin said, “and I was like, ‘I want to show you something.’ Look at the humility, the emotional intelligence, the thinking of others, the consideration. That’s what this little five-second clip demonstrates about this guy.” 

Why did it stand out to Stricklin?

Many millionaires in that situation would expect the student workers to walk around them or wait, and they certainly wouldn’t apologize for being in the way. 

“I can’t tell you how many people in high-profile positions think everything is there for him, and others can wait. If somebody needs to wait, they can just wait,” Stricklin said. “So it just stuck with me that he had that self-awareness and that thoughtfulness toward others. I actually picked up on that clip early, before we had even landed for sure that it was Billy.”

"He sounded just like all his songs."

The five-second clip was Napier in a nutshell and confirmed Stricklin had been told about him. 

He spoke to more than 30 people who worked with Napier, knew him personally or had some connection to the 42-year-old. Stricklin’s conversations ranged from Napier’s former colleagues at Alabama and Clemson to his academic counselor in college. 

“This part all came across: how good a person he is, how humble he is and genuine he is,” Stricklin said. 

Stricklin said another thing that sold him was Napier’s recruiting makeup, structure and knowledge of what it’s supposed to look like from his time at Alabama and Clemson. 

Stricklin was also impressed with the fact Napier reportedly turned down a half-dozen Power Five opportunities, including SEC schools such as Auburn and South Carolina.

“He’s got some self-confidence the way he has not gotten involved in other jobs because he was waiting for something that was perfect, even though those jobs were better than what he currently had,” Stricklin said. “He was believing in himself, if you will, instead of just jumping at the first thing that came along.” 

Stricklin immediately zeroed in on Napier after firing former coach Dan Mullen on Nov. 21. Two days later, Stricklin was in Louisiana to interview his primary target.

“I had made up my mind before I went there that he was the guy,” Stricklin said. “Because I had done too much research, watched too many videos, read too many articles and then had talked to too many people who knew him that it was like, ‘This is the guy.’ 

“And so really, when I sat down in front of him I just wanted to find out, am I going to see what everybody else says about him? Is that going to be obvious to me?”

He met with Napier at his Lafayette home on Tuesday, Nov. 23, and the interview went so well that Stricklin ended his search. 

The humble, well-mannered coach that Stricklin had researched and studied on YouTube was the real deal in person. 

“You know how sometimes you go to a concert for a group and you know all their songs, and in person they don’t sound anything like their songs do,” Stricklin said. “But then sometimes you go see a band and you’re like, ‘They sounded just like their music.’ That’s what Billy was. He sounded just like all his songs. He sounded just like everybody had described him. 

“I was trying to evaluate, is this real? What everybody is saying, is it really true? And it became pretty obvious that it was. He just comes across as incredibly genuine. I feel like we hit the jackpot.”

UF signed Napier to seven-year, $51.8M contract that makes him the fifth-highest-paid coach in the SEC. Napier will make $7.1M in 2022 and his salary increases by $100K each year.

Billy Napier's foundation

Napier comes from humble beginnings in Chatsworth, Ga., and that’s the root of who he is. 

Stricklin surmised that was the source of Napier’s nature. 

“The foundation for how you treat others is how you were treated growing up,” Stricklin said. 

After Napier was officially introduced as Louisiana’s coach in Dec. 2017, he sat down with longtime Ragin' Cajuns radio broadcaster Jay Walker for an interview. 

Walker asked Napier the biggest thing he learned from Clemson coach Dabo Swinney. 

“Sincerity,” Napier replied. “There’s no fluff.” 

Walker interjected and said after the introductory news conference, he heard several people in the room comment about how sincere Napier was. If that’s what he picked up from Swinney, it worked, Walker added. 

Napier could’ve just agreed, but had to give credit where it was due. 

“You know, we’re a product of the people we’ve been around and the experiences we’ve had. That goes back to my dad,” Napier said. “It goes back to how I was raised, it goes back to watching him. Not only him, but obviously my mother. 

“We had a big family. We were fortunate to stay put there in the same community for a long time and dad made an impact, man. He had a good life and he went about it the right way. And that’s something that I think I learned from him.”

His father was Bill Napier, a legend in Georgia high school football coaching. He won 94 games as Murray County’s head coach from 1991 to 2006, including three region titles. 

Napier died in 2017 at age 60 after a four-year battle with the incurable Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Gainesville Sun correspondent Scott LaPeer covered and met the late Napier many times during his coaching career. 

“He was as beloved a figure in Murray County and NW Georgia as anyone could’ve been,” LaPeer said. “He was a man of tremendous class and grace — the type of person you hold in high regard the rest of your life for how he carried himself and treated others. If his son is anything like him, Florida got a class-act man of integrity as its coach.” 

In that same interview with Walker, Napier was asked the biggest thing he learned from his father. 

He paused and thought about it for a few seconds. 

“Class, man. Class,” Napier said. “There’s a certain way you go about doing things.”

Today

The Gators find out their bowl destination during the college football playoff and bowl selection show starting at noon on ESPN.

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