Florida coaches Billy Napier, Todd Golden: Texas school shooting 'awful', 'concerning'

Graham Hall
Gator Sports
Florida Gators head coach Billy Napier speaks during a press conference at The F-Club at the University of Florida in Gainesville, FL on Thursday, May 26, 2022.

Florida football coach Billy Napier was stepping off a plane Tuesday in Buffalo, New York, when he felt his phone buzz in his pocket.

Rather than a promising message from a member of his coaching staff, or a response from a recruit, the notification was a breaking news alert informing Napier of the tragedy at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, which claimed the lives of 19 children and two fourth-grade teachers at the school.

Napier thought of his own family. He and his college sweetheart, Ali, share three children — sons Sammy Nelson and Charlie, and a 9-year-old daughter, Annie. 

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'Find common ground and come up with solutions'

Napier was reunited with his family later that day, and he acknowledged the tragedy committed by a lone gunman, which claimed at least 21 lives, “absolutely” left an impact on the 42-year-old head coach. 

“We hit the ground and my phone registered, and I saw what had happened. And, you know, a lot of topics here to discuss, and I've tried as much as I can to get up to speed,” Napier said. “Some of these things are, you know, they continue to be issues, right? I mean, you're talking about two highly debated topics when you talk about mental health, when you talk about gun control. And I think obviously, right, wrong or indifferent here, you just feel strongly for the people that were affected.”

Napier and Florida men's basketball coach Todd Golden talked to media Thursday evening prior to a speaking event with the Fightin’ Gator Touchdown Club at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. The coaches, as fathers to young children, were asked about the Texas shooting. The shooting at Robb Elementary, which claimed the lives of 19 children and two teachers, marked the 27th school shooting so far in 2022. 

The attack occurred just 10 days after a racially motivated shooting at a Tops supermarket in Buffalo, New York — the city where Napier had just touched down to attend a portion of the Buffalo Bills’ organized team activities.

Instead of taking a hard stance on a need for universal background checks, increased gun control or an increase in mental health resources — all topics discussed regularly, especially in the aftermath of shootings — Napier expressed hope that the public’s response to the shooting could elicit change rather than further division. 

“What I’ve learned in life, these difficult things that we go through — individually, as a group of people, whether it’s a community, a university, a nation — these cause dialogue, these cause conversation, these cause people to see other vantage points, regardless of where you stand on these issues. What I would hope here — the most difficult things in my life that I’ve been through, those struggles caused growth, they created different perspectives, caused you to have integrity and really tell yourself the truth when you look in the mirror, and come up with solutions,” Napier said. “That’s what we need to do: Have the best and the brightest from both sides, both vantage points, to come together, find common ground and come up with solutions.”

Napier didn’t want to further politicize Tuesday’s shooting; he advocated for cooperation without specifying which solutions he’d like to see enacted at either the state or federal level.

“It’s a tragedy and there’s things we can learn from this, but you feel awful for the people involved,” he said. “I’m just hopeful we can find common ground. Sometimes these difficulties cause division instead of people coming together to find solutions.”

Like Napier, Golden is a father to young children, and he, too, was left in dismay and unable to provide a solution to prevent another tragedy. 

Florida Gators head coach Todd Golden speaks during a press conference at The F-Club at the University of Florida in Gainesville, FL on Thursday, May 26, 2022.

“It's very tough. And I don't have the answers, I will not pretend to, but it's concerning,” Golden said. “Especially with just the way that it's reported on and, you know, it just becomes a very divisive topic. I wish we would have better answers to what has been happening too often.”

They may not have answers to provide, but Golden and Napier joined the chorus of those calling for a solution for what led to the loss of 21 lives at Robb Elementary. 

“Obviously, I think the majority of people in this country are really good people and want to work towards a solution as opposed to making it a divisive political situation...” Golden said. “But as a parent, it's concerning because it's happening far too often.”