If Florida coach Billy Napier fails, it won't be for lack of support
In the latest jobs report, the Labor Department reported the nation’s unemployment rate had dipped to a pandemic-era low of 3.9%. Analysts say the drop was largely due to Billy Napier hiring approximately 82,466 people to work for Florida’s football program.
That’s a slight exaggeration, though the Gators’ coach wasn’t sure how many people he’s brought in since he was hired six weeks ago.
“I could probably tell you how many we have left to hire,” Napier said.
The official hiring count as of Friday afternoon was 40. The final tally will probably depend on how many cubicles can be crammed into the new 140,000-square foot football facility.
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When it comes to “support staffs” around the country, precise employment numbers are hard to come by. One certainty is it’s a booming industry. And if you want to keep up with the industry leaders, you’d better have a lot of support.
Before delving into Florida’s hiring binge at Friday’s press conference, Napier acknowledged the industry’s newest leader.
“First of all, congratulations to the University of Georgia,” he said.
Napier didn’t particularly want to dwell on how Kirby Smart has constructed his empire, brick by brick, analyst by analyst, in Athens.
“We’ve got our own grass to mow,” he said.
There will be no shortage of mowers.
Napier would not have taken the Gainesville gig if UF hadn’t opened the checkbook for staff upgrades. Along with $7.5 million annually for 10 assistants, Napier’s getting $5 million for support staff.
The job titles include “Defensive Analyst – Inside Linebackers and Outside Linebackers,” “Director of Sports Nutrition, Football,” “Director of Player Engagement and NIL,” “Assistant Athletic Director of Football Operations, Logistics and Analytics,” and “Assistant to the Assistant Analytics Director for Outside Linebacker NIL Nutrition.”
I made up only one of those.
Large leap from Napier's days as Clemson G.A.
Florida might have to spend $100,000 alone on new nameplates. If that strikes you as overkill, Napier understands. It would have struck him as overkill 19 years ago when he got his first job as a graduate assistant at Clemson.
The Tigers were on what then passed for the cutting edge. Nine assistants, two G.A.s, a couple of off-field administrative guys. One assistant ran the entire recruiting shebang.
“The game is always evolving,” Napier said, “and continues to evolve.”
Much of the support-staff evolution can be traced to Nick Saban. No surprise there. Saban never met a task he couldn’t micromanage, or hire somebody to micromanage.
The NCAA limited schools to nine full-time assistants. There was no cap on other hired help, however, so Saban built an army of “analysts.”
Offensive line analyst. Cornerback analyst. Recruiting analyst. Analyst analyst.
They’re not allowed to directly coach players. Analysts are allowed to dissect tape, scout opponents, brainstorm, track the dining preferences of 5-star recruits and whatever else might provide an edge.
They range from hungry, young nobodies to big-name coaches looking to regenerate in Saban’s halfway house. After getting fired as Clemson’s offensive coordinator in 2010, Napier spent a year as one of Saban’s offensive analysts.
He said the year as a fly on the wall was invaluable. One thing he learned is you have to spend money to make money.
The Crimson Tide spend a lot for football support, but it's athletic revenue has gone from $67 million when Saban arrived to $189 million in 2020. Alabama's also won a few football trophies.
Another argument for the hiring boom is player-coach ratio. Counting walk-ons, programs have about 135 players. That’s a lot of bodies and minds that need tending.
Programs must keep up with college football evolution
The industry’s evolution has also gone into hyper-drive. There’s NIL, transfer portal, digital media, 24/7 recruiting.
“This profession can chew you up and spit you out,” Napier said. “Literally, I could work every day of my life, sun-up to sundown and more.”
It’s nice to get home for dinner occasionally. The more bodies there are at the office, the less chance there is of staff burnout.
The key is for everyone to have a well-defined role and do it well. Dan Mullen had roughly 35 off-field staff members. Last season suggests their roles weren’t adequately defined, much less done well.
That’s why Napier is now at the top of Florida’s organizational pyramid. There's plenty of work to go around.
“Nobody sitting around eating popcorn," Napier said.
Alabama will probably have one soon enough.
— David Whitley is The Gainesville Sun's sports columnist. Contact him at email@example.com. And follow him on Twitter: @DavidEWhitley