UF Notebook: Players give first impressions of new head football coach Billy Napier
Like he did with fans and recruits, new Florida coach Billy Napier made a strong first impression on the players and staff members at UF.
Napier has met with each player individually since arriving in Gainesville, including outgoing seniors such as running back Malik Davis.
“I was able to meet with him and, so far, everything he's done, he seems like a good guy,” Davis said. “He’s come in and he’s told us, he's all about the people. So, he wants to come in and build relationships with the players, the staff and everyone around him.”
Six players have entered the transfer portal since Napier was hired, and one of them has already found his next school with outside linebacker Khris Bogle transferring to Michigan State.
Mohamoud Diabate may remain at UF
However, Napier is trying to talk some of them into staying at UF. During a podcast interview this week, starting linebacker Mohamoud Diabate said there’s a chance he remains a Gator after meeting with Napier multiple times.
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Kaiir Elam not decided on NFL future
Junior cornerback Kaiir Elam has yet to make a decision on the NFL with his early-round draft projections, but said Napier’s hiring (and presumably the addition of veteran cornerbacks coach Corey Raymond) has made him think about coming back for his senior year.
“I met Coach Napier at practice, really great guy,” Elam said. “I think I listened to what he had to say and offer. I feel like his plans are very detailed and precise and how he takes his time with everything, I feel like that’s pretty cool.”
Florida interim coach Greg Knox hasn’t spent as much time around Napier, but shared his thoughts on their initial interaction.
“I had a 10-minute meeting with him and that’s about it,” Knox said. “So, I haven’t had much of an opportunity to get to know him. He seems like a great guy, seems like he's gonna be a great coach.”
Greg Knox on opt-outs, COVID-19
Knox confirmed Monday that quarterback Anthony Richardson (minor knee surgery) will be out vs. UCF, while Elam plans to play in the game despite his draft status.
The Gators had multiple players opt out of the Cotton Bowl last season, including Kyle Pitts, Kadarius Toney and Trevon Grimes. Knox doesn’t expect Thursday’s game to be affected by opt-outs, and some players who’ve entered the transfer portal will still play against the Knights, such as starting wide receiver Jacob Copeland.
“I haven’t had anything recent come up as far as the portal stuff,” Knox said. “That stuff is not a big concern of mine. I'm concerned about the guys that have practiced and been out on that field and getting themselves ready to play.”
COVID outbreaks in NBA, NFL, NHL
Knox is cognizant of the COVID-19 outbreaks that have hit the NBA, NFL and NHL, which will pause its season Wednesday amid an increase of positive COVID-19 test results among players across the league.
Knox has advised his players to continue being mindful of the pandemic and follow the proper protocols.
"Just staying safe, you know. Taking care of your body, wearing your mask when needed to when you're in a crowd,” Knox said. “It’s still out there. COVID is out there, so we’ve just got to manage the situation.”
More staff hires announced
Napier has announced four new additions to his staff over the past few days.
Kyle Kazakevicius was announced Tuesday as the Gators assistant director of football operations for quality control and assistant to the head coach. He played wide receiver for Napier at Alabama (2013-15) and was with him for all four seasons at Louisiana (2018-21), serving as the director of recruiting and a running back analyst the past two years. Kazakevicius is an Ocala native and graduate of Trinity Catholic High School.
Ashour Peera, a former coach at several Florida high schools, was named assistant director of football operations, logistics and analytics on Monday. He served as Napier’s director of player engagement at Louisiana from 2019-21 and also spent two seasons as the director of recruiting for the University of Central Arkansas.
Doug Domingue was appointed the director of recruiting innovation Sunday. He spent the last four years (2018-21) at Louisiana and first joined the Ragin' Cajuns as the director of digital strategy, serving as the creative lead and lone digital video creator for all 16 varsity sport programs.
Napier tabbed Joe Danos as his director of player athletic development on Saturday. Danos, a New Orleans native, spent seven seasons with the New York Giants (2013-19) as a performance manager and strength and conditioning assistant coach. He has also worked at FSU, LSU and SMU.