Florida Gators head coach Billy Napier, who was hired by UF last winter to replace Dan Mullen, has a very different tone about his first season in the SEC than what we’ve heard from Tennessee Vols head coach Josh Heupel over the last year.
Napier appeared at SEC Media Days in Atlanta this week and offered some carefully worded responses that sounded a lot like preemptive excuses for the 2022 season.
The new Gators head coach essentially sounded like he was trying to temper expectations for his first season in the SEC.
“Year 1, new staff, new place, new group of players, so we’re a work in progress,” explained Napier on Wednesday.
“A big portion of our roster is inexperienced. Maybe they have ability, and maybe you see the traits that you’re looking for, but they haven’t been out there and done it. There’s a lot of roles to be determined on our team.”
The Athletic’s G. Allan Taylor had a comment in response to Napier’s quotes that summed up my thoughts perfectly:
That kind of guarded comment smacks of a team that may wind up more concerned about bowl eligibility than making the College Football Playoff. And history shows Florida fans are right to temper expectations
Heupel’s comments after taking over as Tennessee’s head coach sounded a bit different than those comments from Napier.
“I promise you that we’re going to embark on becoming what we’re capable of becoming as a football program day-by-day and go chase championships and win those championships,” said Heupel at his introductory press conference in early 2021.
Tennessee’s head coach continued with that same approach on Thursday during his appearance at SEC Media Days.
Heupel: Last year I said that we were in a race to get as good as we could as fast as we could… Last year we broke 8 school records on the offensive side of the football.— Rocky Top Insider (@rockytopinsider) July 21, 2022
Heupel knew he had a lot of work to do when he got to Tennessee (certainly more work than Napier has at Florida). But he didn’t make excuses. He just said he wanted his team to work hard and compete. And because of that, the Vols believed in themselves last season and exceeded expectations.
“From the moment I got here, I never placed a ceiling on what our football team could do,” said Heupel last fall. “You’ve heard me say that we’re in a race against ourselves, and I’m so proud of the growth from the first day that I got here to who we are now.”
Heupel didn’t put a ceiling on what Tennessee could accomplish. As a result, his players believed they could be better than anyone in the media expected (and they were).
Napier, on the other hand, is already preparing Florida fans for a letdown season — which is basically the same thing he did while talking about his first recruiting class.
Oh Florida, what have you done 😳 pic.twitter.com/83DhKU46UG— zach ragan (@zachTNT) December 6, 2021
Maybe Napier will be Florida’s next Urban Meyer. It’s certainly possible. But based on what we’ve heard from him during his first eight months on the job, I think he’s more likely to be the Gators’ next Ron Zook.
And if the Vols are going to become a serious threat in the SEC East again, they absolutely must take advantage of Florida’s misstep in firing Mullen and hiring Napier.
Featured image via Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports