Gators bank on investment in Billy Napier to pay big dividends down the line

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  • Billy Napier
    American-football player (1979-)
  • Scott Stricklin
    American college athletics administrator

Florida’s new coach Billy Napier did not come cheaply, but nothing does anymore in big-time college football.

The price tag for head coaches, along with their assistants, support staffs, recruiting budgets and facility needs continues to rise at a rate that once appeared to be unsustainable.

“Apparently it is because we keep doing it,” Gators athletic director Scott Stricklin said.

Contract buyouts once thought prohibitive are a no longer obstacles once a school sets its sights on someone’s else coach.

Florida paid Louisiana just $3 million for the rights to hire Napier, but will be on the hook for a pile of cash if he fails with the Gators.

Napier’s seven-year, $51.8 million deal guarantees him 85% of what he is owed if let go without cause. If Napier bolts, he has sliding buyout of $7 million before Dec. 31, 2022, with the figure declining each subsequent season.

“The market is what the market is, unfortunately,” Stricklin said.

Those conversations have been never-ending in Gainesville.

Excluding Napier’s buyout, Florida has spent around $37 million to jettison Will Muschamp, Jim McElwain and Dan Mullen, along with their assistants.

The Gators also reported $54.5 million in losses during the 2020-21 fiscal year due to the pandemic, a figure offset by a $51 million cash reserve and a $23 million infusion by the SEC to each school from future TV earnings.

The financial climate did not dissuade Stricklin.

After agreeing to pay Mullen $12 million upon his Nov. 21 firing, Stricklin sat down two days later with Napier, met his list of demands and offered him the job.

“This was two days before Thanksgiving,” Stricklin recalls. “I said, ‘We’re going to have to have some more conversations, but I want you to know that my goal is for the net result of all these conversations is you’re going to accept the head coaching position at the University of Florida.’

“He sat up and goes, ‘Well, all right. Let’s do it.’”

Conversations ensured to iron out details before Napier’s hiring became official Nov. 28.

Napier sold a high-priced vision to an accommodating AD determined to return Florida football to the top of the SEC.

“I want to commend the administration for their willingness to invest in our vision to create an elite player experience here,” Napier said.

Stricklin was set to deliver Napier a state-of-the-art standalone football facility scheduled to open in the spring and originally priced $85 million.

Stricklin then agreed to pay nearly $20 million in staff salary in 2022 — $7.1 million for Napier, $7.5 million for his 10 assistants and $5 million for his support staff of analysts and quality control coaches.

Napier said he planned “to hire an army of people,” leading Stricklin to joke, “We might have to go build some barracks.”

The space is available at the 142,000-square foot Heavener Football Training Center.

Meanwhile, the spigot of money seems never-ending.

Buyer’s remorse also is inevitable. Stricklin hopes this is the case no longer at Florida.

“If Billy’s as successful as I think he’s going to be,” Stricklin said, “we’re never going to have to have a conversation about buyouts.”

This article first appeared on OrlandoSentinel.com. Email Edgar Thompson at egthompson@orlandosentinel.com or follow him on Twitter at @osgators.

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