25-Game Report Card: The numbers don’t look good

by Mark Wheeler

Please Read: Welcome to the new-look Inside the Gators

Inside the Gators first published this Florida head coach comparison six years ago in order to grade former Florida head coach Jim McElwain 20 games into his stint leading Gators’ football. We then followed up a couple of years later in order to take a closer look at where Dan Mullen stood after completing his first 20 games as Florida’s head coach.

As you can see in the above links, a fast start doesn’t necessarily equate to continued success. So, will a slow start eventually turn into a program changing turnaround?

We don’t know. What we can do though is look at where Napier currently stands compared to recent Florida head coaches.

Today we are looking back at Billy Napier‘s first 25 games to see how he compares to Steve SpurrierRon ZookUrban MeyerWill MuschampJim McElwain, and Dan Mullen at the same point in their tenure piloting the Gators’ football program.

I have long held that to be considered a successful head football coach at Florida you don’t have to win the National Championship each season. If that were the case, with the Gators only doing so three times in their 100-plus year history, that would mean that there were over 100 years of futility.

No, you don’t have to win the big prize every year to be a success at Florida. However, in my opinion, you have to accomplish these five things:

Win in the Swamp

This is sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy in that the more you win, the more intimidating the Swamp becomes, making the home-field advantage an even bigger advantage. As much as a loss hurts – at least some are forgivable when it happens on the road. Florida travels to some incredibly hostile environments – places no team should expect to enter and leave with a win consistently. Plus, the bottom line is it just hurts more to lose at home. You feel as though your personal space has been invaded.

Quick Take: Napier began his first year with a huge win over No. 7 Utah, but then immediately followed that up with a terrible showing against Kentucky. Then, later in the season being down 42-21 to an unranked LSU team was hard to explain. This year UF did upset then No. 11 ranked Tennessee at home, for perhaps the biggest win of the Napier era, but then turned around and lost to an Arkansas squad with a losing record. That type of home loss is unforgivable. Give the Gator Nation credit, they have shown up in droves despite Florida’s struggles on the field.

Beat the teams you are expected to beat

When things are going well recruiting-wise at Florida, realistically the Gators only play a 3-4 game schedule in even the most difficult of strength-of-schedule years. Now, notice I said when Florida is recruiting at the level it should be recruiting at. When they are, the Gators should be able to simply out-talent all but a couple of schools on the schedule. From a historical perspective, Florida State, Georgia, LSU, and then Tennessee to a degree, and of course if Alabama is the opponent in the SEC Championship, are the only teams the Gators face regularly who recruit at a high ‘Florida like’ level year in and year out. Yes, now and then you’ll have a South Carolina or Kentucky rise-up that you have to deal with, but for the most part when UF is recruiting on the level it should be, 8-9 teams on the 12-game schedule shouldn’t be able to match-up to Florida talent-wise.

Quick Take: Georgia is Georgia. Florida State has been on a two-year run. Those losses hurt, but a reasonable fan understands where Florida stands in relation to those two programs at this time. Losses to Vanderbilt, Arkansas, LSU with a first year coach as well, and just barely getting by South Florida, one of the worst DI programs last year, and Missouri last year are and should be cause for concern. Those losses and close games aren’t on Dan Mullen or a lack of talent. They have to be owned by the current coaching staff. Florida doesn’t have to be at its peak to be capable of running roughshod over those programs. Even Missouri this year is more of an abbaration. If Florida is where it’s supposed to be (can I say it like that), that game should be chalked up as a win.

At least split with ranked teams

In most years the Gators are going to face 4-5 teams ranked in the Top 25. If you can at worst split with those teams, that would mean 9-10 win seasons. You would like to win them all, but that’s not realistic. At least walking away with a win half the time is acceptable. Losing two out of three or worse is unacceptable.

Quick Take: One of the go-to comments, in order to defend Napier, has been that he has had to play such a tough SOS. Yes, he has played 12 ranked teams in the first 25 games. However, this is Florida. Every year is tough. Zook also played 12 ranked teams in his first 25 games. Spurrier and Meyer played 11. The biggest difference is they (even Zook) were much more competitive against ranked teams. There is no way to explain away or excuse a 2-10 record against ranked opponents.

Win two out of three against Florida’s traditional rivals

If you do well enough against Florida State, Tennessee, Georgia, LSU – and Miami in the years they are on the schedule – Florida fans will be forgiving in some other areas. A loss, any loss, huts badly enough, but to lose to one of the Gators’ traditional rivals is 10 times worse. Depending on where you live, you might have to put up with a Bulldog, Seminole, or Volunteers fan holding bragging rights for a full 365 days. That can become unbearable.

Quick Take: There’s nothing really to discuss here. Napier has by far the worst record (1-7) against traditional rivals compared to his predecessors at the same point in their Florida coaching career.

Run an exciting offense

When Jeremy Foley hired Ron Zook, one of my first comments was wondering how a special teams/defensive-minded head coach would fit in at what was then known as a wide-open offensive-minded school. The answer was, not very well. Foley then doubled down on that mistake by hiring Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp a decade later. Somewhat because of the athletic playmakers available to the Gators – but mostly because of what Steve Spurrier was able to accomplish – Florida fans simply do not want to see a boring – three-yards and a cloud of dust offense that leads to a low-scoring affair. Honestly, though many may not admit it publicly, there is a significant portion of the fan base who would rather go 9-3 with an exciting, high-scoring offense, than 10-2 with a grind-it-out, cure for insomnia, type of offense. No, to be fully accepted by the Gator Nation, you have to play an exciting brand of football, and airing it out is the preferred method of moving the ball.

Quick Take: I don’t know how exciting it is to see 75% of your throws within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage, but give Napier credit. He and support staff member Ryan O’Hara did a remarkable job turning around Graham Mertz’s career and coaching him to one of the more surprising seasons we’ve witnessed in the last 20 years. There are no moral victories, but this category isn’t about wins and losses so much as it is excitement, and there were without question plenty of exciting contests through Napier’s first 25 games at Florida.


Coaching StaffHow else can you comment on this other than to say that it is one of the most uniquely structured staffs in college football? There’s no offensive coordinator or quarterback coach among the assistants, but there are two offensive line coaches. The safeties coach (Austin Armstrong) this past season had never coached safeties at the collegiate level. There’s no special teams coach, those duties are handled by a support staff member. If all this worked, Napier would look like a genius. It hasn’t, and the dysfunctional setup has contributed to his time at Florida being labeled as a failure to this point.C-
Program BuildingThere’s a lot to like here from coming in and providing players something as simple as assigned parking spaces. There’s been an upgrade in living accommodations, the food served, and a brand-spanking new football facility. Even out of all of that, the most impactful addition might just be the GatorMade program – and what it does for the players in the here and now as well as setting them up for the future.B
Media InteractionThis same as before. As I pointed out during his Florida introductory press conference,  he is very measured in everything he says. Nothing is off the cuff, he thinks before he speaks. That in turn means he isn’t going to be controversial or offer up many enticing headlines. The one black mark is not making his staff, or at least the coordinators, available during the season and he has been a little testy in an exchange or two this year when questioned about game management issuesB
Fan InteractionThere is nothing about him from a personal standpoint not to like. I would find it hard to believe that anyone out there would not want to see him succeed based on his belief system what he stands for and how he comes across. Though his answers at media opportunities can come off as too well thought out, almost robotic, I just tweeted this over the weekend, I’ve seen Napier speak to two Gator Gatherings, and he was amazing at each stop. He was funny and humanized himself with his stories about his kids and mother. He needs to do that more often. It’s easy to pile on a robot, it’s harder when he comes off as a family man.B+
Game DayThis is where it has all fallen apart. The case could be made that from Sunday through Friday Napier has been a homerun hire, or close to it. The fly in the soup though has been game day. It is hard to look at what has happened on any given Saturday and come away convinced that Napier is capable of turning this around. From clock management, to game management to play calling, he leaves a lot to be desired. I don’t know that there is a game yet where you could make the argument that Napier outcoached the opposing coach. There are several examples of miscues costing Florida a game. F
RecruitingOther than offensive line and safety (depending on what happens with Xavier Filsaime) – Napier and Company have done a damn good job of landing talent to upgrade the roster position by position. Even with a couple of expected departures, this will likely be a Top 10 class for the Gators. Florida is the only team currently in the On3 Consensus Team Recruiting Rankings Top 10 that finished the season with a losing record. Recruiting so well while playing so poorly is a sign of a damn good recruiting staff.A
Roster ManagementThe perception that Napier had this major rebuild compared to other, now, second-year head coaches simply isn’t that true. Take a look at the comparison between Napier and LSU head coach Brian Kelly. In this year’s game, Napier brought in 13 of UF’s 22 starters. Kelly brought in 12 of LSU’s 22 starters. Not much of a difference there other than Kelly has worked the Portal better than Napier has. The excuse that Napier has had to play a younger roster is also a choice he made. There are quite a few former Gators who are making an impact elsewhere. C-
OverallWhether you are a fair-weather fan or a diehard, most want to give Napier a longer leash based on his recruiting to date. Yes, you indeed need elite recruiting to reach the promised land, but signing elite classes doesn’t guarantee success (see Ron Zook, Will Muschamp, and Jimbo Fisher). Other than recruiting, it’s hard to see a lot of bright spots myself, much less try to convince anyone else of their existence when the on-the-field product is so poor. Bill Parcells said you are what your record says you are, and Napier’s 11-14 record says that he has been a failure to this point. Period. It can’t be defended when so many other second-year head coaches have found early success. Can he turn it around during the 2024 season? If it is more of the same, does he deserve a shot at the 2025 season?D


(Turn your smartphone horizontally for the best view)

W/L SEC14-212-412-410-613-311-56-10
W/L Rivals6-34-67-14-44-46-31-7
W/L R Teams6-55-78-34-62-64-32-10
W/L UR Teams14-011-29-414-116-116-29-4
1 Score Games213108868
W/L 1 Score Games2-08-58-25-37-15-14-4

Wins/Losses against ranked teams
Wins/Losses against unranked teams
1 Score games are games decided by 8 points or less

35+ pts1258841310
21 or less pts6108101357
AP Top 25 Weeks2420251820215
AP Top 10 Weeks1751884110

(Turn your smartphone horizontally for the best view)

Games scoring 35 or more points
Games held to 21 points or less
Wins of 21 or more points are blowouts
Game Weeks ranked inside AP Top 25
Game Weeks ranked inside AP Top 10
We didn’t include recruiting rankings because we have used Rivals in the past, but because it looks like they are updating theirs with transfers in and out they aren’t as accurate as when there wasn’t a portal

Go to discussion...

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  1. We need some good fortune in 2024 but the schedule is brutal again. I wouldn't be surprised if the preseason over-under for wins is 5.5. We are going to have to blow that out of the water! I really hate losing McClellan...
  2. Great analytics Mark. I did not know the exact numbers that you provided, but I would have guessed the results about the same as Spurrier and Meyer either 1, 2 or 2,1. As Parcels so accurately stated, You are what your record is. Should he have been fired after this year, probably. I still say, if after the first 5 games next year, if he starts of 2-3 or worse, he needs to be let go. Immediately hire Spurrier to be the Interim HC and then have The OBC deeply involved in the new Head Coach hire. Hopefully though we end up much better than that and we all have smiles on our faces.
  3. What stands out the most to me is the record in one score games.

    That's not some team having more talent than you and blowing you out. Or you having more talent and blowing someone else out. That is talent being equal and coaches are going ahead to head.

    Spurrier, Meyer, McElwain a d Mullen were elite game day coaches.

    McElwain and Mullen had chances to be very good but they fumbled the bag.
  4. This is alarming because not only is he the worst in every category but he is by far the worst. If we fired him today it would be hard for him to make a case for why he should be allowed to stay on. This shows he is a bad coach.
  5. We'll know about halfway through next season. If he has another losing season he is toast.
    He might be okay at the halfway point. It's at the end of November where he might not look as good.

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