Florida football coach Billy Napier more about substance than style at SEC Media Days

David Whitley
Gator Sports

ATLANTA – Billy Napier has made plenty of appearances since being hired as Florida football coach. But SEC Media Days is considered the real coming out party for any new coach.

If Wednesday was a party, the main attraction didn’t want anyone to get too high on the Gators.

“We’re a work in progress,” Napier said.

That’s been the party line for months, and Napier was happy to repeat it to a new set of notebooks, cameras and microphones. It was not quite what the media throng was used to hearing from UF at this annual event.

From his quips to his attire, reporters were always on alert for something provocative from Dan Mullen. When he was asked about Georgia being picked to win the SEC East in 2021, Mullen said, “Didn’t they say that last year?”

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The Gators ended up winning the East in 2020, of course. So Mullen’s comment was quickly packaged as the Zinger of the Day.

Napier doesn’t do zingers. His comment when asked about Kirby Smart was “Nothing but respect for Kirby. Guy is an unbelievable football coach, leader. He’s a fantastic person. Unbelievable competitor.”

Napier said it while wearing standard dress shoes that complemented his dark blue suit. Mullen preferred customized sneakers that usually ate up a few minutes of airtime commentary on the SEC Network.

What about Billy Napier's haircut? 

Florida Gators head coach Billy Napier talks from the stage during SEC Media Days July 20, 2022, at the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta.

Napier’s fashion choices did come up in a way Wednesday. He was asked about his haircut, which is straight out of Marine boot camp.

“It’s simple, that’s what I’ll tell you,” Napier said. “It takes no time to get ready in the morning. I’ve got a lot of other things to worry about than my hair.”

Napier wasn’t in Atlanta to bellyache, but he was happy to elaborate on worries heading into the season. Gator fans are already familiar with them. Like the basic challenges of starting a new enterprise.

“Year One,” Napier said. “New staff, new group of players, new roster.”

He’s excited about the roster’s potential, but he stressed how dependent Florida will be on inexperienced players.

“Maybe they have ability. Maybe you see the traits that you’re looking for, but they haven’t been out there and done it,” Napier said. “So we’ve got to develop that confidence by recreating the game in practice.”

There are those fears, but Napier also talked about the hopes and how players have taken to the culture he’s trying to build.

“I love how they embrace work. This group is not scared to strain,” Napier said. “They’re not scared to get out of their comfort zone. I think we’ve got a group that embraces the weight room, the running, the speed improvement, the OTAs, the Gator plan, all those things that we’ve done throughout the summer.”

Media Days symbolically marks the end of the summer football doldrums. Napier handled it with his usual understated style. It’s not what the media is used to, but nobody could accuse him of trying to steal the show.

“I love a challenge, and this is a challenge,” he said. “We can get all caught up in that, or we can see this as an incredible opportunity.”

— David Whitley is The Gainesville Sun's sports columnist. Contact him at Follow him on Twitter @DavidEWhitley