Captain Chill: UL's Napier 'not the rah-rah, yelling coach'
It’s early in the relationship’s get-to-know-you phase.
But with the first few spring practices for the UL football team now in the books, it’s evident that there is a theme to the Ragin’ Cajuns’ initial impression of their new head coach.
Moreover, it’s apparent that the still-evolving read on Billy Napier comes with caveats.
“I’d say he’s a chill person,” starting offensive lineman Kevin Dotson said. “He’s not a get-in-your-face type person. But he’s gonna make sure that you know what you’re supposed to know.”
“Coach Napier, he’s a chill guy,” starting safety/nickelback Corey Turner added. “But he (makes) it understandable that whatever he wants, that’s what we’ve got to get done.”
Dotson and Turner spoke independently of each other after Tuesday’s opening day of spring drills, and their use of the term "chill" — neither of which came with prompting — may not be mere coincidence.
When another teammate was asked a couple days later if the portrayal by the two was on the mark, starting defensive lineman LaDarrius Kidd suggested it was.
Yet, his assessment also came with explanation.
“Coach Napier, he’s pretty — I guess you’d just say — ‘chill,’” he said.
“I mean, you do what you’re supposed to do. When you mess up, he’ll coach you and teach you and tell you what you’re doing wrong and tell you how to do it. So … he’s just trying to help you.”
It’s all about getting things right, starting slot receiver Ryheem Malone suggested.
“He’ll critique you on everything. He’s a perfectionist,” Malone said of the coach hired last December to replaced the fired Mark Hudspeth. “He wants the best out of you, no matter what you’re doing — whether it’s in walkthroughs, weight room, conditioning.
“So he’s not the rah-rah, yelling coach. He’s gonna correct you, every time.”
As Turner paints the picture, Napier is inclined to get in and get out out with whatever point it is he’s trying to make.
“He’s gonna give it to you direct, and it’s gonna be that,” the defensive back said.
Slackers, similarly, are not tolerated, no matter how laidback and easy going the sales approach may be.
Napier, Dotson said, is “gonna make you go hard and give your maximum effort.”
“I mean, he can be ‘chill’ — and sometimes he (does) yell at you when you’re not going as hard as you need to be,” Kidd added. “(But) he’s positive, in a good way.”
The bark, then, may be somewhat on the soft side as the new Cajun coach settles in and establishes working order with players he still does not know well.
But don’t be fooled, suggests one assistant who perhaps knows Napier better than anyone on UL’s staff.
The former Furman University quarterback raised in small-town Georgia, it seems, also has some bite his Cajuns perhaps have not yet experienced.
“I wouldn’t say he’s ‘chill,’” said new Cajuns offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Rob Sale, who followed Napier from Arizona State — where he was offensive coordinator for one — to UL.
Sale also spent time as an strength-and-conditioning assistant and offensive analyst at Alabama, where Napier worked as receivers before going to Arizona State.
“I mean, there’s some things he’ll get fired up on — you know? He has a personality,” Sale said. “He gets fired up just as much as anybody.
“The things that he goes over in detail and talks about in staff meetings — if you don’t go out as a coach and execute on the field, well, you’re gonna hear it the next day.
“He’ll get heated,” Sale said, “when he needs to be.”
So which is it?
Room temperature, when it all evens out?
“There are certain things that I think are non-negotiable,” said Napier, who laughed a little at the mention of ‘chill.’
“I think effort is non-negotiable. I think undisciplined penalties are non-negotiable. I think mental errors are non-negotiable. But we’re gonna coach those things. That’s who we want to be.
“We want to play a brand of ball where we don’t have to deal with those issues,” he added. “You know, we’re gonna try to be focusing our time on better technique, better fundamentals, better situational awareness. We want to teach football intelligence. We want to have our guys to have a really good understanding.”
None of which really answers the question.
With time, though, Napier does get closer to what maybe is the reality of it all.
“I view my role as a teacher,” he said, “and certainly I think there are ways to get the job done without necessarily screaming and yelling.
“I think part of it is production,” Napier added, “and certainly I’ve got my way of getting it done.”
But what if the Cajuns do everything they’re supposed to? Can their new leader indeed maintain "chill?"
Again, Napier laughs just a little — and inches closer, without quite getting all the way there.
“When it’s necessary,” he said, “they know that you mean business — if that makes sense. And I think that’s what’s most important.”
So just chill, and let the guy coach. The relationship really is young.