Why Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns coach Billy Napier turns down SEC jobs, stays in Lafayette

Tim Buckley
Lafayette Daily Advertiser

Billy Napier has had ample opportunity to leave the Ragin’ Cajuns for the SEC.

Mississippi State after the 2019 season. South Carolina and Auburn after last season. Yet the Cajuns football coach has eschewed life-altering contract offers and remains in Louisiana, baffling some.

“You know,” Napier told The Daily Advertiser, “there’s a lot more to life than just making a lot of money and being in the limelight, certainly, for me.”

Currently earning about $1 million per season, Napier could triple — or even quadruple — his salary at a Power Five program.

“He looks at so much more than just the financials,” said UL athletic director Bryan Maggard, who hired Napier late in 2018. “I know one thing that’s critically important for him is alignment — alignment between the president and athletics director and himself.”

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Napier, 41, feels he has it with Maggard and Joseph Savoie, UL’s president since 2008.    

“That alignment comes in terms of vision for a football program,” Maggard said. “That’s really (a) key for him that probably a lot of people don’t think about. I also know, though, that he feels there’s more to accomplish here.”

UL finished 10-1 last season and No. 16 in the Amway Coaches Poll. The Cajuns aspire to be not just next season’s top Group of Five program but also a perennial contender.

He may not be waiting for the perfect job, or a dream job, but so far nothing has been well aligned enough to extract Napier.

“I don’t think he looks at it like ‘that particular school,’ or ‘that one’ or ‘the ones I’m waiting on,' ” Maggard said. “He has a bunch of different boxes he would want to be able to check off before he would consider leaving here.

“I think it’s been shown and proven that very high-caliber programs have been, and are, willing to hire Billy Napier as a football coach, and that, to me, speaks for itself.”

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Billy Napier says staying is  'a very complicated dynamic'

Napier, also considered for openings at Tennessee earlier this year and Missouri late in 2019, keeps removing himself as a candidate for high-profile jobs.

He wouldn’t comment when asked whether he turned down proposals from Auburn, which hired Boise State’s Bryan Harsin, and South Carolina, which hired Oklahoma assistant head coach Shane Beamer.

But Napier did shine light on why he’s still at UL after going 28-11 in three seasons.

Ragin' Cajuns coach Billy Napier works the sideline during a Sept. 12 upset win at Iowa State.

It’s about those aforementioned boxes, a list Maggard said includes “regional location as it relates to recruiting, facilities, overall football budget, quality of life in the community for he and his family.”

Then there’s the ability to truly act like a CEO, which Maggard said “is captured under alignment.”

Napier, in his first head coaching job at any level, calls it “a very complicated dynamic.”

“But one thing I do think I have conviction about,” he said, “is that it takes great leadership above you to have success, right?”

Napier feels Savoie and Maggard provide the resources UL needs to succeed.

He has a generous budget for assistant coaches, even in trying economic times; a much larger support staff than predecessor Mark Hudspeth; and a state-of-the-art weight room to pitch to recruits.

Cajun Field renovations remain in the plans.

But staying is about much more than all that.

“I think that’s combined with the quality of life you have day in and day out,” Napier said. “The pace of the job. The people that you work with. Where you live. Where your kids go to school. The relationships that your wife has.”

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It all started for Billy Napier at Clemson 

Napier, the father of three young children, seems genuinely happy in Lafayette.

“I have a great appreciation for this community, how the people have treated us, all the things that have been done for us,” Napier said.

“This is a unique place, and certainly there’s a lot that goes with that. Anybody that’s lived here for a significant time would understand that.”

Born in Cookeville, Tennessee, but raised in Chatsworth, Georgia, the former Furman quarterback figured he’d follow in the footsteps of his late father, Bill Napier.

Billy Napier, his wife Ali and their three children are introduced when he was named coach of the Ragin' Cajuns in December 2017.

“I wanted to be an ol’ high school football coach,” he said in 2018.

Instead Napier’s first job was as a Clemson graduate assistant in 2003 for Tommy Bowden.

That path that led him to becoming Clemson’s offensive coordinator before he was 30 years old, an analyst for one season at Alabama after new Clemson coach Dabo Swinney fired him, a year at Colorado State to coach quarterbacks, back to Tuscaloosa as receivers coach under Nick Saban, then offensive coordinator again in 2017 at Arizona State, before joining the Cajuns.

Don’t discount any of that in understanding why he hasn’t jumped back to the SEC and has considered the bigger picture before declining more lucrative opportunities.

“I think the No. 1 thing is those decisions don’t just affect myself – or just my family,” Napier said. “The reality is that affects hundreds of people, right? It certainly affects our current staff, our future staff. It affects our current team and our future team. So there’s lot of people and lots of relationships involved.”

Napier weighs all of it.

“These (decisions) aren’t easy,” he said. “As a matter of fact, they’re very difficult.

“But, in general, when these jobs come up I think you’re always comparing your current situation and the current problems and challenges that come with this job to the next one, right?”

Billy Napier: 'I really enjoy this job'

Stakes in the Sun Belt Conference are high, but the pressure relatively low compared to any job he’d take next.

Powerful boosters have some voice at UL, but running a program without outside influence is easier in Lafayette than at most Power Five schools and especially in certain SEC cities.

Wherever Napier lands next probably will be a school where he’ll have more input than program investors.

Somewhere no potential NCAA sanctions hang overhead.

Somewhere equipped with the resources to chase national championships on an annual basis. A place where the biggest supporters don’t seek to run off a coach as soon as unrealistic expectations aren’t met.

“So,” Napier said, “I really enjoy this job.

“I really enjoy all the things that come with this job. And I think there’s a lot that affect these decisions.”

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UL has won 10-plus games the past two seasons. Most key contributors return, including quarterback Levi Lewis.

The success, and who’s coming back, plays a part.

“We’re doing a heck of a job,” center Shane Vallot said the day Napier withdrew from the Auburn search, “and he’s doing a heck of a job.”

Napier’s case for UL was convincing enough for George Jackson, an offensive lineman from Georgia who remained committed to the Cajuns even as reports of Napier’s candidacy for jobs elsewhere swirled.  

“I talked to Coach Napier,” Jackson said, “and he said he loves this place. You know, he turned down the Auburn job. Tennessee tried to come at him, but he chose not to.

“He said there’s no reason for him to leave, he has everything he needs right there in Louisiana. His family loves it. And he loves coaching around there. So why leave? There’s no reason for him to.”

Not even a multi-million salary, if the situation isn’t right.

“Heck, man,” Napier said, “I’ve probably spent more time thinking about how I’m gonna make sure my kids are not affected by having too much than I think about acquiring more, you know?”