What Florida football is getting in Ragin' Cajuns coach Billy Napier as an offensive mind

Tim Buckley
Lafayette Daily Advertiser

Before fully taking over at Florida, Billy Napier will coach the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns in the Sun Belt Conference Championship game.

UL (11-1) plays Appalachian State (10-2) on Saturday (2:30 p.m. CT, ESPN) at Cajun Field.

It’s a chance to remind Cajuns what they’re losing and for Gators to discover the offensive mind they’re getting.

Perhaps no one has better insight into that than Levi Lewis, who’s spent the last four years playing quarterback under Napier.

“I’d say the guy’s a genius,” Lewis said.

“Just the attention to detail is real critical – from each field zone, from backed up, coming out, landmarks … just work your way down the field. He’s real strategic, and game-plans each … possession.”

Napier, his own play-caller at UL, is meticulous.

From practice schedules to play-calling ideas, he’s kept countless notebooks filled with info from prior stops including stints as Alabama receivers coach under Nick Saban from 2013-16 and Clemson offensive coordinator under Dabo Swinney from 2009-10.

“He’s highly organized. He’s really detailed,” UL receivers coach Tim Leger said. “He defines it for us. The expectations are clear.”

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Offensive line coach Rob Sale held the title of offensive coordinator during Napier’s first three seasons.

When Sale left to coach the New York Giants offensive line, Leger and tight ends coach Michael Desormeaux were named co-offensive coordinators.

But Napier runs the offense.

“I’ve got no veto-power or override, I can tell you that,” Desormeaux said last spring.

“On gameday he calls the plays. Occasionally he’ll kind of talk about what we want to do, but he’s got it locked up pretty good.”

Napier calls the shots

When he and Leger became co-coordinators, Desormeaux knew the new title meant he’d be tasked with helping to manage daily minutia.

“We’re there trying … to stay in front of things and trying to make sure we’re on the same page so  (Napier’s) able to step in coach ball and be ready to go,” Desormeaux said.

“That’s what Coach Sale did a really good job of, was making sure people were always on task.”

New Florida Gators coach Billy Napier was loyal to his call sheet during his days coaching the Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns.

Napier does, however, seek play-calling opinion from offensive assistants.

“Our input comes from Sunday through Thursday, with our meetings with him,” said Desormeaux, a former Cajuns quarterback. “We all have areas we gameplan, and we go to him with (it).

“But, truthfully, once we get to Saturday, it’s all the call sheet. And what’s on the call sheet is what we’re gonna do. And he does a phenomenal job of picking from the right stuff."

Opinions are valued

When Napier makes the wrong call, he’s fast to publicly acknowledge it.

When he makes a call that’s difficult for non-football minds to understand, he explains it.

Whatever he does, there’s a reason. Napier’s big on analytics, and extensive research backs each decision he makes.

“A lot of what we’re doing is a lot of NFL terminology and NFL rules and NFL application of offense,” Leger said. “So I think it all fits in there cohesively because from the top down, starting with Coach Napier, there’s a plan, and it’s detailed, and it’s defined, and we just work together from there.”

Napier’s offensive meetings – typically jam-packed with staffers from coordinators and assistants to analysts and quality control specialists – frequently run late into the night.

Each offensive assistant is assigned piecemeal game-plan responsibilities.

“My area is third-and-medium, third-and-long, third-and-extra-long,” Leger said in the spring. “I meet with Coach on Tuesday and Wednesday regarding those areas. We create cutups and get the analytics and break it all down; we kind of sit in there together and formulate a plan.

“Everybody’s got their own specific area, which gives everybody in the building ownership of what we’re doing. … It’s a great way to do it. It forces accountability.

“Because I’ve seen places where (head coaches) lock themselves in a room and they come out and say, ‘Here’s what we’re doing.’ ”

Napier isn’t like that.

“He’s inclusive,” Leger said.

“He values our opinion, and he respects what we’ve been around and what we’ve been exposed to. It’s a pleasure to come to work, because you know there’s going to expectations and standards.”

'All about execution'

Once gamedays roll around, much goes according to script.

“After a first down, third down, everything is so down to the T,” Lewis said.

“Coach has it all mapped out, well-planned. All we have to do is just execute. We … watch film so we can play fast, but he has it all mapped out so we can just ball.”

One day before being named head coach at Florida, UL coach Billy Napier keeps a watchful eye over QB Levi Lewis during warmups prior to a 2021 regular-season ending win over ULM.

Napier is an aggressive play-caller and occasionally unconventional related to down-and-distance. He is balanced and uses a lot of pre-snap motion as eye candy. And he’s not shy about going for it on fourth down.

“He’s gonna run what he runs, and that why he’s one of the best play-callers in college football, is because they do it better than everybody else, and they have the players to do that,” Appalachian State coach Shawn Clark said.

The Gators will get a taste of what is to come for them when the Mountaineers face the Cajuns. 

“They execute,” Clark said.

“You watch their tape, there’s not many missed assignments or bad play-calling. It’s about execution.”