Football: Getting a late start, Napier trying to balance early signing period, hiring assistants
James Bewers, The Daily Advertiser, Dec. 21, 2017
As he was being introduced as the new UL football coach at the Cajundome on Monday afternoon, only once during Billy Napier’s opening statement did the Ragin’ Cajuns fans in attendance interrupt him with applause.
It was after Napier made a comment about recruiting – more specifically, recruiting kids in the Acadiana area and the state of Louisiana.
“We’re going to have a very specific plan in recruiting and evaluation,” Napier said, “and that’s going to start with a major emphasis right here in our backyard and in this state.”
The problem for Napier, as he is willing to admit, is that he is “behind” in his recruiting efforts. The former Arizona State offensive coordinator was only hired four days ago, and college football’s new early signing period begins Wednesday and runs through Friday.
Even if he’s not returning to coach the Sun Devils in their appearance in the Sun Bowl against North Carolina State on Dec. 29, which he confirmed Monday, he’s hardly left any time.
The Cajuns only hold two verbal commitments, losing two in the wake of Mark Hudspeth’s firing and another yesterday. However, Napier is hopeful he can sign as many as five players Wednesday, but he realizes UL may not have any early signees due to the circumstances. Napier spent much of Monday morning evaluating prospects who may sign early.
But Napier is giving himself the leeway of putting together a recruiting class over the next “50 days,” leading into the February signing period. His bigger concern right now is putting a coaching and support staff together. He said he plans to meet with current UL assistant coaches to discuss their futures.
“I think it’s important that everybody knows that there’s a lot of men here that did a good job,” Napier said of the Cajuns’ current staff members. “They did a quality job, and we’re going to give them their opportunity to sit down with me – not only the guys on the field but the support staff as well.
Napier did appear to confirm that Arizona State offensive line coach Rob Sale, the former LSU offensive linemen from Monroe, would be following him to Lafayette. He said there will be more decisions on staff hires “in the near future.”
“I truly believe that your coaches and your support people and their approach and their investment into the players is ultimately what decides whether you win or lose,” Napier said.
Napier will be able to utilize a $2 million salary pool for assistant coaches and staff members, a commitment to the football program that UL director of athletics Bryan Maggard hopes resonates.
“We need to establish this position to be a destination job. That’s my goal,” Maggard said. “One way to do that is through compensation. You have to show a commitment to continue to build and move forward, and we need to bring a coach here that can put a great product on the field. But our responsibility is to make sure that we’re compensating at a level that we can both attract and keep quality people here.”
Napier said he plans to take advantage of a new NCAA rule that allows for a 10th assistant coach, including a special teams coordinator. The former Furman quarterback said he plans to coach the passers, along with calling plays. Though he plans to have a relatively even split between offensive and defensive assistant coaches, he said there will be five defensive assistants.
The Cajuns ranked near the bottom of the FBS in scoring defense in 2017, giving up 40 points per game.
“Dedicating five assistants on defense, we’ll probably split up the linebackers, split up the secondary, and I think that will give us a good group there,” Napier said. “We’ll have more people than most staffs do on defense in the future.”
Napier is also making a point to re-recruit current UL players to limit the number of transfers from the program. He sees developing relationships and building trust with those players as the “most important thing that we’ll do.”
“They’ve got to sense that you’ve got a genuine appreciation for what they do, how hard they work,” Napier said. “They’ve got to know that you’ve got their best interest in mind. When they see the type of men that we’re going to bring here on this staff to be around them, I think they’ll get an appreciation for what we’re about. Everywhere I’ve been, when you make this transition, that’s the most critical part. We need to gain their trust, and they need to know that we’re going to put them in a position to be successful.”