Football: Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns coach Billy Napier won't rest on ranking but wants it both ways
Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, Jan. 16, 2021
The proof is apparent.
UL (10-1) finished the 2020 season No. 16 in the Amway Coaches Poll and No. 15 in the Associated Press Top 25. The Ragin’ Cajuns never before have ended a season nationally ranked, a program spokesman said.
What coach Billy Napier does works, which should bode well for UL going forward. Yet Napier also has historically said each season is its own. Every year begins anew. There are new players, new assistants, new staffers, new problems, new obstacles to overcome.
So has the bar been set for the Cajuns, giving them a measuring stick for what’s ahead? Or will 2021 truly be a new year, with nothing that’s happened previously influencing what will happen next? As Napier sees it after three seasons at UL, he can have things both ways.
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“I think it’s a combination of both,” Napier said after the final rankings were released.
“You back up and look at it from the big-picture perspective, and I think you have a body of work. I think this year’s team in the building, to have the success that we did have, was a singular season. But a lot of the work we did in Year 1 and Year 2 contributed to Year 3.”
Napier, whose contract bonuses included $25,000 for winning at least nine games and another $25,000 for achieving a Top 25 final ranking, doesn’t deny that what’s happened in the past impacts what happens in the future.
“I think what we have here is come continuity amongst our staff. We have veteran players,” he said. “We’ve been able to improve our product. We’re getting better at our processes. And I think that it all adds up.”
Yet Napier also isn’t one to rest on laurels.
“But I do think each individual group of players and team and staff is a little bit different,” he said, “and you’ve got to kind of turn the page and work within that dynamic.
“But there’s no question our ability to have success will help us going forward.
“It’s helped us recruit. It’s gonna help us have confidence in our process,” he added. “And then the players that have played in the past and lived and learned some of these lessons … their leadership and their experience going forward, those lessons they’ve learned, we’ve got to make sure we are using that the right way.”
Already – with nine seniors including starting quarterback Levi Lewis, starting left guard Ken Marks, starting receiver Jalen Williams, starting nose tackle Tayland Humphrey, starting inside linebacker Ferrod Gardner, outside linebacker Chauncey Manac and safety Cam Solomon all returning with an extra season of eligibility – 2021 expectations are lofty.
That much is evident with new defensive line signee Latrell Bankston on record saying “I feel like we can take over college football and we can win out” after transferring from Iowa State.
But it doesn’t just happen because they proved in 2020 they are bona fide Group of Five blue blood. Especially not with their season opener Sept. 4 at Texas, which finished No. 20, and closing Nov. 20 at Liberty, which ended up No. 18.
Going 10-1 in 2020, winning the Sun Belt Conference’s West Division for a second straight year, and beating UTSA in the First Responder Bowl was all fine. A foundation is in place. But the building is far from done, suggests a coach sounding more like he is talking to his team that any outsiders.
“There is no place for entitlement or complacency. Contentment is the enemy,” said Napier. “And it’s important that we hit the reset button, we erase the board and we start over … right.”
Behind the scenes:Chaos reigned before the Cajuns wound up in the First Responder Bowl