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Sources: Billy Napier atop Florida's list

The Louisiana Cajuns head coach has turned that program into the preeminent Sun Belt Conference power.

Billy Napier has consistently been one of the hottest candidates in perhaps the last three college football coaching cycles.

Each time, even with suitors from Power 5 conferences including multiple Southeastern Conference programs, Napier has remained atop the Louisiana program that Napier has molded into the king of the Sun Belt Conference.

Now, however, it appears that the vacant University of Florida job is one that Napier is strongly examining, and multiple sources throughout college football tell FootballScoop that the Gators are strongly considering Napier.

It's believed at this point, per sources, that Napier is the top choice for the Gators and Florida athletics director Scott Stricklin, who last Sunday fired Dan Mullen after the team's 24-23 overtime-loss at Missouri.

Stricklin said then that he wanted to move quickly with the Florida search, though he declined to give a specific timetable.

Sources emphasized to FootballScoop this week that the two sides – Florida officials and those close with Napier – had spoken. Napier is represented by CAA (Jimmy Sexton). 

“No decisions made yet,” Napier told reporters this week when asked about the potential to leave for Florida. Louisiana hosts ULM Saturday at 4 p.m. and then hosts Appalachian State in the SunBelt Conference championship next Saturday at 3:30.

Stricklin, in his press conference after Mullen was fired, outlined a trio of elements he would seek in the Gators' next coach – and the talking points have been matched by Napier's resume with his previous work under both Alabama's Nick Saban and Clemson's Dabo Swinney, as well as a fourth-straight SunBelt West Division title for the Cajuns.

“I think when you look at what makes a successful coach, there are three main components,” Stricklin said of his criteria at Florida. “The ability to lead a group, or team. The ability to put that team together. And third, the ability to coach that team.

“We look at recruiting as a really important part of that second function of putting a team together. We want somebody to attract the best staff to coach the best group of players.”

Napier has engineered a 38-12 run atop the Cajuns' program and already has secured Louisiana's third-straight season of 10 or more wins.

Timing remains a critical element for both Florida and the additional openings – especially at the Power 5 level. The NCAA's early scholarship signing period opens Dec. 15, and with the Football Bowls Subdivision's regular season concluding this weekend, administrators and coaches also are expecting a dramatic uptick in entrants into the NCAA Transfer Portal.

Napier signed a reworked contract with an extension and raise after last season, but the deal retained relatively friendly terms should Napier leave for a Power 5 job. The buyout for Napier to leave after the Cajuns' current season is $3 million.

This hire will be Scott Stricklin's second head coaching hire for Florida football. In late 2016 the Gators AD first sought to hire Chip Kelly before Kelly chose UCLA's offer over the Gators'. Stricklin then hired Mullen with whom he had worked at Mississippi State. 

As always, stay tuned to The Scoop for the latest coaching news. 

Saturday update> Ross Dellenger and Pat Forde are now reporting the same.