Billy Napier is a Tennessee native and the son of a high school football coach.
Born in Cookeville, Tennessee and growing up barely 20 miles south of the Volunteer State border in Chatsworth, Georgia, Florida’s first-year coach on Wednesday shared he’s long been familiar with the Florida-Tennessee football rivalry – largely in name only, as the Gators own wins in 16 of the past 17 meetings – but revealed a twist.
His father, Bill Napier, who coached his son the quarterback at Murray County High School, is a longtime Vols fan.
Napier’s Gators (2-1, 0-1 SEC) visit No. 11 Tennessee (3-0) Saturday inside Neyland Stadium (3:30 p.m.).
“Even before taking the job, growing up where I grew up right in the middle of SEC country, having family in Georgia, Tennessee and Alabama, having coached at the University of Alabama,” Napier said, “and in my time (growing up), Florida in particular had good teams.
“My family on my dad’s side were big Tennessee fans and still are. Since I can remember this has been a huge game. I’m well aware of that. Certainly, our fans are quick to point that out.”
Even through coaching changes, from Urban Meyer to Will Muschamp to Jim McElwain to Dan Mullen, the Gators have found ways regardless of their head coach to annually vex the Vols; only McElwain’s squad, which squandered a huge lead in 2016, has lost to Tennessee in the past decade-and-a-half.
Napier said these are the moments that elevate the SEC.
“The big thing is if you’re a competitor you love and embrace these opportunities,” Napier said. “One of the reasons why you want to be in this league is because you want to be in these types of games and opportunities. I’ve got tons of respect for Tennessee and this rivalry.”
Napier laughed off the potential that he might have family members rooting against him this weekend.
“Well, I don’t know that they would tell me that to my face,” Napier said. “But I got a lot of folks in my family and where I’m from that are Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama (fans).
“Hopefully they’ll find a little soft spot for the Gators Saturday. We’ll see.”