Billy Napier knows he’s got “40-plus times” as a head coach to lean on as he debuts Saturday as the University of Florida’s leader, but he also knows he’s in a continual quest to fine-tune the operation and development of his football programs.
So this week, as Napier’s unranked Gators prepare to host No. 7 Utah, he’s readying Florida for its prime-time opener (7 p.m., ESPN) with the team already familiar with as many off-the-field, pre-game elements as possible.
That includes experiences already practicing the ‘Gator Walk’ to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, the routine for pre-game team meal and even position-specific warmups.
“We did a mock Friday to some degree with both teams,” Napier says of the Gators’ spring game approach. “We do some of that in training camp as well.
“We actually went to the (team) hotel, we did pre-game meal, we did chair-drill, we did ‘Gator Walk.’ We’ve done unit warmup pre-game. I think maybe every year you don’t do that, but I think in Year 1 obviously feel like it’s worth giving the players that experience so that they know what to expect.”
The goal, Napier shares, is to keep the main thing the main thing. The Gators’ new leader jokes he’s even fielding withering questions on the home front.
“It’s important in a game week that you set priorities, that you avoid clutter,” Napier says. “I think you’ve got to really focus on controlling distractions. I think we’re trying to do that for players and staff. My wife, (Sunday) night she’s burning me up with questions about game day but I think it’s important that we set priorities.
“We’ve got a very specific plan to get ready, it does help, I’ve told you guys this many times before, I don’t know that I would feel as prepared or have a certain level of confidence without those four years of doing that. The good thing is we have a good core group of people in the building that have been with us at some point, maybe not all four of those years but maybe three of the four or one of the four or two of the four and they understand our expectations in terms of the detail and timeliness and how we operate.
“I think mainly just focusing on the task. Talked to the players a lot about it (Sunday): Execution is ultimately what is going to decide the game.”
Napier owns a 2-2 record as head coach in season-opening contests, though one of those wins is the game perhaps most responsible for Napier’s national ascension in recent years – a 31-14 throttling on the road of nationally ranked Iowa State.
His two losses are from underdog contests against Power 5 residents Mississippi State and Texas.
Now, Napier is dialing in for what he terms a dozen final exams across the next three months.
“It’s almost like you’re taking a final exam each week,” Napier says. “It’s a new set of material, new personnel, new venue, new variables, new matchups.
“This is an opener, you have a little bit of extra time so that changes it a little bit, but each week you erase the board and start over and begin preparation for another competition, another challenge.”