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Coaching Carousel Notebook: Is This the Year Billy Napier Makes His Move?

Plus, what we’re hearing about Butch Davis’s messy exit at FIU, TCU, Dan Mullen, potential retirements, candidates for the Washington schools and more.

With the amount of churn in the 2021 college football coaching cycle, it would make sense for a hot coaching prospect to take a measured—some might say picky—approach to his next move. The cycle has been wacky for a month with two of the biggest brands in the sport opening, and now we’re up to nine currently open FBS jobs with certainly more to come by the time the regular season actually ends. That doesn’t even count the three jobs that have already been filled, including one by a coach fired early in the season by one of the bluebloods. Got all that?

So, say you’re Louisiana coach Billy Napier, and for a couple of cycles now you’ve passed on multiple jobs for multiple reasons. To varying degrees, Napier has been connected to vacancies at Auburn, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Baylor, Tennessee, Missouri and Arkansas. Some situations were too chaotic at the time, like when Auburn was in the midst of an all-out board room war between its administrators, boosters and fans at the time Napier interviewed. Others had looming NCAA penalties that made them unpalatable (Tennessee, Baylor) and still others simply balked when Napier laid out the resources he needed to be successful (South Carolina).

Louisiana coach Billy Napier

Again, Napier is a candidate for jobs that are already open. Sources tell Sports Illustrated he is a top target for TCU, which recently parted ways with Gary Patterson. He’s also expected to get a look at the Virginia Tech job as well as LSU. Further trap doors may open in the cycle that would likely entice him, like Arizona State or Florida. It’s getting to the point where if not now, then when will Napier leave? It is expected to be this year, with optimism waning that he will return to the Ragin’ Cajuns program he has coached to four straight Sun Belt division titles and a 30–4 record since 2018.

The move from Group of 5 to blueblood is somewhat rare in college football, but with so many high-level openings, someone has to fill them.

Elsewhere:

 TCU: Given that reports out of Fort Worth say the Horned Frogs have moved on from Deion Sanders, the school’s opening seems like it is down to Napier and SMU head coach Sonny Dykes, who SI reported is mulling a contract extension offer from SMU. The possibility also exists of another candidate surfacing due to the fact that TCU is using a search firm.

• FIU: Butch Davis will not return as head coach next year and sources echo the sentiments he gave to The Action Network. A “garbage” HR process led to Davis’s job being posted online alongside multiple coaches across multiple sports back in October, just one troubling sign that something was amiss in the program. One source says that the job posting fiasco stems from a normal occurrence at FIU, with postings going up every fiscal quarter to expand the candidate pool in order to make it easier to hire coaches when the time comes. This time, the posting just happened to go up a few days after the football team gave up 700 yards in the Shula Bowl against FAU.

The dysfunction continued in the building with athletic director Pete Garcia retiring a week before it was announced that Davis was also out. Whoever replaces Garcia and hires Davis’s successor will need alignment from a university side that a source says treats athletics as an afterthought, which makes sense given Davis said the football team uses hand-me-down pads and uniforms that are nine years old.

Despite that, it’s not like FIU is broke, strictly speaking. The school actually spends quite a bit on football compared to its conference.

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So where is the money going? A source says “that can be asked about the entire department.”

• Miami: Also in Dade County, athletic director Blake James has parted ways with the program. The Athletic reported James’s future was being evaluated independently of coach Manny Diaz. After three good wins for the Hurricanes, the team took a step back by losing to bitter rival Florida State on the road.

• Florida: Despite lacking performances in a loss to South Carolina and a win over Samford, Dan Mullen is still Florida’s coach. Whether the last two weeks have changed things in Gainesville will be clear after the season, with games against Missouri and rival FSU looking like dicier propositions given the team’s current form.

• Duke: The Blue Devils remain a team that may have its coach retire, with industry sources telling SI that Utah and North Carolina may also fall in that category by the end of the season. As far as UNC goes, it remains to be seen if Mack Brown wants to go out on this sour of a note, with a feeling of a missed opportunity in 2021 given Clemson’s down year and a high-level quarterback talent in Sam Howell.

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• Stanford: Despite the stunning overtime win over Oregon, there’s no getting around that the Cardinal are bad. A program that you used to be able to Sharpie nine wins next to will likely not get more than four this season, which was also its total in 2019. From the outside looking in, things have gotten stale in Palo Alto, and changes may be necessary for a staff that prides itself on its familiarity. Sources say that the edict for staff changes will likely have to come from above head coach David Shaw.

• Washington and Washington State: Short of 2008’s Crapple Cup, the ’21 renewal of the in-state rivals on Thanksgiving weekend featuring two interim coaches will be the strangest in quite a while. Washington State’s search is said to be moving slowly, with a possibility that the job goes to interim coach Jake Dickert in the end. Early candidates for Washington’s job include BYU’s Kalani Sitake and Fresno State’s Kalen DeBoer. A source tells SI that the Bulldogs’ administration has been preparing for the possibility of losing DeBoer since recently fired Huskies coach Jimmy Lake first got into hot water after the Nov. 6 Oregon loss.

More College Football Coverage:

• Who Can Overthrow the Usual Conference Champs?
• The Best Power 5 Coaches of 2021
• Big 12 Will Go On Without Oklahoma, Texas

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