Billy Napier is now, officially, the Florida Gators' head coach. With his hiring out of the way, next on UF's to-do list is to fill out Napier's coaching staff.
It will be interesting to see which direction Napier takes when hiring assistants, whether or not he'll bring the majority of his staff from Louisiana-Lafayette, a minimal number of coaches or none at all. Making the jump from the Sun Belt to the SEC, Napier should assess all of his options and consider swinging for the fences at some positions.
We've broken down 15 candidates for Florida's offensive and defensive coordinator roles below, including a mix of Louisiana coaches, assistants around the country with ties to Napier, big names and up-and-comers alike.
Of course, given his background, Napier could elect to call plays for Florida's offense. However, it might be in Napier's best interest to start off with an offensive coordinator while he builds up the program the way he intends to.
Michael Desormeaux, Louisiana co-OC/TEs: We'll begin both the OC and DC lists with coaches that currently hold those positions under Napier at Louisiana. His offense is run by two coordinators in their first year on the job, so we'll begin with a Ragin' Cajuns legend in the former Louisiana quarterback-turned-coach, Desormeaux.
Desormeaux joined ULL's staff in 2016 after coaching at the high school level for several years, and has since coached wide receivers, running backs, and tight ends for the program before his promotion to co-OC. He still coaches tight ends to this day, and the group has amounted to solid production and been instrumental in the team's run-blocking success under his leadership.
This year, Louisiana ranks No. 46 in the country scoring 31.3 points per game, and No. 62 averaging 406.7 yards per game, a step back from 2020 but remaining top five in the Sun Belt in scoring and top three in yardage.
Tim Leger, Louisiana co-OC/WRs: Leger splits OC duties with Desormeaux and, like Desormeaux, has been with Napier during the entirety of his Louisiana tenure. He also coaches wide receivers and coordinators recruiting.
As you'd guess, the same stats and rankings in Desormeaux's analysis apply to Leger this season. Leger is credited with the development of one of Louisiana's all-time best receivers in Ja’Marcus Bradley, who earned Second Team All-Sun Belt Conference and First Team All-Louisiana honors in 2019.
Leger previously served as wide receivers coach/recruiting coordinator at Louisiana-Monroe, OC/WRs at McNeese, a graduate student at McNeese State and at the high school level.
Given his recruiting coordinating experience and longer résumé than Desormeaux's, paired with Desormeaux's ties to Louisiana, we believe that Leger is more likely to join Napier at UF of the two. However, Napier could always opt for a bigger name to fill the role, which we'll get into below.
Rob Sale, New York Giants OL: Sale made the jump to the NFL earlier this year after spending three seasons under Napier at Louisiana as the Ragin Cajuns' offensive coordinator and offensive line coach, and ULL's statistics and rankings were far more impressive under his leadership than the two current co-OCs. Louisiana cracked the top ten in the nation in both scoring and yardage under Sale in 2019.
Sale also coached under Napier as offensive line coach/run game coordinator at Arizona State in 2017. Before that, Sale worked for Louisiana-Monroe, Georgia, and McNeese State as an offensive line coach. Sale and Napier worked together at Alabama for one year (2011) when Sale was the Crimson Tide's strength and conditioning/offensive assistant from 2007-11.
Willy Korn, Coastal Carolina co-OC/QBs: A former quarterback that Napier coached personally at Clemson (2009), a reunion between the two coaches would certainly be intriguing, especially as Korn splits leadership duties for one of the nation's most exciting offenses with the Chanticleers, a team that ranks No. 7 in scoring and No. 6 in yardage in the FBS this season.
Prior to his role as co-OC at CCU, he was also the Chanticleers wide receivers coach and kickoff unit coordinator after spending four seasons at Charleston Southern as wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator.
Korn is a young coach at the age of 32, and that may seem too young to be the offensive coordinator at UF. But he has strong ties to Napier and has found plenty of success as a play-caller at Coastal Carolina, so it wouldn't be a total surprise to see him make the jump to the SEC.
Brent Key, Georgia Tech AHC/RGC/OL: The results haven't been pretty for Georgia Tech's offense with Key, which could cause some concern, but he is an experienced offensive coach with ties to Napier from their time together at Alabama (2016) when Key was the Crimson Tide's offensive line coach. And in fairness, Key isn't GT's play-caller, he coordinates a solid run game (No. 58 in the country) and coaches the offensive line.
Key was also a key (get it?) recruiter at Alabama, helping pull in the likes of Evan Neal, Jedrick Wills, Emil Ekiyor, Mac Jones, and numerous other prospects. Imagine that type of offensive line recruiting success at UF after John Hevesy's shortcomings in that respect over the years.
Another concern with Key, though, is that he only has two years of pure offensive coordinator experience, from his time at UCF under George O'Leary.
Tom Herman, Chicago Bears offensive analyst: While the other offensive coordinator candidates on this list so far have some form of ties to Napier, Herman does not, but would be a big-time hire given his résumé at the college level. He joined the Bears after being fired from his position as head coach at Texas last year, and prior to his time with the Longhorns, Herman was the head coach at Houston and OC/QB coach at Ohio State, Iowa State, Rice and Texas State. He's primed to earn an on-field coaching role in the near future after a year in an analyst position at the NFL level.
Jeff Lebby, Ole Miss OC/QBs: Another coach without ties to Napier, Lebby's offenses and quarterbacks have thrived everywhere he's coached and he appears ready to call the shots for his own offense at a major program.
Lebby is currently Lane Kiffin's offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach at Ole Miss, the same titles he had at UCF under Josh Heupel. The Rebels have ranked top-five in the country in total offense and top-20 in scoring since Lebby and Kiffin arrived in Oxford. Quarterback Matt Corral could be the first passer selected in this offseason's NFL Draft.
Note: We've previously compiled a list of candidates for Florida's defensive coordinator position, which you can read here. However, that list was created while Dan Mullen was head coach and kept his connections in mind. This list will include some, but not all of those candidates, as well as others who may be interested in coaching alongside Napier.
Doug Belk, Houston DC: One of two candidates reportedly linked to Napier's hire, Belk is considered to be an up-and-coming star in the coaching industry.
Currently Houston's defensive coordinator, associate head coach and safeties coach, the Cougars own the nation's No. 19 scoring and No. 6 yardage defense, improving from No. 80 and No. 55 in those respective categories after his promotion from co-to-sole defensive coordinator.
Prior to his time at Houston, Belk coached cornerbacks at West Virginia and Alabama, as a graduate assistant at the latter, and the secondary and special teams at Valdosta. Belk has ties to Napier, in addition to his young yet impressive résumé: Napier was the wide receiver coach at Alabama during Belk's entire stint with the Crimson Tide (2014-16).
Jim Knowles, Oklahoma State DC: Reported candidate No. 2, Knowles' Cowboys defense has played lights out throughout the 2021 season, currently ranking No. 6 in the country in scoring and No. 3 in yardage allowed. Oklahoma State has improved in both categories year over year since Knowles' hiring in 2018, starting at No. 97 in scoring and No. 112 in yardage in his first season.
Before joining the Cowboys, Knowles was a defensive coordinator for Duke and Western Michigan as well as the head coach at Cornell for six seasons, among other stops dating back to 1988. He has no direct coaching ties to Napier, but he's more than qualified for the role given his experience and Oklahoma State's defensive surge in the Big 12.
Patrick Toney, Louisiana DC: Having worked under Napier for his entire tenure at Louisiana and spending the last two years as the Ragin' Cajuns' defensive coordinator, Toney is naturally a candidate for the role at UF.
Not to mention, Toney's units have exceeded expectations in the Sun Belt and have turned into some of college football's best. Louisiana owns the No. 13 scoring and No. 42 total defense this year and ranked No. 31 and No. 33 in the same categories in Toney's first year on the job. In addition to his DC duties, Toney also coaches outside linebackers at ULL.
Previously, Toney has served as the safeties coach at UTSA, secondary coach at Sam Houston State and safeties coach/special teams coordinator at Southeastern Louisiana.
Kevin Steele, unemployed: We considered Steele as the top option for Florida's vacant defensive coordinator position when Mullen was on staff, and he remains a great option for the job under Napier.
Steele's defense unit ranked top-20 nationally in scoring and yards allowed in four of his five seasons at Auburn (2016-20), cracking the top ten in both categories in his first season. He has been out of work since Auburn fired former head coach Gus Malzahn other than a short stint as Tennessee's interim head coach at the beginning of this year.
During his time at Auburn, Alabama, LSU and Clemson, Steele was well respected as a recruiter and could help Napier elevate the Gators in that department. He has experience coaching alongside Napier at Alabama (2013-14) and Clemson (2009-10).
Tosh Lupoi, Jacksonville Jaguars DL: Another intriguing young coach, Lupoi worked with Napier for three years at Alabama (2014-16) and has proven himself as an elite recruiter over the years. Lupoi is credited with earning/helping earn pledges from the likes of Najee Harris, Jonah Williams, Dylan Moses, Mack Wilson, Tua Tagovailoa, Jaylen Waddle, Terrell Lewis, Trevon Diggs and others at Alabama as well as Keenan Allen at California and Shaq Thompson at Washington.
Lupoi has never been a sole defensive play-caller but split those duties at Alabama for two years and coordinated the run game defense with the Atlanta Falcons in 2020 before joining Urban Meyer's staff in Jacksonville. He'd probably need a promotion of some sort to return to college, but that isn't out of the realm of possibility. We could see him in a co-DC role while coaching the Gators' defensive line should he make his way to Gainesville.
Honorable mention candidates with ties to Florida: Marquand Manuel, New York Jets safeties coach; Charlie Strong, Jacksonville Jaguars inside linebackers coach/assistant head coach; Travaris Robinson, Miami defensive backs coach
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