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Florida Gators Mailbag: 'Is It Too Soon To Panic About Billy Napier?'

Our latest Florida Gators mailbag revolves around the trajectory of the program following UF's narrow win over USF.

Photo: Billy Napier and Scott Stricklin; Credit: Alex Shepherd

The Florida Gators' narrow, 31-28 victory over the USF Bulls on Saturday prompted questions about the trajectory of the program under new head coach Billy Napier, freshly removed from his third game in charge of the orange and blue.

In short, to those calling for Napier's dismissal already, I suggest you take a deep breath. There is zero chance of Napier being fired without cause this year, next year, and probably even by year three of his tenure even if the Gators continue to underperform, in my opinion. The idea isn't even worth thinking about.

Still, I understand why there is concern about the state of the team across the fanbase right now. This isn't the Florida Gators football that Florida Gators fans are willing to accept. The standards have been made clear by the team's success in the past and the fanbase's outcries over the last decade (we're inching closer to a decade and a half) of mostly underwhelming play.

This is why the All Gators' mailbag is back for Week 3. Most of the questions were submitted in real-time as UF struggled to hang on against USF, but have been answered to the best of my ability with the team's long-term trajectory in mind.

Questions have been cleaned up, grammatically or otherwise, to meet publishing standards.

From Kyle Mooney: Is it too soon to panic about Billy Napier?

I think it's too soon to panic but it isn't too soon to be concerned. The Gators' results through three games aren't what Florida fans are used to: Entering the season unranked, upsetting a non-conference opponent at home, losing to Kentucky for a second consecutive year, and barely squeaking past a Group of 5 Program in USF.

But, if you'll remember, Napier gave the fanbase numerous warnings about the on-field product to come during the offseason. He took almost every opportunity he could from the beginning of spring camp through fall camp and into the season to suggest the Gators' roster wasn't where it needs to be (and that is the cause of miserable recruiting in years past, although he wouldn't say it that bluntly).

We previewed the season with these comments in mind, on numerous occasions.

I don't think any Florida fan disagreed with his assessment at the time considering the fanbase's criticisms of Dan Mullen's recruiting efforts. I never would have expected Florida vs. USF to come down to the wire, but when it did, the state of the roster and Napier's consistent reminders about it during the offseason were the first thing that came to mind.

My next thought was about Florida's 2023 recruiting class containing five wide receivers, considering the unit's struggles to separate and create explosive plays (aside from offseason transfer Ricky Pearsall) that have been well-noted since early in the 2021 season. After that, it was the four defensive line and two edge rusher commits, having just watched the Bulls rush for 286 yards in a similar fashion to LSU's 321-yard run game showing against UF last year. I expect more pledges to come across the defensive front.

The same thought process can be applied to almost every position on the roster. And in a lot of cases, the 2023 recruiting class has numerous reinforcements committed and on the way at those positions.

You have every right to be upset with the Gators' results so far this year. Some of the in-game coaching decisions have been questionable, too, and I understand why that would be concerning. This staff also just coached its third game under a first-year SEC head coach, so there are expected to be growing pains. 

If the product still looks like this in 2023 with a bump class and additional transfers in-house, then it might be time to panic. But it's just too early to do that right now.

From Sliced Bread: At what point does Anthony Richardson get benched?

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I don't think quarterback Anthony Richardson will get benched this year unless it's due to or to prevent an injury. The Gators don't have any other legitimate starting options (even when backup Jack Miller III is healthy) and it's unlikely that Florida will contend in the SEC East this season, so there isn't any rush to replace Richardson and his potential.

From Jason S.: Are we ever going to see the Richardson we saw at LSU last year?

Your guess is as good as mine, but the question is, do you want to? Sure, Richardson shined his brightest at times in Baton Rouge last year, but he also threw two interceptions including one that sealed the victory in LSU's favor. I think you want to see a much sharper version of Richardson than that one, one that consistently makes the right decision with the football.

The sharper version of Richardson was on display against Utah in Week 1. He made one errant throw but otherwise put up an efficient and accurate passing line paired with a dominant rushing performance. He was comfortable going through progressions, rolling out and resetting his base to make throws and tucking the ball to run against the Utes, much unlike the last two weeks.

It would have been nice to see him throw a touchdown in that game, but I think anyone would take that version of Richarson compared to the one we saw against Kentucky and USF. Although there was certainly room for growth, the offense worked that week. 

From Steve Whittle: When will Miller be available?

Napier hasn't offered any specifics regarding linebacker Ventrell Miller's lower body issue and it would be a surprise if he does before the Tennessee game. That being said, Miller has had a boot on his right foot since he suffered his injury against Kentucky and I would be surprised if he's at 100 percent should he play against the Volunteers, if he does at all.

If you were asking about quarterback Jack Miller III's recovery from a thumb avulsion fracture which led to surgery on his throwing hand in August, the best I've got for you is "he is definitely improving and we anticipate getting him back at some point," which Napier said last Wednesday.

From Jamie Salas: What do you feel is the reason for the DBs playing such soft coverage on Saturday? Basically gave them routes past the sticks every time. We have really good dudes outside, and a heck of a cornerbacks coach. Surprised press coverage against weak WRs wasn’t used. 

I'm not sure it would have mattered as USF quarterback Gerry Bohanon struggled with accuracy on passes of 10 or more air yards, going 2-of-11 for 31 yards on such throws per PFF. The defensive backs were probably just trying to keep passes ahead of them with space to crash down against the run. 

The cornerbacks, specifically Jason Marshall Jr., did pretty well in press coverage against Utah and Kentucky and Jalen Kimber and Devin Moore have proven themselves as valuable depth pieces over the first few weeks of the season. Jaydon Hill is also getting close to a return after suiting up for the Gators on Saturday night. I don't think there's much to be concerned about at this position. 

From T and Lionz: What are Napier's buyout terms?

You don't need them and won't anytime soon, but here you go:

If Napier is to be let go without cause, he'd be entitled to 85 percent of the total remaining annual compensation due through the end of the otherwise unexpired term of the agreement. 

His total annual compensation is $51.8 million and his year-by-year compensation (contract year: Feb. 1, 2022, through Jan. 31, 2023) starts at $7.1 million and escalates by $100,000 each contract year, if you want to do the math. 

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