Joshua Thompson walked across the street from his office to the future home of the Florida football team. Even though it was designed with the previous staff in mind, he is still impressed by the bones of the 140,000 square foot facility.
The inside of the building is spacious and modern. The weight room is connected to the indoor facility.
Thompson believes that whoever oversaw the project did a good job. It has to be changed to fit his boss' vision of what a modern powerhouse should be, as opposed to what the once-powerful Florida has become.
As a first-time head coach at Louisiana, Napier has been busy assembling an army of support staff, building upon a model that he witnessed first-hand as an assistant at Alabama and then as an assistant at the University of Alabama. The return on investment was clear, even though the budget was much leaner at the Group of 5 level.
There are so many possibilities with more money and resources. Thompson is imagining the ideal staff and players at the new facility. It's inevitable that change orders will be ordered. The recruiting department needs more space for personnel and photo shoots and the weight room needs a separate warm up area. It will be worth it if it takes cutting into fresh concrete and digging out electrical components to make it happen.
Thompson looks near the coaches' offices. It's 3,500 square feet, but its purpose isn't clear. An architect says that it's not planned space.
Thompson is on top of things.
He says the future is now.
An afternoon practice in April shows a glimpse at the team that has been put together. There are graduate assistants for offense, defense and special teams, as well as four analysts, 10 quality control coaches, and a "game changer" who works with specialists.
There are three dieticians instead of one.
A lot. The team's online staff directory contains three associate directors and eight assistants, which is twice the size of Florida State's.
It can be rationalized in the context of college football. In 2007, when Nick Saban arrived at Alabama, he started an arms race by hiring a large support staff. There were initial claims that it was creating an unfair advantage, but nothing significant was done. Most of the top programs followed suit, as a result of the precedent set by the six titles won by Nick Saban.
It was almost done. When he was considering leaving Louisiana late last season, he looked at Florida's infrastructure and saw it needed more than one or two new hires. He wanted guarantees for double-digit new positions and had it written into his contract that $5 million would be spent on support staff. There were 21 new non-coaching positions.
Scott Stricklin, the athletic director of the University of Florida, asked, "What does this all look like?". He was given an org chart.
The man was impressed as he listened to the speaker. The new facility was expected to be discussed for a good portion of the time.
An $85 million facility is the subject of a 10-second conversation. He did his homework. He had some ideas of how to address the challenges we've faced in the past.
It's not clear what those challenges were.
He says that the people that compete with us know what they're doing.
The facility that's late to the party with every SEC program other than Vanderbilt having finished major construction projects in recent years was only one part of the solution.
When he allowed the wheels to come off last season with a sub-.500 record and the team's lowest-ever finish in the SEC East he contributed to his own downfall.
Georgia, which recruited laps around Florida and handed the Gators an embarrassing 27 point loss in last season's national championship game, was another example of the program's weaknesses.
Mullen was fired on a Sunday in November after he accepted a $12 million payoff. He talked about infrastructure in the living room on Tuesday. He said to expect a formal offer soon.
A conversation with a high school academic counselor was one of the calls made by the team. One piece of feedback that stuck with him was that he believed that Napier was capable of bringing Florida up to their level and that he had the Alabama football structure with the Clemson culture.
Vernell Brown was a captain of the Florida football team in the 2000s and helped establish the program as a championship contender. In January, he was promoted to senior director of player development and alumni relations by the school.
Brown saysNapier's program has a lot of structure. He does run it differently. It was necessary to make radical changes from where we were.
Is it really radical?
Brown says it is different. It's not the same.
The electric saws are loud the next morning. It's been a long time since the smell of wet drywall compound screamed progress.
When they got to campus, members of the staff were surprised to see that the setup was not up to date. Think of cinder blocks and wood tones. The cramped meeting rooms and lack of modern amenities made coaches feel like they were back in the 2000s.
They were not supposed to inherit the facility, but will take it.
It was Mullen who wore a hardhat and stood in front of a group of reporters as the final steel beam was laid in place. He was the fifth-highest-paid coach in college football after signing a three-year contract extension.
There are two events that tell the story of a bright future. Kyle Trask had been a finalist for the award. It had been a decade since an offensive skill player was drafted in the first round of the NFL draft. His record was 29-9.
There were issues beneath the surface. While three consecutive top 10 recruiting classes looked good on paper, they did nothing to obscure the fact that each year Florida had finished behind its top competitors in the SEC.
What's more, administrators were irked by his behavior during the 2020 season -- how he said the crowd was a "major factor" in an October loss at Texas A&M and then called on UF to "pack the swamp" despite the restrictions.
The man knew all about the abrasive tendencies of the man. He brought him to Florida after working with him at Mississippi State. If he expected Mullen to grow into a more high-profile job, he was disappointed before the season started.
In the summer of 2015, when fans were calling for the replacement of Trask, Mullen stood by his defensive coach, Todd Grantham, and built up the first quarterback he'd signed at Florida, Emory Jones, as Trask's replacement.
Jones wasn't able to meet expectations because the defense gave more of the same mistakes. Despite the emergence of freshman QB Anthony Richardson, who scored four touchdown in limited action during that time, and despite the fact that Jones threw four picks in his first two games, Mullen didn't think he should make a change. "Why don't you ask who the starting running back is?" he asked the reporters.
The first sign of trouble was a Week 5 loss at Kentucky in which the offense only scored one touchdown. As losses piled up, players checked out, according to sources. The Gators lost an overtime game at Missouri two weeks later and that dropped them to 6-7. The players were anxious by the season and eager for a change.
When he was hired in December, he met with the players as they prepared for the bowl. He listened as they talked about how they had to walk to and from practice in the thick Florida heat and how their nutrition program wasn't good.
The first problem would be solved by hiring a team of dietitians. He spoke to campus administrators about freeing up parking spots and buses for practice instead of pointing to the new facility as the solution.
It would be all business once they arrived at the field. The pace of workouts this spring has been quicker and more demanding than in the past. More reps for players and more sets of eyes ready to catch mistakes is the result of all those extra coaches.
The focus on discipline is said to be the biggest change. Miller says that last season they beat themselves too much.
He says that they don't want to go back there.
He likes the buy-in from players so far, but he knows there's more to be done.
"One of the reasons we've caught traction with the players is we've really focused on making sure that they have the absolute best in terms of their chance to develop as a person, as a student, as a football player and the efficiency with their time." To provide them with a level of detail and support with the number of relationships is something we can do. It all adds up.
The man rubs the stubble on his chin. He says people don't like the gray hair he had before he was 42. He insists that's not true, even though they think it's because he's stressed.
He says that he is the least stressed out of all the jobs he's had. Everything that I think needs to be addressed can be fixed by me.
He explains that it's not about controlling things. It's about the feeling of creativity that Florida has to offer.
He says if you want to do something, do it.
He attributes his beard to being a good father. The job has its challenges, but the feeling of building a program from the ground up is something he has wanted for a long time.
He has been planning this for a long time, going all the way back to when he got a call from Nick about a job on his staff. After one season as an analyst at Alabama, he went to Colorado State to coach quarterbacks and then returned to Tuscaloosa where he worked for four more seasons.
The "pound effect of well-defined roles" and how it leads to efficiency in all areas of the organization were some of the lessons he learned when he went behind the curtain.
"Bama on a budget" was created at Louisiana by hiring a similar number of support staff positions but at a heavily discounted rate and relying on volunteers. Each year the Ragin' Cajuns won at least 10 games.
After COVID-19 forced coaches and players to be isolated, Napier dug deeper into infrastructure, studying other football programs for hints of how to maximize efficiency.
He wants to know if the org chart compares to creative media, nutrition, athletic training, sports science, personnel, on-campus recruiting. Private plane charter access is a question. What do the competitors have in common?
He compares salary pools and contractual obligations to have a thorough understanding of what is required to be competitive.
He didn't have a lot of questions when he sat down with the man.
Napier says they knew what they wanted.
Is that the case now that he has it? He finished his on-the-job training at Louisiana and was given all the resources he could have dreamed of at Florida after graduating from the coaching clinic. He wants to catch up with Georgia in the East and compete in the SEC.
The assistant athletic director of recruiting strategy first met the student assistant at Alabama and helped to recruit him to Louisiana. She worked for the past two years to build up the number of recruits. During that time, Florida had 16.
Turner says that they can do it here as well.
Time isn't an issue in the city.
Even though the offensive line is woefully thin, they're in dire need of difference-makers at receiver and the defense can't possibly be fixed overnight. All that is supposed to be solved yesterday. Richardson has a spot in the first round of the mock draft because he has a career start at quarterback.
Mixed results have come from the recruiting trail so far. Getting commitments from eight prospects is a good start. Losing a quarterback to Miami and a guard to Florida State on the same day was a big deal.
There is a cluster of Bowl Championship Series trophies on a table behind the office of Florida's head football coach, and it is a representation of how long it has been since they were realized.
Napier looked at the hardware. You can do it again if you remember that it was done before. It is one of the reasons why we are here. I don't want to coach in places where they don't have high expectations. I think people want to use the word pressure, but I think there's more to it.
Staying focused on each step and being less consumed with the destination is what it is all about.
He knows there's a lot of work to be done. A large amount of work.
During a roughly hourlong conversation, Thompson's wristwatch almost never fades to black, even though he pockets his phone. The email and text notifications are constant because he helps to supervise the staff.
Thompson is triple checking the details of the scrimmage.
He says that the fortune is in the next movie.
The new era of Florida football wants to produce results worthy of a Fortune 500 company. Hires are not welcome. They go through a process called "onboarding" in which they learn about their job responsibilities. The head coach and department heads get feedback about what works and what doesn't during a quality control process.
The zone was not flooded with new staff at random. The nutrition program is the largest in college football according to Thompson. The lead director of sports nutrition can be freed up to focus on specialists and players with high-priority needs because of the fact that there are three full-time Dietitians.
Thompson says that the buffet line is no longer a free-for-all, with players sneaking an extra piece of bacon because they don't see anyone.
He says that all of that translated to the weight room. It won't run the way it needs to run if the gasoline isn't premium.
Is hiring a speed coach a good idea?
Thompson said they have two speed coaches.
Edward Thompson, one of the strength and conditioning assistants, is a certified speed specialist by the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association.
Training sessions are grouped by players' skill set and body type.
One is going forward all the time and the other is going backwards, and that's why we have a person specifically for theDBs. The receiver doesn't have to flip his hips.
Director of player athletic development Joe Danos oversees modified lifts for players recovering from injury and teaches proper lifting techniques. Thompson said that if you're not sleeping, you're not recovering.
Thompson doesn't want to give away what Andrew Burkett is cooking up, but the fact that there's someone devoted entirely to research speaks to the level of intentionality.
This is where the culture comparison takes place. Thompson says that the CEO is not detached from the CEO. His father is a high school football coach. He is hands-on and much more personable than the man he is replacing. According to a former Alabama assistant, it was clear that Napier was pulled from everywhere he has been.
There is a reason student assistants wear name tags.
If he doesn't know anyone at Florida yet, he's going to turn to his right. Who is that, Josh?
It's like if your kid was working a job and the CEO came through and said, "Hey, kid, can you take care of A, B and C?" Thompson said something. That child has a name. Someone has a child. Let's know who they are, right?
His ceiling is "incredibly high" because of the way he embraces structure with an intimate relationship.
Fans have responded well thus far.
He hasn't yet called a third-down play. Fans will focus on the results.
During the second scrimmage of the spring, the wind howls through the stadium, but the voice of Napier cuts through it. He has lost his calm as he talks about penalties. He ordered extra sprints because mental mistakes cannot happen here.
A few minutes after the players head for the locker room, a few recruits come onto the field to talk with the coaches.
Rob Sale is the offensive line coach. He says that Napier understands the importance of recruiting. Sale said that the man has the ability to listen and connect with prospects. He's unique.
Sale was an assistant strength coach at Alabama and an O-line coach at Louisiana for three years before he was hired by the New York Giants as a strength and conditioning coach.
He's not happy with the way the scrimmage went, but he's not worried. They experienced a learning curve at Louisiana, according to him.
It's hard to get an operation of this size off the ground.
Sale says everyone is in the spiderweb.
The connections are still being worked out. A quality control coach or graduate assistant works for every position coach. The analysts are looking at upcoming opponents and the personnel department is looking at potential recruits.
It's important for coaches to learn to delegate. A new system has to be learned by players. The process is better when both sides are in a routine.
He wasn't going to take a job where he knew he wouldn't succeed. He knows what it takes because he did it at Alabama. Give him the resources and he will get it done.
The two have done that. The team will be moving in to the facility on Saturday and can finally stop living in the past.
There are no more excuses with a rich tradition.
Florida is a great place to live. It's happened before. I think there's potential here. We need to get that ability to perform.